It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most adaptable to change. – Charles Darwin
For me, the 2015 World Athletic Championship which ended today in Beijing, China after 9 days of competition (22–30 August 2015) went some way towards proving Darwin’s point on a global stage and in a spectacular fashion. Of the 206 nations which competed, 43 nations won medals. For the first time ever, Kenya (and indeed any African country) topped the medal table, followed by Jamaica and then USA, the giant of the world. Great Britain came 4th. To understand the significance of this modern day David and Goliath story, one has to understand a few things:
- USA has traditionally been the undisputed medal champions from the onset of the Athletics Championships…and with good reason. Not only do they have the population, they have the state of the art facilities, and the funds. They also have the culture with the unwritten rule that sports is one of the 2 ways for young people to fight their way out of poverty (the other one being music). Although athletics is no way the national sports of the USA (by a long chalk), it is a sport that is still taken seriously as it provides so many with the possibilities for a better life.
- Traditionally in most African countries, sport is culturally regarded as something you do as a hobby in school, whilst you are waiting to get a University education which will catapult you into a highly lucrative career in law, medicine, banking or in politics….If you are a woman interested in sport, it something you do to while away your time before a suitor with prospects (in law, medicine, banking or in politics) comes knocking to whisk you off to a happily- ever after marriage. Recently, with the global popularity of football and the lure of multi million pound contracts in some of the lost prestigious football leagues in world, sport has been gaining serious respectability in African countries. But it should be noted that these sports refer only to football and only to men’s football. For an African country therefore to top an Athletics medal table is therefore something of a significant transformation of mind-set, focus and corresponding actions and activities.
- With a population of approximately 45 million people, Kenya is not the most populated African country (Nigeria is with approx. 174m), neither does it have the largest population of young people in Africa. Again this belongs to Nigeria, the 7th most populous country in the world and one of the largest populations of youth in the world.
- Unlike USA, neither the Kenya nor the Jamaica economy can be regarded as developed. Indeed Kenya is not the richest country in Africa – that belongs to Nigeria which overtook South Africa to become Africa’s largest economy in 2014 and is the world’s 20th largest economy.
- Jamaica has a population of 2.8m only. Sport is an integral part of national life in Jamaica and cricket is the national sport. Involvement in athletics begins at a very young age and most high schools maintain rigorous athletics programs with their top athletes competing in national competitions. In Jamaica it is not uncommon for young athletes to attain press coverage and national fame long before they arrive on the international athletics stage.
For the 2015 Athletics championships, Kenya sent 52 delegates to the 2015 competition; Jamaica sent 53 and USA sent 158. Inspite of this, both Kenya and Jamaica topped the medals table above the giant USA (Do I hear a rendition of “Size doesn’t matter?”).
Kenya has had a strong pedigree in Athletics for many years, but the talent has always been limited to long and middle distance running. However, that “limitation” appears to be changing. To be able to top the medals table on the 2015 Athletics championships Kenya had to adapt its talents to other sports events beyond their traditional middle and long distances. They did and took top prices in two of them – 400 metres hurdle (Nicholas Bett) and Javelin throw. In the latter, Julius Yego is credited with perfecting his technique by watching videos of athletes such as Jan Zelezny and Andreas Thorkildsen on YouTube!
Julius Yego….The Kenyans are coming!
If the Kenyans continue to flex their muscles to other sports and slowly adapting to their requirements, one can only wonder at how long before they become permanent features at the top of the medals rankings. How soon before we can legitimately update Darwin’s famous quote to read:
It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the richest, but the ones most adaptable to change.