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Thread: Great Coaching

  1. #1
    Administrator Angela Coon's Avatar
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    Apr 2005

    Great Coaching

    ( I thought this article was worth sharing and written by a great coach in Australia ... Enjoy)

    AS you can see, I wrote this article prior to the Sydney Olympic Games. But the substance of the man and his work in coaching remains the same for Colm O’Connell. You will of course be more familiar with his name now that he is recognised as the coach of David Rudisha who was the stand-out performer in athletics at the 2012 London Olympic Games… I hope you enjoy this insight into Brother Colm.


    Mike Hurst

    From: Hurst, Mike
    Sent: Saturday, 22 April 2000 2:31 PM


    By Mike Hurst

    "You're walking on hallowed ground," Brother Colm O'Connell quipped as he guided us to his "stadium" in Iten, at the heart of Kenya on a precipice overhanging the awesome Great Rift Valley.

    The so-called stadium is indeed one of the world's greatest theatres of performance in the premier Olympic sport of athletics, yet there are no amenities - not even a bench much less a grandstand.

    It's actually an unfenced field of dreams, with a grass-bare walking track cutting diagonally through the parkland leading to the Iten markets across the road.

    The afternoon photographer Anthony Weate and I attend training with Colm's blessing the middle of the pitch is flooded; hallowed ground indeed, what we witnessed was something more akin to walking - make that running - on water.

    On this crude field, Colm and his cheerful indigenous assistant chief coaches - Rosemary Chemutai and Joseph Nguri - have developed five Olympic medallists, two of whom struck gold; six world champions, with 10 gold medals between them; and five world record-breakers, with 14 world records.

    And all of this eminating from the coaching program of one school: St Patrick's School for boys at Iten.

    There are certainly more medallists from the St Patrick's program, but who's counting? Not coach Colm O'Connell.

    "I've never tabulated the whole business. Sometimes in Africa they say it is not traditional that you count things. For example, families don't count their children. There's a taboo about counting things," Colm says in a lilting Irish accent, still obvious after 24 years in Kenya.

    Silver-haired Colm is a Patrician Brother who came from Ireland in 1976 to teach at St Patrick's in Iten, about 50km away from Eldoret and a further 50km from Kapsabet.

    His timing was lousy. He arrived smack in the middle of the black boycott of the Montreal Olympic Games with the strong Kenyan team checking out of the athletes' village and heading home without competing.

    "It was the week of the boycott in July '76 and one of our great heroes at the school was Mike Boit who went to St Patrick's," Colm recalls of that year's fastest 800m runner in the world pre-Games.

    "Mike was one expected to do well in the 800m (against Cuba's Alberto Juantorena Danger). That was a big let-down.

    "So there was already athletics at the school. Secondly, there was a coach here already at the time. He was Peter Foster, a brother of Brendan Foster who won the bronze medal (for Britain) in the 10,000m in Montreal.

    "Peter was crazy on track and field. As soon as I came he said: `I need a coach, I need a coach. I need someone who'll help me out, stand with a watch and blow a whistle.'

    "He said: `That's all you have to be able to do.' He said: `I'll tell you what you have to do.'

    "So he took down me to our local stadium here, down to this field every evening, gave me a watch and a whistle and he said: `You just stand there now and you press this when they start and you press it again when they stop. You tell me the time or you write it down in a notebook.'

    "And that's how I started."

    Still bemused by his happy dilemma, Colm relates: "A year later he just came with all the athletic paraphernalia to my house and said: `There it is! You're a coach! I'm leaving!"

    ( continued on next page.... below)

  2. #2
    Administrator Angela Coon's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2005

    Re: Great Coaching

    continued from above =

    The legend of St Patrick's might never have been created had the enormous responsibility fallen on a weaker man, but the legacy of Brother Colm has been the invention and implementation of a nursery system for Kenyan athletes which is the envy of every sports institute in the world.

    And the coaching method he developed is also an example, both morally and technically, to the wider world of sport far beyond idyllic Iten.

    Standing in the muddy midfield observing the current generation of teenaged prodigies, Colm recalls: "I was an ordinary teacher in the school so I depended largely on dealing with the athletes, watching them closely like this.

    "I was asking them how are you feeling about your training, how's it going, do you think it's too tough, do you think it's too easy, what about speed work, what about hill work, what about endurance work?

    "So I learned nearly all of my coaching from the athlete.

    "Maybe not having any previous fixed ideas about training, I think now when I look back on it, was a big advantage. It helped me get much closer to the athletes and to monitor and be able to read an athlete.

    "My coaching to this day still retains the basic idea that you must first know the person before you can coach them.

    "It's only secondary that you know the program because the program in itself is only as useful as it can be applied to the athlete."

    Brother Colm no longer teaches at St Patrick's. He now instructs at the Tambach Teachers College, although he continues to mastermind the district coaching strategy and returns to St Patrick's to conduct coaching camps during school holidays.

    "I'm a Brother of St Patrick. All our particular society's schools, in Australia as in Kenya, have that aspect of sports associated with them," he explains as his happy holiday campers run a series of 15 times 100m cross-overs, using him as the nexus point.

    "We tend to believe that the best way to shape and influence young people is through what they like doing best. Be it through football, swimming, athletics or whatever, they tend to be a lot more receptive."

    Pressed to assay the gold, silver and bronze produce of the St Patrick's system, Colm names titans of world athletics such as three time steeplechase world champion Moses Kiptanui, five time world record-breaker Daniel Komen and the triple 800m world record-setter Wilson Kipketer.

