How Ron Davis and Filbert Bayi made history for Tanzania

When Ron Davis started out in athletics, he probably never dreamed that he would get to travel the world doing what he loved best – much less that it would lead to him laying down roots half way across the world in Tanzania.

But following a chance meeting with some Olympic icons and a tour around Africa, the US athlete-turned-coach found his true calling when he linked up with Filbert Bayi.

Born in 1941 in New York City, Davis didn’t have the easiest start in life. When Davis was four years old, his father was imprisoned for armed robbery in New Jersey. Once released from prison, he remarried, and Davis at age 12 moved in with him.

“It was in Virginia that I experienced southern-style segregation and racism,” recalls Davis. “I learned to say, ‘Yes sir’ and ‘No sir’, to not look at a white woman, drink out of fountains or go to a bathroom where signs said ‘colored’ or ‘black’, and I could only attend an all-black school.”

Living with his mother while attending high school, Davis was a great basketball and baseball player, but the training field for the high school baseball team was too far away to attend daily practice. With no money to cover transportation, he started taking part in athletics. He excelled in long distance races and ended up with the sixth-fastest mile time in the country when he broke a 24-year-old record at the Brown Invitational.

Davis received dozens of university scholarship offers at a time when a common misperception was that black people could not run farther than 400m. He attended San Jose State University in California and became an All-American, forming a key part of the history-making 1962 NCAA Cross-Country Championships team—the first racially integrated team to win the division one (then called the university division) title.

From 1968-1969, as a student assistant coach at his alma mater, he crossed paths with Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the 1968 Olympic 200m gold and bronze medallists. The two men had been forced back home by the then United States Olympic Committee (USOC) for their human rights protest on the medal podium and were later ostracised and received death threats. But, having been inspired by their actions in Mexico City,Davisgot to know the men personally and, along with Lee Evans – another Olympic gold medallist and civil rights activist – spent a lot of time with them.

Athletics in Africa

Davis’s connection with Africa started in the early 1960s. During the height of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union, Davis embarked on a goodwill tour around Africa in 1964 as part of the US team. Through competing at meetings and hosting clinics, organisers of the goodwill tour wanted to show that life in a democratic country such as the USA was better than in the Soviet Union.

The team toured Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Algeria. At one of the clinics, a student in the audience asked Davis: “Why are black athletes called ‘Americans’ during the Olympics, but before and after the Games they are called ‘negroes’ and treated as second-class citizens, facing racism and difficulty getting housing and employment?”

The question struck a chord with Davis. He took a greater interest in colonial Africa with its struggles for independence and this later led him to coaching in Nigeria, Mauritius, Tanzania, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, Mozambique, and being a Fulbright lecturer in Brazzaville, Congo.

A decade later, Davis and Evans were the national athletics coaches for Nigeria. Several African countries boycotted the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal because the IOC refused to ban New Zealand after their national rugby team toured apartheid South Africa. In 1978, Nigeria decided to boycott the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton for the same reasons. Davis, directly impacted by the boycotts, was fortunate to meet Tanzania’s Minister of Culture and Sports who hired him as the national athletics coach for Tanzania in 1979.

Filbert Bayi was Tanzania’s star athlete at that time. In 1974 hemade international headlines when winning the Commonwealth 1500m title in world record time. Considered one of the greatest 1500m runs of all time, Bayi took the lead from the start and kept it until the finish line as he broke the world record with 3:32.16 in what was his fifth race within seven days. A year later, Bayi broke the world record in the mile, clocking 3:51.0 in Kingston, Jamaica.

When Davis was first hired as Tanzania’s head coach, Bayi was injured and receiving treatment in Germany.When he returned, Bayi – who was coachable, disciplined, and trained hard – willingly accepted Davis’s coaching system.

Had Tanzania not boycotted the 1976 Olympics, Bayi would have been a medal favourite in the 1500m. When the next Olympic year came around, Bayi decided to move back to the steeplechase, an event he hadn’t contested since exiting the heats of the 1972 Olympics as an U20 athlete.

