Athletes flop in SA, coach suspects sabotage

Athletics coach John Mwathiwa has made sabotage claims following his runners’ substandard outing at the second edition of Africa Cross-Country in Cape Town, South Africa on Sunday.

Gervazio Mpani, Chancy Master and Kephas Kesten finished 17th, 24th and 37th respectively at Keurboom Park.

For Mpani, it was an outright retrogression as he was eighth at the inaugural edition of the competition last year.

Mwathiwa on Tuesday felt his charges gave their best against elite runners, including Kenyans who won three of the four gold medals on offer.

“We could have done better had we stuck to my plan. I only realised during confirmation time of Malawi athletes that AAM registered Kesten in the junior men’s category. In training, I prepared him for the senior category bearing in mind that he won gold for this category at a recent Mzuzu championship,” the coach complained.

A similar incident, Mwathiwa claimed, occurred at the 2010 Zone VI Games in Swaziland when AAM unilaterally registered some Malawi athletes for categories the coach was not aware of.

“I am beginning to think someone could be out to dent my coaching record. How can I be assigned a team then be rendered a mere figurehead? I thought as a coach I would also be responsible for choosing categories for the athletes based on their application in training?” Mwathiwa wondered.

The coach, who will give AAM a report on the South Africa trip, also claimed the association embarrassed his team by giving them a strip of the old Malawi flag.

“I did not unfold it until when we were about to parade for the opening ceremony. For fear of embarrassing my nation, I quickly stuffed it in my bag. Imagine having to, instead, hoist a bag inscribed Malawi while the rest waved their countries’ flags,” Mwathiwa complained.

AAM vice-general secretary Mzee Makawa on Tuesday justified the shifting of Kesten back to the juniors section, claiming as a 17-year-old, he could not ‘jump’ to the seniors.

“We felt that if he excelled in senior category of 12 kilometres [in Mzuzu], then he could perform better in the eight kilometres for the juniors. They did not even go into camp, so where did he train them? As for the flag, I have no immediate explanation as it came from the secretariat. What has it got to do with performance, any way?” Makawa challenged.

Mwathiwa rated the juniors category as tougher compared to the seniors; hence, Kesten could have done better. The coach, who flew out with the squad on Friday, claimed to have trained the athletes ahead of the cross-country which pooled 194 athletes and 48 officials from 21 countries.

Kenyan Clement Kiprono Langat grabbed men’s 12 kilometres gold in 35:43 minutes followed by compatriot Joyce Chepkirui winning the senior women’s eight kilometres in 27:04 minutes. The junior World Cross Country Kenyan champion Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon also finished first in 19:32 minutes.

Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda took gold, silver and bronze in the team placings with South Africa fifth behind Eritrea, according to www.athletics.org.za.

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