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Kenya Runners Consider U.S. Boycott

April 25, 1998

NYAHURURU, Kenya (AP) _ Top Kenyan runners, angered by the reported attempts of some American race organizers and sponsors to limit their appearances in U.S. events, say they are considering a boycott.

The problem, it seems, is that Americans don’t like getting beaten.

``I know every sponsor would like to see their own athletes winning, but it’s not our mistake to win,″ said Moses Kiptanui, the first athlete to run a sub-eight minutes in the 3,000m steeplechase.

``If they are not careful, we’ll boycott races in the U.S.″

The controversy arose after the New York Times reported on April 16 that race organizers were trying to limit the presence of Kenyan runners and the money they can win U.S. competitions.

The story cited the May 25 Bolder Boulder race in Colorado as an example.

``How will the Americans feel if their top sprinters are treated the same in Europe or elsewhere?″ said Daniel Komen, holder of five world records who has been invited to participate in a May 31 invitational in Eugene, Ore.

``They have to accept that we’re better than them in long distance races, so they should learn from us.″

The 21-year-old Komen threatened to mobilize other Kenyan athletes to boycott races in the United States.

``What the Americans should do is not just to limit our participation but have their own runners only participating in their meets. We can take part in many other meetings in Europe and Asia,″ he said.

``It’s a kind of racism,″ said Federico Rosa, an Italian who coaches many leading Kenyan runners. ``If the guys who were winning were white, from Spain or Italy, there would be no problem.

``Maybe if they were black American runners, like in sprinting, it wouldn’t be a problem. Americans hate losing. Maybe it’s time to have two different groupings in running _ professional for Kenyans and others, amateur for American runners.″

But Bolder Boulder organizer Bill Reef said there is no intent to keep foreign runners out of the race, which for the first time will follow an Olympic-style, team format that allows only three runners per country.

``There are going to be more foreign athletes here than last year. We are trying to make this a world-wide running event. The Kenyans are not and were never the issue,″ Reef told The Associated Press.

In Europe, athletes are generally invited to attend meets and are paid an appearance fee. If they win, they receive a bonus.

John Bale, co-author of ``Kenyan Running,″ a 1996 study of the history and sociology of the sport in Kenya, said attempts to restrict Kenyan runners are not new.

Ten or 15 years ago, he said, there were attempts to limit the number of Kenyans who received track scholarships to American universities.

``Recruiters actually came to Kenya looking for runners,″ Bale said. ``But there were people who felt Kenyans were taking scholarships from American high school boys.″

``The difference now, of course, is money,″ Bale said. ``You have businessmen involved. They want interviews, high visibility.″

Many of Kenya’s best runners are members of the Nandi branch of the Kalenjin tribe from the Rift Valley. Bale rejects explanations of environmental or racial determinism for their success but says there are historical and cultural reasons why Nandis do so well. And although Nandis may be excellent long-distance runners, they are less expert in television interviews and public appearances.

``It seems to be a real clash for the marketing people,″ Bale said. ``There is a visual image, but when it comes to verbal interaction, any dialogue, the whole thing breaks down because of language problems.″

The New York Times also reported that last summer Kenyans were excluded from the George Sheehan 5-mile race, while the Gate River race in Jacksonville, Fla. and the Pittsburgh marathon now award prize money to American athletes only.

Bolder Boulder organizers defend the practice, arguing that it is a way to improve the competitiveness of American distance runners. So far, Reef said, officials have been unable to recruit either an American men’s or women’s team, despite dlrs 64,600 purses.

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