Bahrain’s gold-medal Olympic track team is almost entirely made up of Africans

Jemima Sumgong celebrates for Kenya.
Jemima Sumgong celebrates for Kenya.
Image: Reuters/Johannes Eisele
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Over the past two days, Kenya has won two gold medals. David Rudisha won the 800 meter race on Monday (Aug. 15), becoming only the second runner in history to retain the Olympic title. Jemima Sumgong dodged a protester during the women’s marathon on Sunday to finish nine seconds ahead of her closest rival, becoming the first Kenyan woman to win the Olympic marathon.

But another gold medal also won by a Kenyan runner won’t count for the East African country. Ruth Jebet, a Kenyan-born runner now competing for Bahrain, won the 3,000 meter steeplechase yesterday evening. She beat her former compatriot, Hyvin Jepkemoi, who took home silver for Kenya.

Jebet is one of at least 30 Kenyan-born athletes competing for other countries in the Olympics, ranging from the United States to Bosnia. Ethiopian and Nigerian athletes like Femi Ogunode and Ezinne Okparaebo are also competing for their adopted countries, Qatar and Norway. Bahrain’s Olympic track field team is almost entirely made up athletes originally from Africa. Half of the men’s team hail from Nigeria, Ethiopia, or Kenya while almost all of the women’s team are from those same countries.

Switching alliances isn’t new in the world of sport as athletes seek out better pay, endorsements, a less competitive field, or better-run sports programs, as Quartz has pointed out.

In Kenya, there’s a lot to be desired in how the country’s Olympic program is run, which has been glaringly obvious in the Rio Games. Self-taught javelin thrower Julius Yego, who has been openly critical of Kenya’s treatment of its athletes, arrived at the airport on Aug. 7 to find Kenya’s Olympic committee hadn’t booked a ticket for him. Only after the rest of the Kenyan team refused to board was he allowed to fly.

Kenyan coach John Anzrah was sent home by Olympic officials after he used a runner’s credentials to cop the dining hall meal being served to athletes in the off-limits athletes’ village. ”We were operating in Rio like beggars, cooking for ourselves in a private house, but our athletes always helped us get food,” he told Reuters this week.

Nike, the official sponsor of the Kenyan Olympic team, has complained that much of the athletic gear they issued for the team appears to have gone missing. Deputy vice president of Kenya William Ruto has called for a probe into the missing kit.

Both Kenyan gold medal winners credited their success to their fans in Kenya. Sumgong said she was “elated to have won gold for Kenya.”

Rudisha posted on Facebook, “I dedicate this win to all my fans all over the world and above all to my country; Kenya. To all those who woke up at 4am to watch the race and for all your steadfast support throughout the years.”