Kenya continues to have one of the lowest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Africa, and around the world, based on population size, but the restrictions have continued as Bahamian national record holder in the men’s marathon O’Neil Williams looks to continue his training.
Williams, 37, is on a mission, looking to qualify for next year’s Olympic Games in the men’s marathon. His best time is about 18 minutes off the pace, but he remains confident that with proper training and in the right conditions, he will achieve his goal of qualifying for the Olympics, becoming the first Bahamian to do so. He currently lives and trains out of Iten, which is a town in Elgeyo-Marakwet County in the republic of Kenya.
“Training has been going pretty well, for the most part, but we are still waiting patiently for the best outcome given the restrictions,” said Williams.
“Everyone is still training with uncertainty toward the rest of the season. It’s crazy but bearable. It’s a challenge for sure.”
The ambitious long distance runner from The Bahamas still undergoes six days of training per week despite the heavy restrictions that are a part of the government of Kenya’s orders due to the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic. About two months ago, Williams was detained by Kenyan police for unknowingly defying those orders.
He has been training in Iten, Kenya for the past nine years. He initially was in Kapsabet, the capital of Nandi County before moving to Iten to train with more elite athletes. Williams has been training alone, following directives and guidelines from the government of Kenya on social distancing. According to the nation’s orders, put in place as a means to help control the spread of COVID-19, no two athletes or any group of athletes are allowed to train together, whether it be through running, performing drills or just regular exercises. All training camps have closed, but athletes are still allowed to train in isolation.
“… I wanted to learn their (elite athletes) training techniques and I must say my performance has drastically improved,” Williams told the Daily Nation, a leading newspaper in Kenya, last week.
“We hope the virus will be contained so that our lives can continue. As athletes, we now have enough time to prepare for the Olympics Games which is everyone’s dream.”
The qualifying period for the men’s marathon at the Olympics has been suspended, scheduled to re-start December 1, 2020. That period will run until May 31, 2021. Williams is gearing up to achieve the standard at the València Marathon 2020, which will be held Sunday December 6, in València, Spain. He’s looking at possibly returning to The Bahamas to run in Marathon Bahamas after that.
As an athlete in a foreign country, with no employment, Williams relies heavily on sponsorship, prize money from international races and money from private donors. He said he’s grateful for all the support he has received.
“Athletes are really suffering and without finances, it’s really hard to maintain their families; and we are just hoping for the best so that our lives can continue,” Williams told the Daily Nation.
“I always want to thank the people who got me here… my adopted father, Dionisio D’Aguilar, Think Simple, my aunt Joan Sweeting, my coach Wilson Bain, my friends, too much to name, but they know who they are. I just want to tell them I appreciate what they did for me over the years; and now I have a full year and a month to prepare for the Olympic Games and I feel ready.”
The 2021 Olympics Games are now set for July 23 to August 8, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. Williams’ personal best run in the men’s marathon is 2:29.26 – done for a 59th place finish overall out of more than 13,000 runners at the TCS Amsterdam Marathon in Amsterdam, Netherlands, last year. The qualifying time for the Olympics is 2:11.30. He can also qualify based on athlete quota for the men’s marathon for the Olympics and overall World Athletics ranking points.
Williams said that government of Kenya has started to relax its restrictions as it relates to the measures in place surrounding COVID-19, but added that like many nations around the world, they are still a far away off from returning to a sense of normalcy.