By Roy Gachuhi,
The Kenya weightlifting team to the Rio Olympics comprises two people – the competitor and his coach/manager. James Adede, 28, is the competitor and John Ogolla is the coach/manager.
The powerhouse sports, athletics and rugby, hog all the headlines while the strongest men in Kenya go about their business quietly, almost anonymously. They were the earliest arrivals here, coming in on July 25.
I went to the Olympic Village to pass part of an afternoon with them. It was worth my trouble, engaging in a free-wheeling conversation about the status of their sport in Kenya and the world. I was also in order to admire their impressive physiques.
To me, the coach looked like a competitor. It was almost therapeutic being a world away from the debilitating controversies engulfing athletics. Sometimes I just feel like running away from our runners’ problems. They never seem to end.
Have you ever heard any good news about doping coming out of Kenya? I did. “If it was not for the tightening of the screws by the world anti-doping agency, we would not be anywhere near here,” Ogolla told me. That’s interesting, I told him, tell me more about it.
“All these years that we have been to top level competitions,” he said, “we have watched as people lift enormous weights. We knew what they were doing but there isn’t that much we could do about it. But now the clampdown is on. Wada are doing a good job.
The African Championships used to qualify for the Olympics were held in May in Cameroon. We were ranked sixth and missed qualification by 20 points.
But later we learned that somebody had failed a dope test. We were moved up to fifth, the cut-out level to qualify for one slot. That’s how we got here.”
KENYA’S SMALL SPORTS
Weightlifting is one of Kenya’s small sports, by following and by resourcing. It is concentrated in Nairobi and the Kitengela areas. There are no more than six active clubs in the country.
A career in weightlifting gives a participant the option of becoming a gym instructor in addition to its competitions. This option is important because weightlifting is entirely an amateur sport.
James Adede finished number 10 out of 10 in Group B in the clean and jerk category. He finished number 9 in the snatch. But he told me he is thinking of the next Olympics. “Just more resources, more facilities and more encouragement and we are going to improve,” he told me.
As I always like to remind myself, anybody who can be a national or continental champion, and an Olympic participant, is as elite a sportsman or woman as they come. This is a club of the world’s best.
I met the weightlifters in the shadow of the horrendous injury suffered by Armenia’s Andranik Karapetyan whose elbow popped out of the socket, leaving his arm bending backwards. Many people feared he would lose it.
Before we got down to our discussion about Kenya, I asked Ogolla about Karapetyan. “He’s okay,” I have confirmed that with the doctors. No surgery is even required. In two months’ time, he should be lifting.”
That is called good news.
Roy Gachuhi is in Rio de Janeiro as a writer-in-residence with Agencia Publica, an independent Brazilian investigative journalism news agency.