    Under an arrangement set up by Brother Colm, because his family had no money to cover his tuition fees at St Patrick's, Kipketer painted his classroom to pay his way.

    Kipketer is expected to make his Olympic debut in Sydney for his adopted Denmark, but he's likely to face stiff opposition from current Colm protege Japhet Kimutai, the Commonwealth Games 800m title-holder.

    Kimutai, 22, is among four "senior" men coached personally by Colm. The others are Kipkirui Misoi (steeplechase), William Chirchir (1500m) and Ben Kipkirui (1500m). All four are world junior record-breakers.

    At the inaugural IAAF World Youth Championships in Poland last year Australia had two gold medallists; Kenya had four - three from Colm's program.

    They include exciting 1500m winner Cornelius Chirchir, brother of William, 21, who upset Kenya's world championship silver medallist Noah Ngeny to win this year's grand prix in Melbourne in an Australian all-comers record of 3min 32.55sec - a time, incidentally, just 0.02sec slower than Sebastian Coe's Olympic record!

    Speaking of a line of succession, the three medallists in the 1997 Athens world championship steeplechase all originated at St Patricks: Wilson Boit Kipketer, Moses Kiptanui and Bernard Barmasai. All have run world records in the chase.

    Now if you want a real dynasty, contemplate St Patrick's system graduate Chris Koskei, the 1999 world championship steeplechase gold medallist, his brother Abraham, the world junior championship steeple silver medallist, and their brother, Stephen, the world youth championship steeple gold medallist.

    "So of the three steeplechase world titles available, they have won two gold and one silver. All have come through our system," Colm says. "And their sister is here. Her aim is to become the world's world steeplechase champion."

    Indeed Sally Barsosio, the only Kenyan woman yet to win an Olympic or world championship gold medal (also in Athens, for 10,000m) also came out of Colm's program.

    "You never know who they are now. You just know a face and a name but in three or four years time they could be on top of the world," Colm reflects as 35 boys from St Patrick's and 35 girls from sister school, Singore, dart past and leap the puddles.

    "When I first came to Kenya, the Nandi district - of which the capital is Kapsabet - was the centre of Kenyan athletics. Most of the Kenyan team came out of Nandi and even the track team at St Patrick's was Nandi, like Mike Boit.

    "There were hardly any locals on the St Patrick's team when I came. They were all Nandis and many people believed only Nandis can run.

    "Gradually the centre of gravity has moved. Around here in Iten is where most of the athletes now either train or come from.

    "For example, if you take the 1997 Athens world championships, Kenya won three gold medals. All three were from here - that's Wilson Boit Kipketer (steeplechase), Daniel Komen (5000m) and Sally Barsosio (10,000m).

    "If you go back to the 1960s most other districts which did well, did so only in relation to Nandi. They were districts which touch Nandi.

    "Now it's the districts which touch Keiyo. To the east is Baringo district (Paul Tergat, Nixon Kiprotich), to the south is Kibertek (Pauline Konga, Lydia Cheromei), north is Marakwet (Moses Kiptanui, Richard Chelimo, Ismael Kirui, William Mutwol, Paul and John Koskei) to the west is Pokot district (Tegla Loroupe).

    "So the centre of Kenyan athletics has moved from Kapsabet, 50km on the opposite side of Eldoret, to Keiyo district and Iten is the capital of Keiyo district."

    Ironically, although he is personally responsible for under-pinning so much of the Kenyan success, Colm has never actually attended a major championships - not even a Commonwealth Games.

    If he makes it to Sydney in September as he hopes, it will be to see his first Olympic Games, even though he had the 1500m gold medallist (Peter Rono) in Seoul and the steeplechase gold medallist (Matthew Birir) in Barcelona.

    "I've coached four world record-breakers and I've only seen one of them break a record," Colm advised. In fact it's five record-breakers...and counting.

    The one he did see was history's first sub-8min steeplechase run by Moses Kiptanui in Zurich in 1995. Wilson Kipketer paid his way there.

    As to why Kenya has become the hot-house of the middle and long distance running world, Colm is uncertain but offers an insider's useful insight.

    "So many people have gone into the ifs and buts and whys. Why Eldoret? Why this part of Kenya? And I think nobody has come up with any real one answer," he says.

    "They had role models right from the 1950s in Eldoret and especially in the 1960s with the emergence of Kipchoge Keino and particularly the Nandi people of Kapsabet who had Julius Sang, Mike Boit and the likes of Ben Jipcho in the early 1970s.

    "Then of course there is the high altitude: it's almost 2000m above sea level in Eldoret. In Iten it's 2400m, so training here is tough.

    "But when you grow up here it's sort of part of your lifestyle. Part of your system. You don't know anywhere else. This is where you live.

    "When you watch them training they make it look rather simple, but if somebody came from sea level and tried to do the same thing it's a different story.

    "Other people have tried to say there are genetic reasons as to why a particular tribe and group of people around here have been successful. That's not been conclusively proved scientifically or medically.

    "I'm sure the lifestyle of the people is a factor: they are tough and nomads and people who travel long distances. The kids still run to school.

    "They live in a tough environment. I mean they are mentally and physically tough people. They lead a hard life and when it comes to the crunch, that is part of athletics.

    "Of course they are highly motivated now because athletics has moved from being a sport to being a career, being a business. It's now a livelihood."

    So the success of Kenya's runners is a combination of nature and nurture, Brother Colm O'Connell providing a generous surplus of the latter.

    He was surely the right man in the right place at the right time, working away quietly in the background to contribute massively to Kenya developing and maintaining it's status as the most powerful distance running nation the world has ever seen.


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