Kenyan breaks out on two wheels instead of feet

Kenya, known for its road running dominance like these leaders at the Boston Marathon, has a budding young cyclist in David Kinja  Credit: Doug Pensinger/Allsport
NAIROBI (The Nation, Nov. 4, 2000) World sport doesn't seem to have enough of comedies. At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Kenya entered a cross country skiing team of Philip Bitok and Paul Boit, who struggled to the finish ages after the race had been won.

At this year's Sydney Games, Guinea Bissau swimmer Eric Mossoumba could hardly swim and would end up with the unenviable distinction of clocking the all-time slowest time in the pool.

Don't forget that tropical Jamaica at one point entered a bobsled team at the winter Olympics.

At the recent cycling World Championships in France, it was Kenyan David Kinja's turn to play the comic. But give credit where it is due. Kinja is headed places if his 41st-place ranking at the France event is anything to go by.

The 28-year-old cyclist arrived at the Charles de Gaulle airport with no idea where the championship would run.

Complete with a borrowed bicycle, Kinja managed to complete the time trial in a Kenyan record of one hour, four minutes.

The time trial is a competition in which cyclists race against not other competitors but time. In this year's world championship, the time limit was one hour, five minutes.

Kinja was lucky to get some financial backing (sh102,000) from the Population Services International.

The cyclist's story started with a rude awakening when he arrived in Paris to find himself stranded. The organizers of the world championships were not expecting him that day.

He had to take refuge at a Red Cross camp, hoping for the best. But he denies that he was stranded in France.

"I was assisted by the Red Cross but it was not an ordeal as a section of the press reports put it here," Kinja said. "The Red Cross has a contract with some airports like the Charles De Gaulle in Paris to assist stranded travelers. I paid for the night's accommodation though."

The cyclist went into the competition quite flustered.

While training in Nairobi and its environs around Ngong, Mombasa and Naivasha Roads, Kinja had been conditioning himself for the road race in the World Championship but when he landed there, he discovered he could not participate in the road race as only teams could enter for the road race after accumulating a number of points in various championships.

Thus Kinja had to settle for the time trial with poor quality shoes, no bicycle and bad weather in addition to his inexperience all working against his only plus; a positive spirit.

At the end of the time trial, Kinja was sharing the podium with the winners of the time trial championships given that he is black, was unexpected to perform within the allowed time and had never been to such a championship before.

"The media was overwhelmed by my performance. I did more interviews there than I had done in all my life despite of my language handicap (he does not speak French)."

Like Moussamba who found fame for swimming the slowest time in the Sydney Olympics, Kinja naturally attracted the unprecedented media attention.

The weekly magazine, Plouay 2000, sought to know how Kinja had come seen and conquered while Quest-France paid glowing tribute to the Kenyan for working so hard against all the odds.

Amateur Cycling Association of Kenya (ACAK) Chairman Julius Mwangi commends Kinja, considering that it was in a time trial not a road race in which he was involved.

The Quest France magazine says Kinja was started in the second position because they thought he was "a tortoise but he turned out to be a rabbit."

Kinja, who comes from Kikuyu, has been cycling competitively for only five years, which is nothing compared to the accomplished cyclists who have been at it for 10 to 15 years by the time they are Kinja's age.

He says of cycling: "It is an expensive sport. It is not like running where you just get up, put on spikes and away you go. For Kenyan cyclists to make a mark in the world, they must be exposed at high level and this costs money."

Kinja was assisted by the World Championships organizers with a Look bicycle and had trouble getting used to the bike.

"You need to train with the bike to get used to it before you can cycle well in a competition," Kinja said. "I did not have that time so I went real slow and in any case the hills and valleys are so steep I had to be careful."

Kinja says he is taking a break as he waits to defend the PSI Trust Cycle competition which takes place on World Aids Day on Dec. 1 in Nairobi. Kinja has won the competition three times in a row.

Kinja has scored a first in representing Kenya in the World Cycling championships as a result he has attracted a number of cycling clubs and companies that have promised him a possible participation in the cycling Grand Prix in Europe.

In an interview, Kinja says he was questioned at length over fears that he might have used drugs to help enhance his performance.

"I told them what I know, that I do know about drugs but I have never taken any."

Kinja says many in France were surprised to see a Kenyan "not running but cycling as they are of the opinion that Kenya only produces world beating athletes and nothing else!"

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