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In Praise of Asbel Kiprop

It was Theodore Roosevelt Jnr who uttered this famous quote: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and blood; who strives valiantly: who ERRS, who comes SHORT again and again because there is no EFFORT without ERROR and SHORTCOMINGS...…."





The complete statement is profound, and I urge you to be curious and read the whole of it.

Asbel Kiprop broke into the athletics world when he won the 2007 Junior IAAF World Cross Country Championships and then later dominated the field to win the 1500m gold at the All-African Games. From then, Asbel became a feature of World athletics, his name mentioned among the potential athletes who would dominate world athletics for decades.


Asbel proved the pundits correct, coming second in the 1500 m race at the Beijing Olympics. After the Bahraini Rashid Ramzi was disqualified for doping, Asbel was promoted to Gold, fulfilling the dream of many Kenyan athletes who aspire to become Olympic champions. His win cemented his legendary status among Kenyan greats, becoming a world celebrity.

For many years, Asbel's slim frame running from behind before streaming elegantly past his opponents became a standard feature on Kenyan screens.


Asbel's laid back running style infuriated his fans. In his favourite 1500 m races, he would lackadaisically strut around for more than 3/4 of the distance as everyone who supported him screamed at him to unleash his famous kick. Like a Leopard on the prowl, Asbel would bid his time, reserving his energy. His eyes, most often, would be on the stadiums' big screen, reading the splits and judging the pace. He did not have to see the track; years of practising had taught him to curve around without a second thought. As the frustrations on his "lack of effort" reached a crescendo, Asbel would unleash his famous kick, and by Jove, that was always a joy to watch.


His top speed was his significant advantage. In some races, he kicked too late, and that was so frustrating; but when he hit it perfectly, no one could match his energy reserve nor his fluid running. Asbel was a wonder as he flew past his opponents, and the universe could hear a collective sigh of relief across his home country of Kenya as everyone exhaled and released the tension of watching this giant of middle-distance running.


He frustrated us many times on the track, as he did in his private life. From the tales of his escapades at the Kipchoge Keino High-Performance Centre to his alleged doping and infidelity, Asbel went from hero to villain. In this post-truth world, he was tried, judged and convicted by the public without regard to the impact celebrity culture has on our champions.

We cannot all have the zen-like attitude of the mercurial Eliud Kipchoge, the philosopher road runner who reads Machiavelli in between races. Asbel Kiprop broke into the world stage as a young upstart and conquered the world. We celebrated him at the top and never gave him a chance when he had personal issues. He deserves a second chance and our support as he reaches, once again, for glory.


I will be watching with bated breath as Asbel stands at the start line. I will urge him on with frustrated screams, and when he hits his apex, I will cheer him to the finish line.


Asbel's story is everyone's story; that is why we create heroes. We try, we fail, we try again.

When Asbel glides to the tape in a few months, I hope he inspires you that nothing is lost until you stop trying.

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