Changing China

Giant on the move

Kenya, Ethiopia reap rewards from hard work

August 24, 2008

Dibaba leads the packDespite setbacks ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games, Kenya will leave Beijing in glory after capturing 5 gold medals, 5 silvers and four bronze in distance running.

Kenya’s hope for an Olympic marathon medal were dealt a blow when Robert Cheruiyot pulled out due to injury and three-times London marathon winner Martin Lel’s training was affected by flu. But Sammy Wanjiru saved the day and brought the marathon gold medal, proof that distance running is Africa’s forte.

Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world, collected four gold, one silver and 2 bronze medals, showing that poverty does not have to stand in the way of great sportsmanship. Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenenisa Bekele both cruised to victory for the 10,000 and 5,000 metres, the first time the double has been achieved since the 1980 Games.

Kenya’s assistant athletics coach put it down to dealing with hardships from a young age and altitude, which helps the athletes deal with hot conditions.

“Our athletes have to walk long distances from a very young age to go to school unlike those in developed countries, so they just get used to it quite early,” Peter Mathu told Reuters. “We are very good at long distance because of the hardships we face. Training at high altitudes has also helped.”

Kenya and Ethiopia’s Olympic success stems from focusing on what they do best and a strong culture of athletics. While other countries see sports as a diversion Mathu said they start identifying and nurturing talent from Primary school.

Kenya and Ethiopia’s victory contrasts the underperformance of bigger teams such as Nigeria and South Africa, the latter having some of the best developed facilities on the continent.

Nigeria’s team official Dony Nezianya was candid in admitting that Africa could learn from Kenya and Ethiopia. “Most of it is just better planning. Kenyans and Ethiopians work very hard at developing their talent and raising the level of their performance,” he said.

Nigeria got three bronze medals in women’s long jump and 4×100 metres relay and heavyweight taekwondo and a silver from soccer.

“We had expected to perform better so this calls for sober reflection on our part,” he said.

Perhaps embarrassed by getting only one silver medal in long jump after sending the biggest team ever to the Olympics, South Africans did not want to comment.

But sports development looked set to remain a challenge for the continent where funds are directed to more pressing issues as millions live in abject poverty. Athletes that are now competing for other countries on lucrative deals say the migration could continue if earning a living as remains difficult.

PHOTO: Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia leads the pack on her way to winning the women’s 5000m final at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 22, 2008. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez


I am an Ethiopian and glad you wrote about our victories in the Olympic a back pay for hard work. What i don’t like about you colmnists/ reporters is while you try to mention about the good deals you as well blacken it by saying the most poorest( who asked you about that after all, we are okey) country bla bla… i hate that. You goddamn propoganda of bad imaging. I would recommend the writer to go to ethiopia and witness and will have other words to explain ethiopia.


Posted by Mebrahtom | Report as abusive

What kind of introductions is it? Ethiopia one of the poorest country in the world… I hate your racist propaganda, sport is nothing to do with country economy, you cannot be a good athletes because you born in London or NEW York, that is a bunch of crap.. Reuters sucks like their man in Addis, Tsgaye who is reporting what his government telling him to say


Posted by Yohannes | Report as abusive

It is always the media creates popular image about a country. And you are doing your best to contribute to your fellow pseudo-journalists. The paradox you trying to capture is not reasonable.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

It is sometimes you so called jornalist sounds like a parot
that repeat the word again and again. Ethiopia is poor economicaly, which is known to every body. so do the europian, american during thier war and depration but they
came out of it and ethiopia will do one day if the so called first world stop causing conflict to sell their wepone in that region.eventhough, sport and economy has some relation, i can mention world good athlet come from those poor country. like abebe bikila, mamo wolde,haile g/selase,ofcourse kenenisa my ( ambesa) hero!!!!!!!!!

Posted by shekur | Report as abusive

i was wondering why the writer didn’t say nothing about kenya, kenya is poor too. this is the Olympics where politcs, economy,race,sex… etc are out of picture and where athletes compete each other with respect n diginity. no one talks about communist china or a dictator north korea. let me remind the writer that a Russian and Georgia athlete’s hug n kiss each other on the medal podium.

Posted by ashuu | Report as abusive

Perhaps the most stirring moment for me was watching Tsegaye Kebede Wordofa accept his men’s marathon bronze medal during the closing ceremonies in a packed stadium. The humbleness, joy and humanity that emanated from the look on his face at receiving that bronze medal brought together everything that is great about the Olympic tradition of sport and what may remain good about mankind. He exhibited such respect and awe at his being there that I get goosebumps just thinking of that night and can only hope that his grace and style will serve as an example to the more flamboyant celebrators. He did his training and workouts just as any other athlete did over the past four years—-behind the scenes, without the fanfare—and all to achieve his dream.

It is fitting that he received his medal in prime time; in front of all the athletes, coaches, organizers, performers and fans there and around the world. That alone made the closing ceremonies one for the ages and leaves me anticipating the next Olympic games. To be able say that watching him made me feel a part of his dream would be an honor. To be able to say that I have renewed hope in all of mankind may be a stretch. To be able to properly say Tsegaye Kebede Wordofa and recall his triumph for others will be my mission.

Posted by Doug---USA | Report as abusive

The problem with this writer is that he equates a nations sports success with it’s overall wealth. That is why he is amazed that Ethiopia and Kenya did so well as compared to ie South Africa the Richest Nation In Africa. He should know that some Oil Rich counties and even the old mighty U.S.A recruited some of these Kenyan runners for 2008 Olympics but got the shock of their lives instead when most of them failed to even qualify for the finals. So what does say of wealth and sportsmanship ?

Posted by Greg | Report as abusive

what the hell are you trying to say? I don’t understand the importance of mentioning the economic status of countries in relation with the olympic medals.Are you trying to remind somebody/someone about something which is unknown to or what? To get an olympic medal should we have to be born some where in …or be wealthy like…? You know in our Country in Ethiopia this time we are doing much better than the privious years and dont even try to remind us about our economic status,we know it better than you do.Please go and wittness it .Don’t try to mix things. Ok? I hope the our neighbous from Kenya agree with my idea.

Posted by Yeshi | Report as abusive

I think people are over-reacting about this article. I too am an Ethiopian. What the writer was trying to establish was the fact that, one does not need to be from a “rich” country to win gold medals. (After all Canada won only three gold medals) You can do it even if you’re from a poor country like Ethiopia. Yes I said it, Ethiopia is a poor country folks, despite what our people say… The sooner we realize that, the sooner we will work to remedy the problem. Poverty and lack of resources should not prevent us from having big dreams, and therefore we should admit that we have a problem and work together to solve it, rather than jumping to conclusions and outrageously accusing a journalist of racism. We have to learn to decipher between good and bad articles, and this certainly was not a bad article, on the contrary, I found it thoroughly researched and well written.
Daniel Aberra.

Posted by Daniel Aberra | Report as abusive

It is true, people are dying because of food.Those abesha people the don’t blive the truth.You try to compere Kenya with Ethiopia.Did you heare that people in kenya dying because of food.It is true Ethiopia is the POOREST country in the world whether you blive or not

Posted by ddd | Report as abusive

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