A picture is worth a thousand words. Yet most pictures, tell a lie. Images are enhanced, filtered, photo shopped, staged and framed to make the subject more glamourous than they actually are. When you look keenly, the picture is often marketing or promoting some product or the other. But once in a while, you run into a picture that makes you think. My picture of the past week was a human moment captured after the 2017 London marathon.
It was a simple picture of Prince Harry, posing with the elite men and women winners of the marathon, Daniel Wanjiru ( no relation to the late Olympian Samuel Wanjiru) and Mary Keitany. Prince Harry was standing in the middle with his arms wrapped around the Kenyan athletes, at ease in manner and dress. On his left side, Mary Keitany with a radiant smile enhanced by her high cheekbones and a left running shoe heel raised, God knows why. An elated Daniel Wanjiru was on Prince’s Harry’s right side leaning into the shot, both his hands occupied. One hand holding a gift bag and the other an open box a gift watch in it.
I won’t have given the picture more than a passing glance if Prince Harry was not in it. As a descendant of reluctant subjects of the Pax Britannica, I considered all the English male royals that I have lived to see, Prince Philip, Charles and now, William as the epitome of the stiff upper lip British gentry, boring well-dressed gentlemen with protruding strong chins. Prince Harry was more rebel than royal, naughty by nature and he had done some very down-to-earth things in his youth, like getting high and streaking nude at a party.
Behind them, a line of British flags faded out in the background. I examined the picture further and started counting the brands to thank for this photo opportunity. A watch from TAG Heuer, the official timing partner, Adidas track jackets and shoes, Virgin running tops and the official sponsor Virgin Money plastered on the race bib. Not to forget the city of London and a cool English Royal to crown it.
All these brands were riding on the back of Kenya’s greatest export. Our running champions. That picture was worth millions of dollars. The labor of Kenyan professional athletes continues to build the image of super brands worldwide.
Pictures of victorious Kenyans on world stages activate my patriotic sense. That picture should have made a bigger deal in Kenya during this election period in a country that has forgotten what national pride feels like. 24 year old, Daniel Wanjiru held off Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, the world and Olympic record holder and the most accomplished World Cross Country runner. Mary Keitany sliced 41 seconds off, four time British Olympian Paul Radcliffe’s London marathon record, set in 2005. And she did it without male pacemakers. Enroute to the top slot, Keitany outpaced the “The Baby Faced Destroyer” from Ethiopia, Tirunesh Dibaba, another renowned world record holder and Olympic champion.
At No.3 and 4 was Bedan Karoki and Abel Kirui from Kenya. In the women’s race, were three other Kenyans at no. 4, 7 and 9, Vivian Cheruiyot, Helah Kiprop, Florence Kiplagat. There would be no victory pictures of them doing media rounds. You could have run a world class personal best time but in a country that produces elite athletes only as fast as it produces corruption scandals, only your village mates will remember how well you performed. Sports heroes are condemned to be forgotten and only remembered when they run destitute to serve as images to be pitied.
The service of Kenyan elite athletes to national pride is one of the most underrated acts of patriotism. To be ranked the best in the world even in a single race is a factor of hard work, discipline and sheer self-belief. It takes more than physicality. The performance pressure is immense. Yesterday’s no. 53 finisher, becomes today’s No. 1 and he knows he cannot rest on his laurels because every day, a kid in Kenya wakes up determined to rise to running greatness.
Kenya’s elite athletes, men and women are a study in perseverance, stamina, focus and success. In their consistency and top performance is a treasure trove of lessons that can be applied to all areas of life. I have not seen any self-help books titled, The Art of Success: The 48 habits of Kenyans champions. No motivational series titled; A Success driven Life: Secrets of Kenyan runners. I have not seen a single TED talk of a Kenyan athlete sharing his winning strategies.
What I hear is the regional profiling and the politics of genetics. It must be the plain food, the high altitude Kenyan highlands combined with poverty. Poverty makes great runners, because everyone is trying to distance themselves from it.
The values, the discipline, the culture of high performance is never up for consideration. No local corporation CEO is commissioning a study to draw valuable lessons from the achievements of our elite athletes. Instead, the single advice pandered, is the importance of investing your race earnings in real estate.
It is no wonder, we constantly miss the big picture.