people form the formidable force that has seen Kenya dominate
athletics in the international circles.
Talk of a Kenyan
winner in any major athletics event in any part of the world and
the chance is that this person is a Marakwet from the remote,
hilly district found in the North Rift region.
A simple look at the
runners who represented Kenya at the August 23 to 31, 19th World
Athletics Championships held in Paris would reveal that people
from Marakwet district dominated the team. This district, with
some parts rising up to 2,800 metres above sea level, enjoys a
fair share of world class athletes.
No district has
dominated the steeplechase event as much as Marakwet. This is
the home of Moses Kiptanui who apart from being the first man to
run the 3,000 metres steeplechase under eight minutes, also won
several world titles in the event.
He won the world
titles in 1991, 1993 and 1995. In 1995 in Zurich, Kiptanui ran
the distance in seven minutes and 59 seconds that not only was a
new world record, but also beat the eight-minute barrier. Three
of the steeplechasers at the Paris world championship – Reuben
Kosgei, who also held both the world and Olympic title before
Paris, Ezekiel Kemboi and Michael Kipyego were from Marakwet.
Abraham Chebii, who
became an instant household name in Kenya after beating
Ethiopia's Haile Gabrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele twice over the
5,000m in Golden League meets, Olympian William Mutwol, now a
coach, Joseph Chemaringo, currently working with KVDA Eldoret,
Paul Chemase and a host of others all hail from this district.
But is Marakwet
content at being the leading provider of the country's top
marathon winner Eric Kimaiyo says the district is not ready to
go to pasture and forget about tomorrow. He feels the district
has to wake up and not allow itself to face what befell other
districts like Nandi and Uasin Gishu which used to produce many
world class runners.
Kimaiyo saw that the
onus of ensuring the district continued to produce good runners
lay squarely on the hands of the successful athletes from the
This is what led him
to set up an athletics training camp in Marakwet.
Kapsait village in Lelan location of Kapcherop division,
the camp is a full house.
The number of
attendants shoots up to over 100 runners when schools
He postulates: "Do you
know that Joseph Chebet
who at one time won both the
Boston and New York marathon titles in the same year
hails from Marakwet?
Do you know the current
Berlin, Amsterdam and Venice marathon champions –
Raymond Chemwol, Boaz and Barnabas Ruto – respectively
come from Marakwet?"
Others like Fred
Kiprop and Simon Biwott trained here before becoming
major marathon runners.
Some of the
athletes at the Kapsait trainingcamp take their morning
by David Macharia
One thing common in all
these champions is that they are all a product of the Kapsait
village athletics training camp.
When we visited the
camp last weekend, there were three categories of runners
There were girls and
some men who were training for the forthcoming cross country
season while the third lot were marathoners.
When training, the
distance covered varies depending on the group.
When it is a day for a
long run, the marathoners traditionally cover up to a gruelling
38 kilometres while cross country runners cover 25 kilometres
and girls 20 kilometres.
Because the camp is
located some 42 kilometres from Kapenguria town, 15 kilometres
from Kapcherop trading centre and 20 kilometres each from
Iten-Keiyo district headquarters and Kapsowar-Marakwet district
headquarters, the location is ideal for the runners to train in
a serene environment.
The programme starts
at dawn where the runners cover the longer distances either on
the Kapsait-Kapenguria road or the Iten-Kapsait road, before
returning to the camp for breakfast. In the afternoon the
athletes perform light training.
The camp has also
acted as a consolation retreat for those runners whose heart is
broken by uncaring officials.
Atondonyang, the girl who made the national cross country team
twice and was dropped each time without any explanation?
The second time she
was dropped, she nearly left Kigari teachers college at night
because she could not stand the pain of being dropped from the
team after working so hard to finish in the top ranks at the
Ngong race course.
It took fellow runners
time to convince her not to bolt out of the national training
camp at night.
Since then she has
kept off national championships. But Kimaiyo says Atodonyang is
not finished because after joining the camp, she opted to train
for the marathon and has already attained a personal best time
of 2 hours and 13 minutes.
She was not at the
camp during our visit but Kimaiyo said she had already left to
prepare for the Chicago marathon. He said this is a runner to
watch out for in the near future.
