KENYAN WOMEN FEEL OLYMPIC HEAT.
Since Kenya began competing in the Olympics in 1964, its male runners have won 32 medals, including 12 gold. The tally for Kenyan women? Zero.
``We have given our women a raw deal,'' said Mike Boit, Kenya's commissioner for sport and the 1972 Olympic bronze medalist in the 800 meters.
While Kenya has produced a talented crop of women runners, especially in cross country, marriage and pressures of the male-dominated society have forced many to quit at the peaks of their careers.
Most African men think it is inappropriate for a married woman to display her thighs in public and demand that their wives give up their careers in athletics, Boit said.
Kenya has failed to support its women athletes in the same way as it supports men, said Mary Chege, chairwoman of the Women's Sub-Committee of the Kenya Amateur Athletics Association.
``Women are not taken seriously,'' she said. ``Men still regard the women athletes as nobodys. Unless the KAAA recognizes the women athletes and give them equal opportunities, it will be difficult for them to make it to the top.''
Chege said her committee has started to groom more women coaches for schoolgirls, because parents often are uneasy about their daughters being coached by men.
KAAA spokesman Sammy Ayany denies the charge of sexism.
``We in the KAAA have given women equal opportunities but, of course, all athletes cannot achieve equally,'' he said. ``All the women need to do is to work a bit harder and they'll achieve what the men have done.''
Sally Barsosio hopes to do just that.
At 14, she became the youngest athlete to win a medal at the World Track and Field Championships, taking bronze in the 10,000 meters in 1993.
Now 18, Barsosio hopes to become the first Kenyan woman to win an Olympic medal of any kind.
Barsosio, the second child in a family of five girls and two boys, began competing in track in 1992.
Her cousin, Susan Sirma, was a star athlete and winner of a bronze medal in the 3,000 meters at the 1991 World Championships.
``I was so happy to see my cousin doing well and earning good money,'' Barsosio said. ``I said to myself, `One day, I must be like her.' ''
At first, Barsosio said she ran ``so that at the end of the race I could be given glucose. I used to enjoy it a lot. It was sweet.''
Now she said she runs because she wants to make the most of her talent.
Barsosio won a gold medal as a junior at the World Cross Country Championships in 1994. Competing against the seniors the following year, she won a bronze. She was one of the favorites in Saturday's World Cross Country Championships in Cape Town, South Africa.
Barsosio said she has no intention of getting married soon.
``Not now. I want to run for another 10 years,'' she said. ``If my (future) husband cannot allow me to continue with athletics, then he will have to look for another wife because I will not quit track just for him.''
Three other Kenyan women, including one of Barsosio's sisters, hope to make it to Atlanta: Chepkemoi Barsosio and Rose Cheruyiot in the 5,000 meters, and Tecla Lorupe, a marathoner who will likely run in the 10,000.
Kenyan women have had their share of international success.
They have won the team event at the World Cross Country Championships in four of the past five years. They've won the junior team event in six of the last seven years. Lorupe has won the last two New York Marathons.
The promising careers of Sabina Chebichi, Elizabeth Onyambu and Cherono Maiyo all ended prematurely in the 1970s.
Hellen Chemtai, one of the few promising women sprinters in Kenya, was on her way to the top when she got married and quit running in 1993. She wants to make a comeback, but it is unclear whether she'll be able to overcome pressures at home to regain her former form.
Kenya's national 400-meter hurdles record-holder Rose Tata-Muya and national shot put record-holder Elizabeth Olaba are among the few women whose careers have survived marriage.
African women are raised for traditional roles and are made to believe ``their place is in the kitchen,'' Boit said.