Kenya's elite runners in trouble   2014-01-03 19:59:08            

By Ben Ochieng

NAIROBI, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- As police are probing world 1,500m champion Asbel Kiprop over allegations of misusing his gun and assaulting a night guard at his hometown, cynics are alarmed at the frequency with which Kenyan athletics champions are finding themselves in trouble with the law.

Last Sunday night, the 24-year-old Kiprop is alleged to have forced his way into a bar in Iten town past the stipulated drinking hours and demanded to be served with alcohol claiming that as a senior police officer he is free to enter any place at any time.

Brandishing a pistol, the 2008 Olympic champion, in the company of four other men, is said to have punched the night guard several times on the mouth while also butting him with a pistol saying that he is a police inspector and cannot be questioned by anyone and taken anywhere.

Reports from Iten indicate that Kiprop has gained a reputation in the town as an alcoholic with a flashy lifestyle and that only a month ago he is said to have threatened to shoot a man if he crossed his path.

Kiprop's tribulations come in the heels of complaints in June 2012 by a 26-year old woman, Anne Njeri-Otieno against Olympic and world 3,000m steeplechase champion, Ezekiel Kemboi, himself also a police officer, that the title holder had stabbed her after a drinking binge for declining his sexual advances.

However, the day before the case was due to open, Njeri-Otieno told the court in the western Kenya town of Eldoret that she had decided to withdraw the charges to concentrate on her career in journalism.

Kemboi had all along denied the charges. In Kenya, common assault fetches an imprisonment term for one year.

Renowned athletics coach Colm O' Connell warns about the prevailing tendency of concentrating only on the winning ways of the young athletes while failing to mold them into all-rounded people.

"I shape my runners into complete people who can use sports to learn about team work, commitment and respect so that they can operate as well-balanced individuals. Winning is therefore an outcome of all these attributes and not just a matter of aptitude," he told Xinhua on Friday.

"I also teach them how to handle talent and success so that they are not destroyed by fame and their own achievements."

O' Connell has coach most of Kenya's world and Olympic champions among them Peter Rono, Mathew Birir, Peter Kariuki, Wilson Boit Kipkter, Sally Barsosio and Janeth Jepkosgei.

Former world marathon champion and Olympic silver medalist Douglas Wakiihuri who is also a protege of the famous coach says Kenyans have a collective responsibility to guide athletes who gain fame and fortune while still relatively young.

"These young runners should be kept busy with other meaningful commitments during their off-season period especially because they are still young with a lot of money at their disposal."

He says they need mentoring from successful veterans and sports administrators. "They do all it takes to win a race and make the country shine yet that is as far as we need them, which is wrong."

In May 2011, the first Kenyan to win an Olympic marathon gold medal, Samuel Wanjiru, died at the young age of 24 from a fall off a balcony at his house in Nyahururu about 150km northwest of Nairobi after coming from a drinking spree.

Fred Shamallah Masinde, a philosophy doctor says that it is important for the young runners who climb from absolute poverty to opulence to revise the company of their crew and confidantes.

"In Wanjiru's case, he was riding in a 187,500 U.S. dollar Range Rover while hanging around 'commoners', some of whom were very jealous of his newly acquired wealth," he argues.

He offers a word of advice to those who have money: "If you are not at my level, I can't be your friend. Human beings get very jealous about small things. Choose your associates carefully if you are worth the success you have achieved."

Editor: Hou Qiang
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