Discipline, genetics, socio-economic-environmental conditions and culture. These are the factors that made Kenya be considered as a powerhouse in athletics. It has been participating in the Olympic Games since 1956 and this African country has won medals in two modalities: boxing and athletics, as the latter sport corresponds for 79 of the 86 medal won by Kenyans.
It has achieved world records in long-distance running — athletes who run distances ranging from 800 to 3,000 meters and also from 5,000 meters to marathon distances — the fastest man in the world in marathons is a Kenyan, Dennis Kimetto, who finished the course of over 42 km in exactly 2h02m57s, in the marathon in Berlin, in 2014. But, it was only in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games that Jemina Sumsong from Kenya won hers first gold medal in the female marathon. And it was also in the Rio 2016 games that Kenya achieved its best Olympic performance by winning 13 medals: six gold, six silver, and one bronze. And then in the Rio 2016 Paralympics, Kenya won six medals: three gold, one silver, and two bronze. All in athletics making this country achieve even greater leadership in this modality.
Moacir Marconi, the Brazilian coach, known as Coquinho, has been coaching Africans for over 20 years. He is the founder of the “Sports and Education” project, he has a team named after him: the Coquinho/Fila/Bioleve and he visits Kenya twice a year to prospect new talents, Coquinho tells that the success of these athletes is derived from the summation from different things. “Besides genetics, it is also necessary to overcome the fact that there are no jobs in the country. They have discovered that though running they can transform the lives of the family and theirs too. As there is a great deal of internal competition, thus then they have to be even more dedicated. If the trial race is from five to seven o’clock in the morning, they just have to run it”, he explains. “Of course, they are privileged to live at that altitude”, he explains.
In fact, living at an altitude of 2 thousand and 400 meters is an important cutting edge difference for this modality. The Kenyans grow up where a great number of Brazilian athletes dream of training. This is because that altitude makes the body increase the production of hemoglobin in the red blood cells, as this is the molecule responsible for transporting oxygen. “For this purpose, Brazilian athletes go to Columbia, or other higher altitude countries to develop increased rates of hemoglobin”, says Coquinho.
This type of training can make the difference especially for athletes who participate in long-distance running trials who do not require speed for winning, as explains Ricardo D’Angelo, a specialist in training long-distance running for the Brazilian Athletic National team. “The key differences are related to two training variables, volume and intensity. The long-distance running athletes train by running long distance volumes, but with moderate intensities, contrary to the sprint athlete who trains by running short distance volumes, but at high intensities”, he states.
About a distance of 9 thousand kilometers
The Kenyan, Thomas Kibet Komen has been a long-distance professional runner for a short time. He was inspired by a friend who started athletics in 2005, and then in August 2016 rose to the highest point on the podium and was awarded first place in the “Circuito Caixa Porto Alegre” (Porto Alegre Box Circuit). He was training with the Coquinho team and this long-distance runner took the opposite route from those who seek high altitudes: he came from Kenya to train in Nova Santa Bárbara, a town in Paraná State, in the southern region of Brazil. “I like it so much here. The Brazilian Confederation is also very receptive. The climate is very good for training here. I feel like I am more successful here in Brazil than any other country”, he explained
Thomas believes in mixing his training, dedication, and diet as this is the strength of Kenyans. He is considered as one of the new promising athletes in athletics from that country, winning for him, is linked to achieving more quality of life for his family. “My plans for the future are to guarantee that, so that my family and I can live in a good location, where my children can go to school without any problems. And broadly speaking, improve society”, he says.
What Brazil can learn
Brazil has won 16 medals throughout the history of athletics and our country features such great champions as Solonei da Silva and Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima. However, our Country is far from being powerful. Even with these great long-distance runners, Brazil needs more dedication and responsibility to achieve the same ranking as Kenya in sports. Although, before achieving that, we would need to compete against other African countries, which have displayed progress in this modality, such as Tanzania and Ethiopia.
“Medium and long range work needs to be done, already beginning in school, by greater appreciation for physical education. This project would facilitate discovering talents, we would thereby achieve great results”, Coquinho points out. “Sports must be considered as an instrument for completely preparing a citizen, and thus, popularize it jointly with diverse social layers of people,” concludes Ricardo D’Angelo.