Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Eldoret’s success and Bekoji’s aspirations: A contrast in athletic support

Middle- and long-distance running have firmly established East Africans in the athletic hall of fame. Kenya and Ethiopia, in particular, dominate the global scene, consistently nurturing and producing world-class athletes in these disciplines.

Two towns stand out as cradles of this athletic prowess: Eldoret in Kenya and Bekoji in Ethiopia.

Eldoret, often referred to as the “City of Champions,” is renowned for its ideal training conditions. Located in Kenya’s North Rift Valley, its high altitude and hilly terrain provide perfect natural settings for endurance training. It also boasts extensive sports facilities, contributing to its reputation as a breeding ground for top-tier athletes.

The Kenyan government plays a crucial role in maintaining this pipeline of talent by modestly investing in sports infrastructure. This ensures that the flow of determined and formidable athletes to the world stage remains uninterrupted.

Eldoret is evolving into a comprehensive hub for both athletes and sports enthusiasts.Public administration and Kenyan athletic icons alike are committed to developing the necessary facilities for both amateur and elite athletes. A prime example is the legendary distance runner Kipchoge Keino and his family, who have begun investing in infrastructure in the town.

The Kipchoge Keino Sports Complex, as highlighted by Martin Keino, one of Kipchoge’s sons and a former athlete, is set to become a high-performance training center recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). According to a report by The StarKeino stated, “The center is listed as a high-performance training center by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), focusing on developing middle- and long-distance athletes.” This is a testament to the dedication seen in Eldoret.

Eldoret is home to a host of celebrated athletes, including Eliud Kipchoge, Ezekiel Kemboi, AsbelKiprop, Julius Yego, EdnahKiplagat, Mary Keitany, and Vivian Cheruiyot. These athletes have earned Eldoret its moniker as the “Home of Champions” and are well known to Ethiopian fans, as they frequently compete against athletes cultivated in Bekoji.

The success of athletes in Eldoret is attributed not only to the superior facilities and favorable topography but also to the local diet. The traditional diet, rich in high-carbohydrate staples with minimal fat and protein, provides the necessary fuel for endurance training. The natural physiques of East Africans, often lean and resilient, further contribute to their dominance in middle- and long-distance running.

Kenya and Ethiopia’s commitment to nurturing athletic talent continues to set them apart on the world stage, ensuring that the legacy of excellence in middle- and long-distance running endures.

Bekoji, a small town in Ethiopia, has also produced some of the greatest long-distance runners the world has ever seen. This remarkable list includes the first African woman to win an Olympic gold in long-distance running, Derartu Tulu; the first female African marathon winner, FatumaRoba; and other legends like TikiGelana, Mestawet Tufa, the Bekele brothers (Kenenisa and Tariku), and the Dibaba sisters (Ejegayehu, Tirunesh, and Genzebe).

However, despite its rich history of athletic excellence, Bekoji faces significant challenges. At the third annual running festival held recently in Bekoji, local youth voiced their frustrations over the lack of adequate sports facilities. Organized by the Great Ethiopian Run in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism, the event became a platform for these young athletes to demand better infrastructure. They chanted, “We need the stadium built,” highlighting the dire state of their current, rudimentary training grounds.

Imagining the potential of Bekoji with facilities akin to those in Eldoret, Kenya, is both inspiring and disheartening. With the right support, Bekoji could indeed become a factory for producing world-class athletes.

Elite athletes and local leaders should engage with major multinational brands like Adidas, Nike, Anta, and Under Armour. These companies could be invited to sponsor and build state-of-the-art training facilities in Bekoji. Naming these facilities after the sponsors, such as “Adidas Bekoji Track” or “Nike Bekoji Academy,” could attract significant investment and support.

The Ethiopian government and philanthropists should also be involved in restoring Bekoji’s status as a “town of champions.” This would require collaborative efforts to develop not just sports facilities but also essential infrastructure. The town’s needs extend beyond a single stadium or sports facility. It requires comprehensive development—roads, schools, healthcare facilities, and more.

Despite these challenges, Bekoji’s community remains generous and welcoming, blessed by nature but underserved by man-made infrastructure.

To attract tourists and further investment, the groundwork must be laid with basic amenities. Once the foundations are in place, the potential for growth and success in Bekoji is limitless. By addressing these needs, we can ensure that the next generation of athletes from Bekoji have the resources they need to succeed on the global stage.

Contributed by Birhanu Fikade

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