The early signs during the 1980 season were promising. Bayi won the steeplechase at the DN Galan meeting in Stockholm in 8:17.98, which was the world-leading time ahead of the Olympic Games in Moscow.

Full of confidence and determined to win a medal for Tanzania, Bayi set off at world record pace in the Olympic final.He passed through 2000m in 5:20 – inside the world best for the 2000m steeplechase at that time – and at one point had a 30-metre lead over Poland’s Bronisław Malinowski, the Olympic silver medallist in 1976. With fatigue setting in, Bayi’s lead hadreduced to just five metres with one lap to go. He was inevitably caught by Malinowski but held on to finish second in a national record of 8:12.48, earning Tanzania’s first ever Olympic medal.

“Ron Davis is a hero to me because of [my] silver medal while he was coaching me,” Bayi said in a 2019 interview with “I’ll never forget that. I went through ups and downs with him and we are still friends.”

Decades later, when he was tasked with reviving athletics in his country,Bayi once again called upon his friend Davis. “He is the only person that brought Olympic medals to Tanzania.”

Further Olympic involvement

In the early 1980s when Atlanta was considering bidding for the 1996 Olympic Games, the co-chairman of the event, former UN Ambassador and Mayor of Atlanta Andrew Young, contacted Davis. The connection developed into Atlanta hosting 80 athletes from 11 countries in a pre-Olympic training camp prior to the 1984 Olympic Games. Davis was responsible for 11 teams, nine of which were from Africa.

Years later, Davis was founder and director of the LaGrange pre-Olympic training camp ‘I Train in LaGrange’. It welcomed more than 500 athletes from 45 countries – many from Africa – before the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

“There is no doubt in my mind, as I experienced lobbying for Atlanta to win the 1996 Olympic Games, that what Atlanta did in 1984 had an impact in the city winning the bid,” says Davis. Historically, LaGrange is a former cotton mill town where many African people had been slave labourers. Sadly, what could have become an Olympic legacy after the Games was stopped.

In 1992, while South Africa was in the process of reinstatement into the Olympic movement, the IAAF (now World Athletics) organised sanctioned meets in Dakar and in Johannesburg, opposing South Africa and the rest of Africa. Davis was appointed coach of the African team and arranged for the visiting athletics delegation to meet presidential candidate Nelson Mandela.

“As soon as Mandela entered the room, his spirit just took over the whole meeting,” recalls Davis. At the press conference, Mandela apologised to the athletes and Africa’s sporting officials for how the sports boycott of major international events had affected them because of the apartheid policies in South Africa. The event marked the reconciliation between South Africa, the African continent and the international sporting community.

Project 2020 and beyond

In 2018, Bayi invited Davis back to Tanzania and together they tailored the programme‘2020 and Beyond’,the primary objective of which is to scout, train, nurture and prepare talented athletes in a country whose last Olympic medal came 40 years ago.

“I will be forever grateful to Filbert Bayi for bringing me back home,” says Davis.“I have always dreamed of spending the rest of my life in Tanzania.”

Davis believes that the country has talented runners, but they rarely get discovered. And when they are, they are often “lost in transit”.Focused on the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, he has identified a few potential stars in Tanzania, including middle distance runners Regina Mpigachai and Gaudencia Maneno, sprinters Benedicto Mathias and Matiko Nyamaraga, and soon-to-be 800m specialist Amos Charles.

Funding for Bayi’s schools and foundation remains a challenge but they desperately desire an all-weather training track for the school.

Lasting legacy

Now aged 79, Davis has finally found peace in Africa and continues his work as a sports developer, both on track and off it.

Myles Schrag, a writer who is working on Davis and Bayi’s memoirs, describes Davis as “extremely giving, accomplished and passionate about people”. Throughout his sports career, he has pushed for athletes to get an education because, “with education, they can return home one day and contribute to national development in their countries”.

