Missing The Big Picture

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.


Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan writer, curator and editor. This blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan and African life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.


  1. Great read Pala. You are truly on the mark with this one. Why don’t we write that book. It’s plausible. It’s possible. We will make millions 🙂

  2. #Breaking2 is yet another example…

    • Nike scored big with that sub 2 marathon attempt and to be honest, it was more of a marketing stunt than a celebration of sports excellence.

  3. Richard Kerama

    Pala. As usual, you are brutally honest which is why I read your articles. Ever considered writing such a book as the one you have suggested? Give it a shot. It would become not only a athletes’ Bible but also a text book on human endurance, the joy of success and the colour of the depths of despair.

  4. Christine


  5. Lovely thought provoking piece.

  6. Carolyne Gathuru

    No truer words have ever been uttered. And possibly because we the ‘middle-class-keyboard-thumbing’ populace have been known to get both traditional media and subsequently govt attention, we need to start an army that completely puts the big picture on the mantle place where everyone looks at it admiringly, right from the comfort of our key pads.

  7. A very good sunday mid morning read. Lots of truths. Good stuff.

  8. …and they are the ones who did the winning…yet they are reduced to props for western brands . Any different from our wildlife? Who owns what?

  9. OP, you have said it as it is..naked truth. Our obsession with shortcuts in acquiring money and self centredness has often condemned perseverance and focus. We are witnessing degrees for sale and not education and graduation by results earned through commitment, focus and self discipline.

  10. Powerful. That’s all I can say. It really is food for thought. Thanks for sharing this Oyunga.

  11. cheruiyot

    Your article is quite motivating, in Kenya we dwell on what brings us down such as tribal politics, corruption and poverty rather than positive attributes of our great men and women who are making Kenya admirable in the world…

  12. Ann thuo

    You said it well OP. My hubby is a recreational marathon runner and has several full and half marathons under his belt. I have seen the nature of hardwork, dedication & brutal punishing training he puts in. So I totally concur with your thoughts here about the total lack of regard for our athletes & how much they put in to put us on the world map.

  13. Dr. Griffins Manguro

    OP, Read you from when I was in form one in 1998 or 1999. Always a loyal reader. Very insightful post.

  14. With you on the Ted Talks and Books . Why don’t we tell our stories . We wait for the world to tell our stories . Hmmm nice food for thought .

  15. I want to subscribe to your insanity.
    I dont want to miss any of ur articles or future books u write.
    N yes u making a great point.
    Sadly again only few readers will take the intiative to even finish the article.

    All it takes is 1.
    I am here.

  16. What a coincidence that I would stumble upon this article today, just yesterday I was listening to NPR( a public radio station here in Maryland) and during one of their shows called ” This American Life” the host explored this question of why the Kenyans always win the marathons. He pointed out of course the usual things we have heard over and over, poverty and the training in high altitude environment but he also discussed certain aspects of the Kalenjin culture that likely play a role in the making of elite athletes.

  17. Good article Pala the knife. Good thoughts and ideas

  18. Thanks for the eye opener OP, let’s take action!

  19. Oyunga, this is a brilliant piece. Thank you for your valuable contribution to the discourse on Kenyans’ place today in global athletics. The photo above is priceless. You have asked a critical question. That is, how can corporate organizations (CEO’s) draw vital lessons from the process of making (Kenyan) champions?.

  20. great article, though provoking

  21. The real picture of a royal.

    The only on that matters. No extreme makeover here.

    Keitany and Wanjiru couldn’t give a hoot that Prince Harry there is raping their sisters, daughters, wives and mothers…

    in his native homestead…

    and plundering and pillaging his land and resources…

    ..before going East to Iraq and Afghanistan to continue his rampage.

    REJECT #Imperialism Native Brothers and Sisters

  22. Anne Komen

    Insightful…taking action asap

  23. Nyarinda

    Wow! I have never thought about this, I’m among those that clearly miss the bigger picture. We need to tell our own stories.

  24. Naomi Sanga

    Very insightful post. A lot of things we can truly learn from athletics.
    Keep it up OP.

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