NAIROBI, June 18 (Xinhua) -- When the Olympic Games curtain rises in Tokyo in August 2021, Kenyan women's volleyball will be marking the third decade since its debut on the global scene.
In 1991, the country's first trip abroad saw Kenya cut its teeth in the international volleyball world. As one of the 24 teams competing at the World Cup in Japan that year, Kenya lost all of its matches.
Three decades passed, and a lot has changed after three generations of players evolved to take control of the voyage.
Head coach Paul Bitok, a former international player during his youth days, has been recalled from his tour of Croatia, Tunisia, Egypt and Rwanda to take charge of the east African team.
It is a challenge that coach Bitok has taken in his stride. He aims to raise the bar and make the team earn respect as an equal competitor on the world stage at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics next year.
Bitok said 30 years of development must yield some positive results.
"We have the capacity, technology and talent to take on any rival," Bitok told Xinhua on Wednesday in Nairobi.
"Volleyball has evolved and our players too have grown, developed and adapted to the changing international playing styles. We have a blend of local and international players competing in different leagues and this will offer us an edge, a reason to believe we can make it."
Ever since its debut show at the World Cup in 1991, Kenya has gone on to represent Africa at five other editions of the competition, with the last one being in 2019, where Kenya placed in position 11 out of 12 teams.
Kenya has also made inroads at the World Championships, making every show since its debut in 1994. The championships, held every four years, has helped the country keep its players sharp, and in return maintain a firm grip on continental games.
Kenya is also the women's African volleyball champion, with a record nine wins. They also won the 2015 FIVB World Grand Prix Group 3 title after beating Peru in the final. Now Bitok is challenging his team to raise their bar and go for the main prize: an Olympic medal in Tokyo.
Bitok said he is not worried about the magnitude of the task ahead as Kenya has ever played against champions China, Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Japan, Russia, Serbia and the United States.
"Our focus has shifted to the Olympics. We need to have better preparations heading to Japan so as to be able to dominate the Olympics. We have to go for a serious training camp, and we have petitioned the government to set up one in Serbia or Turkey and be able to play friendly matches against top nations," Bitok said.
For the Tokyo Olympics, Kenya has been pooled in Group A and will have to play against South Korea, Serbia, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and hosts Japan.
In their last outing at the Olympics, back in 2004 in Athens, Kenya played and lost to Brazil, Italy, South Korea, Japan and Greece.
"Currently, Kenya is the best in Africa. Now the hard work is to turn that to be the best at the world stage. We must start small by winning matches, playing well and dominating the global stage. The Tokyo Olympics will offer the platform," the coach added.
Bitok's plan has of course been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. First the Games was pushed back to 2021 and then he had to devise new methods to continue training his side. Bitok has been undeterred by the setbacks and uses the messaging tool WhatsApp to provide his players with daily fitness plans.
"We don't live in ordinary times, so it calls for extraordinary solutions. My team has continued to train through use of technology. No playing nets at home, no problem for me. I must ensure they are fit during the pandemic. I have daily programs, which all the players must follow," said Bitok.
"Each player shares with me short video clips of what she has done for the day and this has been the norm for five consecutive days because I usually give them two days to rest each week," he added.
Volleyball is a team sport, so it requires players to congregate together, which is against health measures imposed by the government to fight COVID-19. But with the use of technology, Bitok believes the players can set their own bars and work to overcome the challenges.
"Unlike other sports like track and field, volleyball is different. Handling of the ball requires two or three players depending on the position. For instance, you can't spike or receive the ball alone at home so what we focus on is strength, physique and other fitness exercises," he added.
"When the health situation improves and we are allowed to return to action, we will take the minimum amount of time to hit our peak," added Bitok.
However, the postponed Olympics has also opened a new window of opportunity for the coach to recall his injured players back to the fold and bolster his squad for the big task in Tokyo.
"We have dependable players like Trizah Atuka who was not in the list this year. Their journey to recovery is going well and they could get a chance next year," Bitok said. Enditem