Davis recently helped Regina Mpigachai, one of his athletes, prepare for her TOEFL exam, because he has witnessed first-hand the importance of passing on knowledge to the younger generation.

“They (Bayi and other athletes with whom he has previously worked) have adopted my philosophy and are giving back by offering free education to the youth and potential student-athletes in their countries to get sports scholarships to universities,” says Davis.

Bayi, meanwhile, gave Davis the greatest gift an athlete can give a coach: an Olympic medal, a new home and an opportunity to pass on the passion of athletics to the next generation of Tanzanian athletes.

“What goes beyond the expected,” says Davis,“is what we do for others without asking anything in return.”

Alice Annibali for World Athletics

CAA President Kalkaba Malboum: « We’re working to ensure that athletics in Africa can survive similar disasters in future »

While half of the world is starting to ease their way out of lockdown, most countries in Africa are still awaiting the green light from their governments to resume normal day-to-day activities. For thousands of athletes on the continent, that means being able to return to training facilities and competitions.

Hamad Kalkaba Malboum, president of the African Athletics Confederation (CAA), says the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the sport in Africa.

“During this pandemic, like the rest of the world, all activities were stopped under country restrictions,” he says. “The only exception was Togo, where our AADC (African Area Development Centres) athletes have been able to keep on training as they were all living inside the centre at the Kégué National Stadium.

“In some countries, such as Mauritius, athletes were able to resume training on 1 July. There are several expatriate athletes across our various training centres, but they’ve been able to go back home before returning in September to resume training when the athletics season restarts.

“In other countries, most athletes have been able to train at home, and some with their personal coach. But our main advice to all member federations was to respect the decisions of their governments to protect their health.”

In practical terms, it has meant that the large groups of elite endurance athletes in Kenya and Ethiopia, for example, have been unable to operate as normal. Instead of training as a big squad, most have had to find ways of working in much smaller groups. That’s just the elite end of the sport, too; similar challenges filter right down to the grassroots level.

And it’s not just training arrangements that have been affected. As has been the case in many other countries around the world, competitions have been cancelled and earning opportunities for athletes have been significantly reduced.

The CAA has had to postpone two continental championships and they’re still working with World Athletics and Athletics Kenya to find new dates for the World U20 Championships in Nairobi.

“We spoke to the regional presidents to find out what was happening in each area, and they informed us that all competitions have unfortunately been suspended,” said Kalkaba Malboum. “In consultation and in agreement with the host countries, we have also rescheduled our major competitions. We had two continental championships planned for 2020: the African Cross Country Championships in Lome, Togo, and the African Championships in Algiers. We’re now looking to host the African Cross Country Championships in March 2021 and the African Championships in June 2021, so that performances can count towards Olympic qualifying. But it all depends on whether the situation improves.”

The Kip Keino Classic, a World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting, is set to take place in Nairobi on 26 September, and for many of the athletes involved it may be their only competition of 2020. But after a challenging start to the year, it will also offer a glimmer of hope for the African athletes who have one eye on qualifying for the Olympic Games next year.

“In 2021 the main focus for our top athletes will be on preparing and qualifying for the Olympics, although at this moment the calendar for next year is looking quite poor,” says Kalkaba Malboum. “In recent weeks we’ve seen athletes in Europe return to competitions and training facilities, so hopefully it won’t be long before governments in Africa make similar decisions that will allow our athletes to do the same.”

Futureproofing the sport

With livelihoods severely affected by the pandemic, the CAA has set about trying to secure additional funding for Africa’s top athletes.

“For our top athletes, it has been very difficult for them to make a living,” he says. “Several athletes thankfully benefitted from the fund set up by World Athletics. The CAA is also working to implement a permanent sport support fund in the event that we face a pandemic again in the future, so we have made a proposal to the African Union and ANOAA (Association of National Olympic Academies of Africa) to ensure that our sport is not jeopardised if such disasters occur again.”

