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COVID Restrictions Hampered Kenya's Olympic Performance, Team Officials Say


FILE - Gold medalist Emmanuel Korir, of Kenya, center, stands with silver medalist Ferguson Rotich, of Kenya, left, and bronze medalist Patryk Dobek, of Poland, for the men's 800-meter at the 2020 Summer Olympics, in Tokyo, Japan, Aug. 5, 2021.

Kenya’s Olympic team won 10 medals at the Tokyo Games, the most of any African nation. However, Kenyan officials say the medal count could have been even higher if not for the training restrictions brought on by COVID-19.

As in past years, Kenya dominated the long-distance running competitions, winning gold in the 800 and 1500 meters and men’s and women’s marathons.

Emmanuel Korir, who won the 800 meters gold for Kenya, told VOA he was happy with his performance.

“To be honest, I am so happy. We didn’t get time to train well. I don’t want to complain. It affected everyone, so we were all equal. Everything was fine. The only problem was there were no spectators, but at least we did it,” Korir said.

The East African nation won more medals than any other African nation, but this year's performance was not as good compared to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, where its athletes won 13 medals.

Kenya lost the men's 3,000 meters steeplechase in Tokyo after winning gold in the event every Olympics since 1984.

Barnaba Korir, the general team manager for Kenya’s Olympic team, says the lockdowns and restriction of movements caused by the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the athletes from winning more medals.

“Athletes were not allowed to train in a group. They had to train individually. It really affected them and we did not expect them to do well. And when we selected the team for the Olympics, there were also restrictions. We have to have athletes at the camp and the development where an athlete is not allowed to leave outside, the movement is restricted. They had to be in the camp, so those things were psychologically affecting our athletes but they ran very well,” Barnaba Korir said.

Emmanuel Korir says he is already looking forward to the next Olympics in Paris.

“I am working for maybe one day to run a world record. Preparing for the world championship and for the next Olympics; we have only three years, so everything is going to be fine,” he said.

Meanwhile, many Kenyans on social media criticized government officials for failing to organize a reception for its returning champions.

But Barnaba Korir says the criticism is unjustified.

“But I was there. I came early from Tokyo and we had officials from the government. Most of our athletes were arriving minutes after midnight and we organized for Faith Kipyegon and Peres Chepchirchir, Brigid Kosgey. We organized our athletes to be received at the airport and taken to a five-star hotel. So, I don’t think we should go that direction,” he said.

Barnaba Korir added that the government’s Ministry of Sports is working on developing a standard procedure to honor winning Olympic athletes in the future.

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