How mismanagement cost Kenya's race walkers spot at Paris Olympics

Samuel Gathimba competes in men's 20 km race walk during day 8 of the IAAF World Athletics Championships on October 4, 2019 in Doha. ©Imago

How mismanagement cost Kenya's race walkers spot at Paris Olympics

Festus Chuma 10:00 - 23.04.2024

Kenya's race walking team faced unexpected setbacks en route to a crucial Olympic qualifier in Antalya.

Kenya's aspirations for a strong showing at the Paris Olympic Games suffered a severe blow due to a logistical nightmare that prevented the national race walking team from competing at the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships in Antalya, Turkey.

The team, which included notable athletes like 2022 world bronze medalist Samuel Gathimba and African Games champion Emily Ngii, embarked on their journey from Nairobi to Antalya, anticipating to secure their spots at the upcoming Olympics. 

However, a critical error in their travel arrangements led to unexpected detours and delays that ultimately dashed their hopes.

The ordeal began when the team, under the guidance of Athletics Kenya, boarded a Turkish Airlines flight at midnight on Thursday, destined for Istanbul. 

After a seven-hour and twenty-minute flight, they were supposed to catch another flight directly to Antalya. Instead, they were rerouted to Ercan International Airport in Northern Cyprus, adding unnecessary travel and complications.

Upon arriving in Cyprus, the situation worsened. The team was detained at Ercan International Airport due to the lack of necessary transit visas. 

As a result, they were forced to spend two nights sleeping at the airport, a distressing experience that left the athletes disheartened and exhausted.

“It’s quite disappointing that we had to go all the way only to be detained in Cyprus where we slept at the airport for two days,” said a team member in a statement to Daily Nation.

The confusion stemmed from the Ministry's oversight in flight arrangements, which inexplicably included a layover in Cyprus instead of a more straightforward route from Istanbul to Antalya.

“The ministry was in charge of the flight arrangement and we don’t know why they rerouted us to Cyprus when it was easy to connect from Istanbul to Antalya,” the source added.

While the Kenyan team struggled with bureaucratic red tape and logistical errors, the championships proceeded without them. 

The event saw stellar performances from athletes like double world champion Kimberly Garcia of Peru and Sweden's Perseus Karlstrom, who claimed the 20km women and men's titles respectively. 

Meanwhile, Spain and the People's Republic of China took home the men’s and women’s team titles, with Italy winning the inaugural Marathon Race Walk Mixed Relay gold.

This misadventure not only cost the athletes a chance to compete on a global stage but also the opportunity to qualify for the Paris Olympics. 

Athletics Kenya is reported to have promised to prepare a formal statement addressing the issue and to reassess their travel coordination strategies in light of the repercussions of this incident.

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