As has been the case with other area associations, the CAA has adapted their way of working in recent months, and the increased use of technology has featured heavily.

“Our latest Council Meeting was held as a video conference, with the support of World Athletics, and this initiative has been very much appreciated,” says Kalkaba Malboum. “In addition, webinars and online courses have been organised at various national training centres, including Nairobi, Dakar and Cairo. Some courses, however, require face-to-face training, but we hope to implement these by end of the year.

“Journalists from francophone Africa initiated a forum to which leaders, coaches and athletes were invited, including sprinter Marie Josee Ta Lou, triple jumper Hugues Fabrice Zango, heptathlete Odile Ahouanwanou and Ivorian coach Anthony Koffi. They shared opinions about the status of our sport during this pandemic and exchanged ideas.”

It may be a while until Africa – and, indeed, the rest of the world – has fully recovered from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, but Kalkaba Malboum is determined to implement measures to ensure athletics in the continent is prepared for any eventualities.

“During this pandemic we’ve learned that we need to put in place a strategy in case we face another similar situation in future,” he says. “Such a strategy should include advice from scientists about how athletes can continue to train in the event of lockdown. We also need to find means of guaranteeing and maintaining commitments with sponsors and host countries in case of a force majeure.”

Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics

Covid 19: CAA Launches Online Training for AADC

The African Athletics Confederation (CAA) has announced new changes to the program of activities of the African Athletics Development Centers (AADC) challenged by the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath. Thus, the training component will be provided online by the experts, starting in July.

AADC Dakar has programmed six (6) activities intended for coaches for the preparation of the Youth Olympic Games (experts Dramane Coulibaly and Anthony Koffi), the fight against doping (Dr Mohamed Diop), the lives of female athletes in Covid 19 period (Fatima El Faquir), management of French and Portuguese speaking federations (Jee Isram and Sharifa) and CECS 2 SAUTS (Ralph Mouchbahini).

AADC Cairo has planned nine (9) seminars around the planning of the Tokyo Games for Jumping, CECS 1 and CECS 2 (Ralph Mouchbahini), CECS 2 (Dr Wolfgang Ritzdorf and Gunter Lange), Psychological Effects of Covid 19 (Pr Wael Refaee), Management of competitions during Covid 19 (Hamou Tijani), Physiotherapists women (Lutz Meissner), Training camp for young jumpers), and Road races.

AADC Nairobi has six (6) programs for secretaries general of federations, TOECS 2 (Chris Cohen and Gungaram), Heptathlon training camp (Maria Whopil and Beatrice Ayikoru), fight against doping (Stephane Bermon ) etc…

The training centers of Mauritius, Port Harcourt, Lomé, Lusaka and Dakar operate according to local realities.

Athletes now able to register for support from welfare fund

Professional athletes who are experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic will be able to register for a one-off welfare grant from today until May 31.

Two weeks ago World Athletics and the International Athletics Foundation (IAF) announced that a US$ 500,000 welfare fund had been created to support professional athletes who have lost a substantial part of their income due to the suspension of international competition this year.

A working group was formed to oversee the distribution of the funds and it has now finalised the eligibility criteria and application process.

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe, who chairs the working group, said it had been a challenging and complicated task to define the eligibility criteria to ensure that grants from the fund were delivered to the athletes most in need.

“The IAF has allocated a substantial sum to the fund, and we hope to raise more through private donations from friends of our sport, but it has become apparent that the resources must be focused on athletes who are likely to be competing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year and are now struggling to pay for basic necessities due to loss of income during the pandemic,’’ Coe said.

“We know this is a stressful situation for many athletes and we are trying to provide meaningful assistance to as many as possible as quickly as possible so they can continue to train for the competition season we have now scheduled for August to October, and for next year’s Olympics.’’

