Why Kenyans win Marathons; Myths and Stereotypes Nigerians have for Kenya

The recently held Lagos Marathon was won by Kenyans, from the first to the fourth positions. Just like they did last year. The winners said during the post event interview, they are already looking forward to next year’s event. To come back and win. Again and again. And they might, for a number of reasons. Generally, many Nigerians believe all Kenyans can win marathons. It’s a wrong stereotype. Not all of them can. Kenyans (a part of them) winning marathons begs a lot of questions from people, including Nigerians. But that’s not the only thing Nigerians don’t know about Kenyans. They seem to have their stereotypes for Kenya and Kenyans, like we all do for different people and countries. Having spent more than two years in the beautiful East African country, I have met many Nigerians who hold these stereotypes.

Amongst the many I hear, I have highlighted four below, starting with the marathon myth.

  1. All Kenyans can win marathons
Abraham Kinton of Kenya given the winning trophy from Lagos State Governor

This is among the most popular. It’s not their fault though. They win marathons in all competitions, Olympics, IAAF, London Marathons, Lagos Marathon and wherever they are staged. How? When I went hiking Mount Kenya (5199m), second highest mountain in Africa, I met our hiking guide. He lived around the mountain area and has climbed up and down the mountain more than a hundred times. We met other guides and potters along the way. He spoke to a group of some potters passing us, asking for the whereabouts of a certain fella. He was told he went for some marathon screening issh. He was hoping to win gold in an upcoming marathon. The wishes of many of the people living around the Mount Kenya area and Iten (where majority of the winners come from). The altitude of the towns around the mountain area can be as high as 2,000m, much higher than many places in the world.

I spent the night in this hotel, 1970m altitude (just a few kilometres from Mount Kenya)

Geographically, the higher you go,  the less oxygen there is to breath. And that is the reason. Many of these winners and hopefuls of marathons’ golds live in high altitude areas (Iten is 2,400m, Addis Ababa is 2,350m and Lagos is 41m). They live their everyday life on less oxygen. So in whatever way they run, playing football, for fun, racing with each other, it is a marathon practice. While sprinting, you are always taking less energy due to the exhaustion. These people have been used to it way back since they were kids. That’s why majority of them have that advantage of endurance.

  1. All Kenyans are skinny and dark in complexion
A Kenyan lady dressed up for an event

This is among the most popular too. The reason is fueled by  watching the Kenyans winning marathons, who are mostly skinny and dark. There are many tribes in Kenya and a number of them have a big population of fair and average sized bodies. The truth is they aren’t as chubby as most Nigerians (and aggressive as well). The Swahilis, people from Mombasa (port city of Kenya and the second largest city after Nairobi with 1.2 million people) are majority fair in complexion.

  1. Kenya is not as developed as Nigeria
Skyline of the city of Nairobi

Well let’s not talk about GDP. Nigeria has a higher one but the Nigerian Naira exchanges 1 Kenyan Shilling for 3.06. With Human Development Index, Kenya ranks 7 places ahead of Nigeria. In terms of infrastructure, Kenya does not surpass Nigeria, and same goes the other way. Nairobi is a lot like Lagos, narrow roads and very tall buildings. Much more than what we have in Abuja. Power supply is not as erratic as in Nigeria. You get much more power in Kenya than in Nigeria. Problems with security is worse now in Nigeria, albeit share similar unfortunate terrorists attacks. Corruption is about the same level. So the assumption that travelling to Kenya means travelling to a less developed place don’t hold water, if you are coming from Nigeria.

  1. There are only wild animals in Kenya
This rarely happens (credits: South African Airways)

The many safaris of Masai Mara, Tsavo National Park, Amboseli, Samburu, Hell’s Gate and so many other national wildlife reserves that brings Kenya to limelight on Discovery Channel has given them a definition of a wild life jam packed country. Truth is there are so many of those parks around. But there are other natural features such as Lake Naivasha, Lake Victoria, the coast of Indian Ocean at Mombasa and Malindi, the many volcanic craters, rocks and mountains, waterfalls, etc. there is so much to see in almost all of Kenya. Even where the equator passes.

Do you have other stereotypes I haven’t mentioned, please comment below. But what about the other way round? What stereotypes do Kenyans have for Nigerians and Nigeria? Lots of them. Wanna read about them, subscribe to my blog and I will follow up on that.

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