The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein

Author:David Epstein [Epstein, David]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: Non-Fiction
ISBN: 9781101622636
Google: 656SnRCgu3sC
Publisher: Current Books
Published: 2013-08-01T07:00:00+00:00


Can Every Kalenjin Run?

Every summer, John Manners returns to Kenya, and every July—after the 1,500-meter time trial—there are tears. Most of them stream down the cheeks of the kids who just ran. But, says Manners, “some of the tears are mine. It’s a pretty emotional business.”

It’s hard to imagine Manners sad. His eyes glitter under a newsboy cap. Together with his pointed white goatee and his buoyant walking stride, the eyes lend a puckish delight to his conversations.

The 1,500-meter race that makes Manners cry is the capstone of a unique college application process for sixty or so impoverished Kenyan kids each year, and Manners and his KenSAP program have to leave all but a dozen of them behind.

Begun in 2004, KenSAP—the Kenya Scholar-Athlete Project—is the brainchild of Manners, a New Jersey–based writer, and Dr. Mike Boit, a bronze medalist for Kenya in the 800-meters at the 1972 Olympics and now a professor of exercise and sports science at Kenyatta University in Nairobi. The idea is to get top Kenyan students from the western Rift Valley Province into premier colleges in the United States.

Each year, Manners peruses the list in the newspaper of the highest scorers on the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exam—a high school exit exam that accounts for 100 percent of the college admissions process in Kenya—for names of students with the best marks in the western Rift Valley. He also goes on local Kass FM radio and solicits applications from students who scored an “A plain,” the highest possible mark. Still, recruitment has challenges. “Because the program’s free,” Manners says, “some of the [applicants’] parents assume it’s a scam.”

Manners invites selected students who complete an application to the High Altitude Training Center, in the Rift Valley town of Iten. There they are interviewed, and then made to run a 1,500-meter race at an altitude around 7,500 feet. All of the students have succeeded in high school despite coming from destitute rural families. The majority are boys—the patriarchal nature of Kenyan culture affords girls less opportunity to prepare for the KCSE exam—and some come from tiny subsistence farms and attend school in classrooms with mud or stone floors. All have both the academic skill and the college-essay fodder to knock the argyle socks off East Coast admissions officers. After the interview and 1,500, Manners confers with Boit and a group of American instructors and local Kenyan elders, and within hours reads aloud the names of the kids who are accepted. That’s where the tears come in, from those who missed the cut.

The dozen kids KenSAP accepts undertake two months of intensive SAT prep and college application work. Thus far, the KenSAP plan has worked brilliantly. Between 2004 and 2011, seventy-one of the seventy-five students accepted by KenSAP gained entrance to U.S. colleges. Every Ivy League university has had a KenSAP kid. Harvard leads the league with ten, followed by Yale at seven, and Penn with five. Others have gone to prestigious liberal arts colleges, on the order of Amherst, Wesleyan, and Williams.


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