World 1500m record-holder and Olympic champion Hicham El Guerrouj, who initiated this project and sits on the working group, said the loss of competition had had a huge impact on professional athletes because many relied on prize money to support themselves and their families.

The Fund will support athletes who have met the Tokyo Olympic Games entry standard and will provide welfare grants to be used to cover basic living expenses. The level of grant will be dependent on the number of approved applications and up to a maximum of US$4000. It is anticipated that the grants will be distributed directly to athletes from June.

Only athletes who have been impacted financially to the extent that they are unable to maintain their basic standard of living should apply. All applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria:

Must be qualified (by meeting the entry standard) for selection for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Must have never had an anti-doping rule violation

Must be able to demonstrate a justifiable welfare need through significant loss of income in 2020 compared to 2019.

To help ensure the fund goes to those most in need, please note the following athletes will not be eligible to apply:

Those ranked in the Top 6 in their event in the World Athletics World Rankings

Those who have finished in the Top 6 positions of any Gold Label Road Race in 2019

Those who have earned more than USD 6,000 in prize money from the Diamond League in 2019

Athletes who, throughout the covid-19 pandemic, continue to receive an annual grant from their Government, National Olympic Committee, Member Federation or sponsors are not expected to apply unless they can demonstrate a justifiable welfare need as detailed above.

Athletes can register for consideration here.

To ask questions regarding eligibility, or to make a case for exceptional circumstances (such as injury in 2019 impacting on eligibility), athletes should contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The first phase of the application process is for the IAF to assess eligibility and for athletes to describe the need for grant support and their proposed use of the grant. More detailed financial information will be requested in the second phase prior to confirmation of any grant award.  

World Athletics

CAA / COVID-19: HAMAD KALKABA MALBOUM "A difficult time for African athletics"

The President of the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA), Hamad Kalkaba Malboum was the guest of the Media Committee for the Promotion of Athletics in West Africa (COMPAAO) on Friday May 8, 2020. During 120 minutes of interview, the boss of African athletics not only commented on the topic “CAA facing the COVID-19 pandemic” but also said his mind on many other subjects related to African athletics.

"It is obvious that we are at half mast, we are practically no longer active and we must naturally comply with the measures which the government of the various countries affiliated to CAA have taken to face this COVID-19 pandemic. […] We are no longer able to organize competitions, neither globally, nor in Africa. This is a difficult time for African athletics, "said the CAA president about the impact of the pandemic on his institution.

Have the federations had the financial support of the CAA to face the pandemic? In answering this question, Hamad Kalkaba Malboum affirms that the usual conditions for federations to receive the grant are still there. In addition, there is a partnership with a Spanish company which set up a program according to the African calendar to allow the CAA to have resources coming from marketing. But as no competition is organized, this program is nullified. As a result, the Confederation of African Athletics no longer has additional resources besides the expected grant from World Athletics.

Regarding the measures taken by the confederation of African Athletics to support the athletes until the next African championships, the president explains: "on a purely African level we have no resources to support these athletes. But what we asked them is to respect the instructions dictated by their various countries in order to be safe from the disease. "

Regarding the competitions postponed due to the coronavirus, the CAA president recalls that the countries initially selected to host the said competitions keep the organization. Thus, Lomé (Togo) keeps the organization of the African Cross-country Championship which will now take place in March 2021. For its part, Algiers (Algeria) keeps the organization of the Africa senior Championships which will enter the qualification circuit for the Olympic Games, all the more that the qualification deadline for the Olympic Games is June 29, 2021. "As a result, the African athletics championships will probably take place one month before the Olympic Games in order to allow those who are still aiming for the qualification to do so ” the president explained.

In his answers, he also addressed the issue of training journalists who are interested in athletics. The president intends to encourage training projects for journalists through associations including COMPAAO.


