Friday, January 16, 2009

Linus Gitahi's Runners of Kenya

I used to have a doctor who drove me crazy. Every year when I went in to see him he would say "Hey, you were in Africa! How was that?" Never mind that I had been home from Africa six or seven years already and he’d already asked me this question multiple times. Then without even waiting for an answer he would say "Where were you? Mali? Is that where they jump really high? Don’t they jump really high over there?"

"You asked her that last time," his assistant said once. Even she remembered we’d been through this routine before.

Nobody jumped really high in Mali, to my knowledge. I can only assume he was referring to the 1994 Kevin Bacon movie, The Air Up There, about a team of basketball players from Africa. I never saw it, but I believe the movie was shot in Kenya, where Maasai warriors are commonly over six feet tall. So maybe the premise of the movie wasn’t that they were such good jumpers, but that they were just tall. This probably also accounts for the fact that Kenya produces a lot of world-champion runners, including Kip Keino, a two-time Olympic gold medalist. According to Linus Gitahi, in his blog The Runners of Kenya, Kenyan men hold six of the top 10 fastest recorded times in the marathon. Linus Gitahi also posits that running up and down the steep mountains of Kenya have conditioned the athletes there to lean forward and use gravity to their advantage. They also use a unique hop-like foot strike that allegedly expends less energy while running. So while I’m not sure about their jumping ability, they certainly do seem to have an edge in running.

Linus Gitahi is the CEO of Nation Media Group, the largest media firm in East and Central Africa.

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