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The Heart of African Sports

African Sports News: The Heart of African SportsAfricaSportSite.Com covers the human interest stories – the stories behind the major stories and the stories of African’s who have overcome great odds to compete in the games enjoyed be peoples around the world.

How did the little, West African country of Togo earn a Bronze Medal in Kayaking in last years Olympic Games? The is a terrible war in Dafur, Sudan and that country has never had runners that place well in the All African Games and now several from that war torn area are among the top in the world in their events. One of them carried the American flag for the USA team in last years Olympics. What is the story there? Murus Yifter, of Etheopia, won several Olympic medals and earned the Gold in Munich, but a few days later he missed his heat in the 5000 meters, because he was in the washroom.

Haile Gebrselassie: Africa and the World’s Best Runner Ever

Last week, I sat comfortably on my couch and watched what I thought was the last run of the world’s best runner ever, Haile Gebrselassie.  He dropped out of the race when an injury finally had its way with him.

From the first time I saw Kip Keino run and win a mile race in the L.A. Sports Arena back in 1965, I feel in love with African runners.  I have always been partial to the Kenyans but when Abebe Bikila won the 1960 Rome Olympic Marathon barefooted, I was enthralled with the Ethiopians.

Ethiopian, Haile Gebrsellassie is the world’s best.

Haile Gebrselassie has one the prime races of his profession:
  1. two Olympic gold medals over 10,000 meters
  2. four World Championship titles for the 10,000 meters.
  3. four time champion of the Berlin Marathon
  4. three consecutive wins at the Dubai Marathon.
  5. four world titles indoors at distances from 1500 to 3000 meters.
  6. and the 2001 World Half Marathon Champion.
  7. and set 24 world records.

After the NY City Marathon, Haile announced his retirement, then quickly retracted it:

ADDIS ABABA, Nov 19 (Reuters) – Passionate appeals from the Ethiopian public persuaded marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie to change his mind about retiring, the athlete told reporters on Friday.
The 37-year-old, regarded as the greatest distance runner of all time, announced he was quitting earlier this month after dropping out of the New York Marathon with a knee injury only to reverse the decision a few days later.
“The reason (I came back) is that people were commenting on the way I announced it. Everyone in Ethiopia was passionate and wanted me to be back,” Gebrselassie told reporters… here to read this entire article.

In a CNN special, Haile said, “I am addicted to running, it is a drug.  I need to eat, rest, and run.”

For the other parts of this CNN show see Part 2, and Part 3 where he set the marathon world record.

Running In Africa – My Experiences Part 1

Kenya is home for some of the best distance runners on earth. For sixteen years, I lived among the Kalenjin people, the fastest of them all. The tribal group has given birth to Kipchoge Keino, Ben Jipcho, John Ng’eno, Henry Rono, Julius Korir, Peter Koech, and a pale plodder.

That’s me.

The villagers laughed at me, in a friendly way, as I ran along the paths. Some kids would run behind me chanting “chumbindet, chumbindet” (“white man, white man”).

But I scared some to death.

I’m not just talking about little kids. Sure, I’ve unintentionally scared many of them. They see this white man running toward them dressed in nothing but shorts and shirt, and take off like a bolt of lightning, screaming.  They did not stop until they find a brother or sister to hide behind.

At dawn one crisp morning I started down my normal, Kaitet Ranch course which was a dirt path that twisted around the base of two bald hills. The hills were covered with a patchwork of green and brown corn fields and a sprinkling of huts and cattle.  But none of my neighbors were out yet. Doves and Crested Cranes sang in the new day.  A monkey laughed at me from high up in a tree.  It was difficult to push hard in such a tranquil setting, but I was attempting to better my personal record for the six mile course. When I turned at the three mile mark and headed back, I noticed a woman carrying a basket had stepped onto the road a hundred yards in front of me. She had her back to me.

When she heard my harsh breathing she turned and screamed.  Birds clattered off.  Dogs barked.  I doubled over and laughed loudly between breaths.

The women dropped her basket and ran off the road into a corn field to the left. She screamed, “The spirits are after me.  The spirits.  Save me.”

People, jolted out of bed by the screams, popped out of their huts on the hillside. They saw the woman coming out the other side of the corn field and me in the road laughing. They laughed so hard I could hear them down on the road.

I never saw the lady again. I heard latter she hid a half hour in another field.  I, too, was behind schedule when I reached home.  No record that day.

Another morning I ran down a leaf-cushioned path in a dense forest near my house.  No kids to tag along behind me there.  My only company were the moss covered trees and tarzan vines that hung from them.  I enjoyed the silence and solitude.  I heard nothing but my breath and branches brushing against my elbows.  I scampered down a slippery slope and turned sharply to the right.  In front of me were four women.  They each balanced forty pounds of twigs and branches on their heads – enough firewood for four days.  Their backs were to me.  Before I could warn them, one turned around and screamed.  She threw her load off and started a chain reaction.  She raced past the next woman in line and dodged the falling load of the third woman.  Thud, thud, thud, the loads hit the ground. The women all screamed as they ran off.

“Wait. It’s me,” I yelled. “Do not run. Come get your firewood.”  They ignored me and ran faster.  A minute later I reached the back of the forest. The women were disappearing over a bluff in an open field.

Two days later I ran down the same path.  The bundles of firewood were still there.

Don’t think that I just scare women and children when I run. I’ve scared the bravest young men.

December is the month the Kalenjin people circumcise their adolescents to make them full members of the tribe.   After they are circumcised, the young men spend close to a month in seclusion, learning tribal customs. The major bravery training takes place in the middle of the seclusion period.

One mid-December afternoon, I ran in the forest and came upon two initiates.  Their faces were painted white.  Only a cow shin covered each. They carried a bow and arrows and several long sticks.  They were members of a mock war party in the midst of bravery training.

Initiates who act cowardly during this stage could be defiled – shunned or belittled the rest of their lives.

The initiates stared at me – the puffing white monster in shorts.  Their eyes widened as they crouched, but they held their ground.  I chuckled a little as I passed.

The path was overgrown with sticker bushes in front of me. I lowered my head and burst under their barbed branches.  Twenty yards later I lifted my head and found myself sharing a clearing with twenty more of the cow skin clad initiates.  When the first one turned his whitewashed face to me he howled and ran, setting off a human stampede.

“Wait, your suppose to be brave,” I yelled.  “I will not eat you.”  They never looked back.

I don’t know what they told their elder mentors when they reached the seclusion hut.  But I’ll bet my Reeboks they reported having been chased by a pale, plodding spirit.


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