NAIROBI: Curdled cows’ blood helps Kenyans run fast.
Modern American training techniques help them run even faster.
This black African state of more than 20 ‘million people is drawing on old and new ingredients for success as it aims confidently for medals at the Olympic Games in Seoul
Cows’ blood is a favourite food of the 25 million strong Kalenjin tribe which produces more than its share of Kenya’s best athletes.
They jab a spear into the jugular vein of a living cow, catch the jet of blood in a bowl and consume the blood either alone or ‘mixed with milk in a sort of blood yoghurt.
“The kind of food they eat helps them,” said Kenya Amateur Athletics Association senior vice chairman Isaiah Kiplagat, himself a Kalenjin.
“Most of them feed on milk, meat, blood, millet and maize which reduce heart disOther things in the Kalenjin background help to explain the athletic prowess that has won them more than half the 34 laces in the national Olympic team.
Kiplagat, who comes from the same village as former 1,500 metres Olympic champion Kipchoge Keino in the Nandi district of Kenya’s northern rift valley province, said running was a part of Kalenjin life from early childhood.
If Kalenjin children weren’t pursuing their father’s cattle, goats and sheep, they would be chasing each other and they thought nothing of running 10 kms or so ‘across grassy highland plains and hills from their homes to the nearest primary school.
The altitude of at least 1,800 metres at which most Kalenjin live gives them a temperate climate to run in despite their nearness to the equator,
Many critics, taken aback by Kenya’s haul of eight medals at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, were quick to conclude that its athletes were favoured by competing at high altitude.
But six medals at the Munich Olympics ‘four years later had the experts looking for @ new explanation of what made black Africa’s top track stars tick.
Some wondered whether it was hereditary, others saw clues to the mystery in die upbringing and close family support. Even Kenya’s pride as a new nation following independence from Britain in 1963 was ‘mooted as an inspirational factors.
Early training at high altinde is now recognized as an advantage which stands Kenyans in good stead when they run nearer sea level.
But Kenyans have not been too proud to look abroad for new ways to sharpen reflexes and build endurance.
Since the 1970’s, promising Kenyan athletes have flocked to the United States on scholarships granted by universities keen to form the best US college track teams. Other ‘countries have opened their doors to Kenyan student athletes in a similar way,
The 1980’s have seen a proliferation of foreign cash incentives in a country where ‘average wages are about $30 and Gran Prix meetings. A Kenyan who is good enough can win what most compatriots earn in a lifetime.
Kenya did well even by its own high standards at the World Championships in Rome last year when it clinched three gold ‘medals through Billy Konchellah (800 metres), Paul Kipkoech (10,000 metres) and Douglas Wakiihuri (marathon).
The Kenyans showed their international form again at the world junior athletics championships in Sudbury,