I found this topic fascinating when reading “Train Hard, Win Easy”. Press coverage for distance running seems to be even worse in Kenya than here. I recall one instance where a major running event that the Kenyans dominated (possibly World XC, not sure) was a day late going into their biggest newspaper, though there was tons of info about a soccer tournament that Kenya wasn’t involved in. When the article came out, it didn’t even make the front page and was fairly short.
What’s funny is that some people have this idea that running is like football or baseball in Kenya… that kids grow up dreaming of being great distance runners. In fact, it’s all about soccer, cricket, etc. and many of their best runners give the same types of answers as American runners when asked why they took up the sport. “Because I was no good at soccer” is a common response. As in America, there are certainly those teenagers who do choose running as their sport early on, but it’s likely that it’s no more common than it is here.
It also sounds like their athletic association can be quite corrupt. Lots of money goes into it, but little makes it to the runners (though the book went into little detail here). Also, runners who speak out against the organization or don’t agree with their politics often get left off of teams that they probably deserved to make. It seems that the various running camps, support from outside sources, and the Kenyans’ general willingness to help each other out make up for some of these shortcomings.
Apparently, succeeding at the highest level in distance running requires only minimal support. Some good runners to train with are nice, a good training environment (good coaches, free food and living, low impact running surfaces, etc) helps, and free travel to various running events is a big plus. Even more support is certainly nice… I wish I knew more about the current state of American distance running to compare it with Kenya’s.