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Should top elite athletes from Kenya run in the local races?

October 22, 2018
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Peres Jepchirchir and Gladys Cherono. Photo from the Ottawa Race Weekend

At this year's Family Group (half) Marathon in Eldoret, Joyciline Jepkosgei, the world record holder of the women’s half marathon just won the local half marathon race here. She was followed by the 2014 Commonwealth Games’ marathon champion, Flomena Cheyech for 2nd place while the reigning Paris and Lille half marathon champion, Antonina Kwambai settled for 3rd place. This was just the Family Group’s Eldoret half marathon, a race that is not even in the process of trying to get into any IAAF label!
Almost every race in Kenya adds to their other various reasons for staging their races the intention of discovering and nurturing the local upcoming talents. But, the hard question comes in on whether such races should allow the well-established runners to run against the budding talents whose hopes are to beat them despite often running in the wrong shoes in order for them to be noticed by agents who will eventually assist them, if indeed to nurture them. One athlete was running with track spikes on the tarmac during the 21km race today. The elites use these races to gauge their readiness for their next races while the upcoming athletes are using it to try and get a break-through in their life’s careers.

Allowing big names in these local races are beneficial in a number of ways. It attracts more sponsors to support races financially in the hope that such names will help market the races far and wide and eventually the companies involved as well. It provides a platform for the upcoming runners to measure themselves up against the big stars and know how far they still need to go in order for them to shine too. It makes work easier for journalists who would just look up the internet for information about the winners.  It also brings more fans to the event venues as spectators would want to see the international stars that they usually watch on TV sets running live.
However, some issues come in as well.
Big managements usually require athletes to finish in the first three positions in the local races in order to sign with them. When the top three positions are swept by athletes who are already in good managements, then the upcoming runners will lack the opportunity to be recruited into the same managements who would support them with the necessary finances and facilitation to get into the big races that will help shape their careers.
Upcoming athletes often get discouraged instead of getting inspired when the stars take the first top positions and the upcoming athletes finish outside the top positions. Not only the athletes, but those who were supporting their upkeep in their training camps as they would simply check their positions and, thinking that one has to win a race in Kenya in order to be able to finish in a good position abroad, think that they still have a very long way to succeed.
The prizes given out for the top three positions in the local races in Kenya means the whole world to an upcoming athlete, but may mean little to an international star. It would seem proper that the prizes from the local races go to help the upcoming athletes buy basic things to keep them training, like running shoes and food.
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