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'Runners of Kenya'

I’m glad that Manny Pacquiao has re-focused on his big fight against Briton Ricky Hatton on May 2 in Las Vegas. In the two interviews I had with Arnold Clavio of DZBB and Anthony Taberna of ABS-CBN, I had stated that if money was not the issue behind Pacquiao’s switching networks despite a live contract, the least he could have done was to consult his advisers. With all the money he has, Pacquiao has access to the best business advisers who can maximize his marketing potential but at the same time keep him operating within legal and ethical boundaries. If he and his close circle of friends do not learn any lesson from this episode, then this whole controversy would not have meant anything at all from the business and moral angles.

As a role model and a budding politician/public servant, the burden on Pacquiao to conduct his dealings in the most upright manner becomes an extra responsibility because much to him has been given. To be almost beyond reproach, Pacquiao has to be much more careful and circumspect than the ordinary mortal, whose every movement does not undergo scrutiny unlike the Filipino boxing icon who has become an international celebrity who goes through the public microscope.

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In last week’s column, I started to discuss the article “Runners of Kenya” of writer Linus Gitahi who says that Kenyan runners over the years have dominated long distance running. It is (for) this reason why several books have been written to analyze how Kenyans are doing these marvelous feats. Running camps were even developed to try to mimic the Kenyans training habits.

It was only recently, according to Gitahi, that another important aspect in the Kenyan puzzle has been analyzed – how these runners eat. Sports and nutrition experts from the International Centre for East African Running Science led by Yannis Pitsiladis in Glasgow studied a group of elite runners to understand their diet. They were surprised to find it very simple: primarily based on vegetables, grains and a variety of starches including bread, rice, porridge, potatoes, kidney beans, cabbage and ugali, a Kenyan national dish made of corn meal paste. Carbohydrates composed 86 percent of the diet and the rest is taken from beef. The runners drank 1.2 liters of tea everyday plus 1.1 liters of water.

Gitahi says that the basic characteristic of the Kenyan diet makes it remarkable. It is simple yet sustainable and it is a far cry from the kind of food available in most western (and Asian) countries which include candy, soft drinks and processed foods. Kenyans rely on their agriculturally rich land for food in order to survive and prosper – rather than indulge.

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Kenya is in East Africa and bordered by equally poor, and in many instances, countries embroiled in civil strife like Ethiopia to the north; Somalia (according to a survey of business people and industrialists, the most corrupt country in the world ranked 182; the Philippines is in the 141st spot) to the northeast; Tanzania to the south; Uganda to the west and Sudan to the northwest. It has a population of about 37 million with a topography and climate similar to the Philippines. Its crops are coffee, sugarcane, corn, rice and pineapple.

To have a better basis for comparison, the Philippine economy is four to five times that of Kenya: estimated Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Kenya in 2008 is $61.172 billion and per capita income is estimated at $1,734. In contrast, the Philippines estimated GDP for 2008 is $327.2 billion and estimated per capita income in 2008 is $3,400.

If one follows the conventional wisdom that richer countries do better in elite sports, one only has to see how Kenya has fared relatively better than other more economically dynamic economies like Thailand, Malaysia, India, Mexico and Brazil.

The country has regularly produced gold medals in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games in distance events: 800 and 1,500 meters; 3,000-meter steeplechase; 5,000 and 10,000 meters and the marathons. More on Kenya’s strategy of specialization next week.

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The MV Doulos, the world’s largest floating book fair, arrived in Manila on March 5 and is scheduled to leave today for Taiwan. While in Manila, Baby Villegas, daughter of former Manila Mayor Antonio (Yeba) Villegas, arranged for the ship to load 200 tons of free water. Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim arranged for 50 tons per day through the Manila Fire Department. Maynilad Water, through its president, Rogelio (Rogie) Singson; Chris Lichauco and Ronald Pascua donated 200 cubic meters. Chinatown fire volunteers headed by Gerry Chua of Eng Bee Tin took care of transporting the water to Doulos. Certainly this is corporate social responsibility in concrete terms.

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