Gym closures force sports champions to train by the roadside

Taekwondo champion Vincent Ochieng usually trains in school sports halls in Kisumu, Kenya, but now he is working out with hundreds of other people on the gritty surface of the western city’s biggest highway flyover.

Since the authorities closed sports facilities in early March as part of measures to contain the spread of the pandemic, athletes like Ochieng now have nowhere to train, even if Ochieng was looking forward to representing Kenya at the World Taekwondo Championships in China in October.

Athletes exercise amid the coronavirus disease outbreak along the highway flyover in Kondele estate of Kisumu, Kenya. Image credit Reuters

“We are planning to represent the country in October in the Chinese Taekwondo World Cup, but unfortunately this COVID-19 is with us and we don’t know when it’s going to end. We just hope it ends before the tournament time,” Ochieng said as he trained with other sportsmen and women.

Ochieng is a six-time national champion who usually trains with his daughter. He has represented Kenya in tournaments in South Korea, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Sudan.

He is not alone. He works out alongside Evelyne Akinyi, a welterweight boxer and national team member who started the sport five years ago and has competed in Morocco and Senegal.

Athletes exercise amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak along the highway flyover in Kondele estate of Kisumu, western Kenya. Image credit Reuters, Fred Ooko

“Two days after we came back from Senegal, we got the news that the coronavirus had hit Senegal,” Akinyi said after doing sit-ups and practising punches with her coach.

“However, that did not stop me from training. I am training anyway, in case there is a match soon.”

The early morning sessions attract about 400 other residents, including football and basketball players and musicians.

Yet, some people disapprove, claiming the training sessions violate government orders to avoid gathering in groups.

“Let us train at home, let us do our things at home so that we can fight against this disease,” Kisumu resident Daniel Otieno said as he walked past the flyover.

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