James Magayi in Lagos @magayijim
Confusion and disappointments marred the eve of the 21st African Athletics Championships that starts in Asaba, Nigeria today as shambolic organisation left participants stranded 460km away in Lagos a few hours to gun-off.
Participants from at least 10 nations including Kenya, South Africa, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Rwanda and Cameroon spent the day sprawled on the airport floor as the wait for connecting flights to Asaba took days. Part of the Moroccan delegation for the games gave up after two days of waiting and jetted back to their country.
Chaotic travel arrangements cast a huge doubt on the quality of athletics to be served at Stephen Keshi Stadium from exhausted and dejected athletes while the overwhelmed Local Organising Committee struggled to get anything done.
Kenya is seeking a fourth victory while hosts Nigeria and South Africa are both looking for their 10th. The Kenyan delegation left Nairobi for Lagos on Monday morning but were unable to connect to Asaba upon arrival. The team spent Monday night in a crowded Lagos Hotel where three people shared one bed.
Attempts to get the team to Asaba on Tuesday morning also backfired as the LOC failed to secure enough flights. Twenty-two members of the delegation got seats on a 5pm flight as the rest sweated in the airport without proper nutrition. Reports that there would be no more flights to Asaba until today led to more frustrations from the Kenyan athletes and some were involved in an altercation with airport staff as they demanded to either return home or head to the event’s venue immediately.
As late as yesterday evening, Team Kenya officials were still divided on whether to return home of proceed to the games.
Several athletes including Julius Yego, Aaron Koech, Mark Otieno and Alphus Kishoyian carried out light jogging and stretches at the airport as frustrations grew.
Despite the setbacks, Kenya’s head coach Stephen Mwaniki is confident of a good performance from his charges, having tuned them for the past 14 days. Mwaniki was the coach when Kenya won its third and last African title in 2010 in Nairobi. He hopes to replicate the table topping feat of eight years ago in Asaba.
The first medal is expected in the men’s 10,000m final tonight in which three highly-rated novices will fly Kenya’s flag. Vincent Rono, Josphat Kibbett and Kipsang Temoi have the arduous task of reclaiming the 10,000m title from South Africa if and when they take to the tracks at 8pm today.
Temoi spoke up his chances ahead of tonight’s 25-lap race. “We have lost valuable time in which a lot could be achieved. Despite that, I’m hopeful of a medal because I’ve trained and prepared for a long time. I don’t want events of the past two days to ruin my medal chances,” he said.
Stephen Mokoka clocked 28:02.97 to take gold two years ago with Kenya’s Wilfred Kimitei confined to silver.
An outstanding trio of Ferguson Rotich, Emmanuel Korir and Jonathan Kitilit will vie for places in the men’s 800m final beginning 9pm.
In the morning session, team captain Aaron Koech and William Mbevi are lined up for the opening round of the men’s 400m hurdles. Upcoming one-lap runner Maximilla Imali will lead Kenya’s medal quest in the women’s 400m alongside Veronica Mutua and Nivean Michiana. Jared Momanyi and Alphas Kishoyian will then challenge in men’s equivalent.