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How Kenya have maintained domination in long-distance running

Kenyan runners often take to the sport at a young age. The prospect of a better life also spurs them to put in the hard yards

other sports Updated: Jan 20, 2018 23:35 IST
Bihan Sengupta
Bihan Sengupta
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Mumbai Marathon,Kenyan athletics team,Athletes
Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge won the gold medal in Marathon at the 2016 Olympics. (REUTERS)

For quite a few years now, distance running has been a discipline that has been dominated by athletes from African nations. Be it at the Olympics or the IAAF World Championships, the competitiveness that the Africans have brought to the table is hard to match up to. And while the likes of Tamirat Tola and Stephen Kiprotich have brought laurels for their countries Ethiopia and Uganda respectively, it’s Kenya who seemed to have upped a gear and managed to edge past their African countries.

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At the Summer Olympics in 2016, Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge won the men’s marathon while the double was completed by Jemima Sumgong in the women’s discipline.

So how does it all start?

Bornes Kitur, the defending champion of the Mumbai Marathon, says in an interview: “In primary (school), I was running. In secondary (school), I was competing. In college, I was competing as well. I really loved running and my dream was to get someone sponsoring me to run.”

And the thought of being a long-distance runner didn’t bother her even as a child. In fact, the sport runs in her blood. “In my family, my father was a runner. He did not let me touch junk food or anything as such. My brother, who is older to me, was a runner as well. My grandparents were long-distance runners as well,” she said, before scratching her head, going into a long pause, to utter, “Apart from running, I used to play handball and football.”

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Kutir is married and has a girl but the legacy of producing long distance-runners would probably cease as her husband isn’t too keen to see his daughter to become a long-distance runner. “She’s just five year’s old and she’s in school. I’m okay with that (her being a runner), but her father doesn’t want it.”

Like Kutir, Joshua Kipkorir, also hails from a sporting background. His brother Ronny Kipkoech, who finished second in the Lagos City marathon last year, had introduced him to the sport and from being anonymous to the sport until 2013; Joshua will head to Sunday as one of the top favourites to clinch the race.

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He runs around 40km a day, but surprisingly he says it doesn’t tire him. “I started running only in 2014 as I was in school before that. It wasn’t like we weren’t allowed to run back then but under a lot of restriction. You cannot run during the day because you must be in class during that time. I used to run only 10km back then,” he says.

“My brother used to run and told me ‘if you don’t want to continue with education come to the training ground, I’ll train you’,” Joshua said, before adding that he did like to study. The catalyst for the change is probably something that’s deep-rooted across the African continent. “I liked education but I also saw that if you could run good (sic) you could make a lot of money. I wanted to be an engineer. I’ve studied up to the university-level.”

Joshua, who’ll run for the second consecutive time in the marathon, might not know India that well but he does know a lot about a few Indians’ lives. Source? Indian television soaps that get aired on Zee World. “There’s a lot of Indian content that comes up in Zee World. My cousins had been watching it one day and I liked it and have now started watching it as well. It’s dubbed in English.”

But what attracted him most is the kind of services the hospitals in India provide. Although that might keep the naysayers away, Joshua added: “I like the way the hospitals provide treatment in India. Unlike in Kenya, where it’s good nonetheless, I find hospitals in India are much more professional.”

First Published: Jan 20, 2018 22:16 IST