Other star products at
the camp include medallists at the Africa junior championship in
Younde Cameroon. These are Penina Chepchumba who won gold and
bronze over 1,500m and 3,000m, Loise Kiptoo who won gold in
2,000m and Fridah Domong'ole who took silver in 5,000m.
Because of the success
at the camp that was started in 1996 at a plot owned by Kimaiyo,
a better one is being built at a cost of about Sh8 million.
The new camp set on a
higher ground is almost complete after its foundation stone was
laid by the Minister for Gender, Sports, Cuture and Social
Services Najib Balala.
A road race would be
among the events of the opening day.
A fitness health
centre would be the next project after the completion of the
training camp. The centre would in addition to treating athletes
also provide health care to local people who travel long
distances in search of treatment.
The minister is
expected to perform the grand official opening early next year,
according to Kimaiyo.
When completed, the
facility will have a conference room, records room, hostel and
cottages able to accommodate over 150 runners.
Kimaiyo hopes by the
completion time, electricity will have reached the village from
Kapcherop centre – 15 kilometres south.
He has a dream that
one day the camp could also be used by the national team to
train for major championships like the world cross country in
addition to continuing to produce international stars.
The altitude, weather
and availability of good food makes Kapsait the ideal training
ground. Milk is plenty and Kimaiyo makes sure each runner takes
a mug of it after dinner.
For those who are not
runners, Kapsait is also a wonderful place to go for outings. It
has good scenery and features that have sparked folk tales..
There is a hill - Kipteber that local people say dropped from
heaven killing many of the Ogiek people and scattered the
Marakwets towards the east while their Pokot counterparts moved
Because of the high
altitude at Kapsait, other far places are visible from here.
With such a facility,
Kimaiyo believes the country's dwindling performance can be
He believes the
Ethiopians are not a major threat to Kenyans if only Athletics
Kenya can agree to sit on a round table with the athletes to
plan the way forward.
He said since the
demise of Kim Macdonald of Britain and the shifting of interest
by Dr Gabriela Rosa of Italy from track to cross country and
road racing, performance by Kenyans on the track has been going
Kimaiyo does not
believe that the mushrooming of training camps in the country
was one of the causes of the falling standards of the sport.
He says the country
lacked a programme to tap talent and take care of upcoming
runners. He feels coaches who nurture talent at the grassroots
are not appreciated or recognised by the federation.
Some camps in the
region had problems in taking care of girl athletes. But Kimaiyo
says it is all a matter of discipline on the part of people
managing such camps.
He has three coaches
– Geoffrey Tormos, Thomas Mukhwana and Ambrose Suter, all
drawn from local primary schools to ensure they also monitor the
runners while in school.
Kimaiyo feels that the
country needs a legislation to ensure sports girls are not
mistreated in sports circles. This should include taking action
against any person who marries off or impregnates an under age
All training camps
should be forced to sign a code of conduct that would ensure
they protect and respect the rights of the girl child.
Kimaiyo was born in
the Kapsait village in 1969, studied at Kapsait Primary School
up to class three before joining Kabichbich boarding to complete
his primary education. He joined Chepkorio youth polytechnic
where he trained as a motor mechanic, a trade which was later to
secure him recruitment into the Kenya Air Force in 1990.
It was in the Armed
Forces that he met such runners as Paul Tergat and the late
Richard Chelimo who inspired him to join athletics and he
boarded a plane for the first time when he went to take part in
the London Marathon in 1994 where he dropped out with only two
kilometres to go.
The following year he
went for the Tokyo marathon where he finished third in two hours
and 10 minutes. It was during the Tokyo, Japan race that he met
Their association has
resulted in the building of the Kapsait camp through the support
of Fila – an Italian sports goods manufacturing company. Since
joining Rosa's stable of runners, he won the Honolulu marathon
three times in 1997, 1998 and 2000.
He was runners up in
1999. Other exploits include finishing eighth in the 1997 Boston
Marathon and emerging second in the Berlin Marathon in 1997
where he attained a personal best time of 2:07.00.
Link : http://www.nationaudio.com/News/DailyNation/13092003/Sports/Sports1309200313.html