President Kalkaba, guest of the African press

Hello dear colleagues and enthusiasts of athletics. Just to let you know that the President of the African Athletics Confederation (CAA), Hamad Kalkaba Malboum is the first guest on the WhatsApp platform of the Media Committee for the Promotion of Athletics in West Africa (COMPAAO). It will be this Friday, May 8, 2020 from 10:30 UT. The theme of the meeting is "AAC facing the Covid-19 pandemic" The moderator is named Fernand Dedeh, Ivorian journalist-blogger. You can already prepare your questionnaires and send them to the moderator whose number is +22505600366 in the whatsApp group of COMPAAO. On the day of the interview you can also ask questions live

We opted for the audio response mode

CORONAVIRUS : World Athletics creates fund to support athletes

World Athletics, together with the International Athletics Foundation (IAF), has today launched a US$500,000 fund to support professional athletes experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe, who also chairs the IAF, said the fund would be used to assist athletes who have lost most of their income in the last few months due to the suspension of international competition while the world combats the global health emergency.

Established in 1986 to support charitable causes involving athletics, the International Athletics Foundation, under the Honorary Presidency of HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, has allocated resources from its budgets for 2020 and 2021 to assist athletes in need through this process.

Coe will chair an expert multi-regional working group to assess the applications for assistance, which will be submitted through World Athletics’ six Area Associations.

The members will include: Olympic champion and 1500m world record-holder Hicham El Guerrouj, Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi (representing the WA Athletes’ Commission), WA Executive Board members Sunil Sabharwal (Audit Committee) and Abby Hoffman, WA Council members Adille Sumariwalla, Beatrice Ayikoru and Willie Banks, IAF Executive Committee member and former WA treasurer Jose Maria Odriozola and Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines President Keith Joseph.

The working group will meet this week to establish a process for awarding and distributing grants to individual athletes and to look at other ways to raise additional monies for the fund.

Coe said it was important that the sport supported its athletes most in need during the current circumstances.

“I would especially like to thank Hicham for bringing this idea to us, and Prince Albert for his strong support of this project. I am in constant contact with athletes around the world and I know that many are experiencing financial hardship as a consequence of the shutdown of most international sports competition in the last two months. Our professional athletes rely on prize money as part of their income and we’re mindful that our competition season, on both the track and road, is being severely impacted by the pandemic. We are hopeful that we will be able to stage at least some competition later this year, but in the meantime we will also endeavour, through this fund and additional monies we intend to seek through the friends of our sport, to help as many athletes as possible."

HSH Prince Albert II added: "I created more than 35 years ago the International Athletics Foundation with the late Primo Nebiolo to encourage and promote athletics and grant financial assistance to athletics federations and the most deserving athletes. Since its inception the Foundation has distributed for these purposes more than US$30 Million. I am delighted that we can put our resources behind this initiative so we can make a difference to the lives of athletes who are suffering financially at this time. We hope that this support will help those athletes preparing for international competition, including next year’s Olympic Games, to sustain their training, support their families and that this will relieve them of some stress in these uncertain times.’’

El Guerrouj said: “The pandemic is causing economic pain to people from all parts of society, including athletes, and this is a time when we must come together as a global community to help each other. I am delighted that Seb and World Athletics reacted so positively to my suggestion that we create a fund for athletes, and have made it happen with the support of the International Athletics Foundation. The suspension of competition has had a huge impact on many professional athletes because they can’t earn prize money so I’m really pleased that we have found a way to assist them.”

World Athletics launches Athletics@Home

World Athletics has launched Athletics@Home, a new series designed to help people of all ages to stay fit, active and engaged during this period of unprecedented lockdown around the world.

The content, which will appear on both the World Athletics website and across its social media channels, is divided into four themes: Kids, Active, Rewind and Unwind.

The Africa senior Championships postponed to May / June 2021

Given the global health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Hamad Kalkaba MALBOUM, President of the Confederation of African Athletics, in consultation with the CAA Executive Board members, decided to postpone until May / June 2021 the 22nd edition of the Africa senior championships which were scheduled in Algiers from June 24 to 28, 2020.