Why athletics giants went to sleep, yet to wake up
Ibrahim Hussein Kipkemboi [Courtesy]

It’s an interesting statistic. From 1956 to 2016, Kenya has won 103 medals at the Olympic Games in boxing, track and field events — with 42 medals from 2008, 2012 and 2016 outings.

But four schools in Elgeyo Marakwet — St Patrick’s Iten, Sing’ore Girls, Kapkenda Girls and Marakwet Boys — claim a bigger slice of the glory.

St Patrick’s set the bar high when they ensured that their products or students made the national Olympic team from 1972 to 2012, but it’s no longer the case. Their brilliant performances have since diminished.

Saints’ products Mike Boit (800m), Mike Murei (400m) and Cosmas Murei (800m) set the ball rolling when they competed at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.

Twins Kipkoech Cheruiyot (1,500m) and Charles Cheruiyot (5,000m), while Form Three students at the school, flew St Patrick’s flag in the 1984 Los Angeles games while US-based Peter Rono (1500m), Ibrahim Hussein and Kenyan-born Dane Wilson Kipketer represented the country in the 1988 Games in Seoul, Korea.

Steeplechaser Mathew Birir and Nickson Kiprotich (800m) bagged gold at the 1992 Barcelona Games while David Kiptoo bagged bronze in 400m at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

Wilson Boit Kipketer, a former world 3000m steeplechase record holder and a Member of the County Assembly for Kabiemit ward in Elgeyo Marakwet, won the world crown in 1997.

Wilson Kipketer of Denmark (800m), Wilson Boit Kipketer (3000m steeplechase), Japhet Kimutai (800m), William Chirchir (1500m) and Isaac Magut (400m) flew the Saints’ flag during the 2000 Olympic Games. 

Why athletics giants went to sleep, yet to wake up
Nixon Chepseba in past action at Kasarani. [File]

At the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, the athletics saints of Iten were represented by then world 800m champion and Kenyan-born Dane Kipketer, Isaac Songok and then Athletics Kenya head coach Mike Kosgei, other alumni of the school.

There was no former St Patrick’s athlete at the 2008 Olympics only until 2012 when Kenyan-turned-Ugandan Abraham Chepkerwok and Nickson Chepseba became the last students to grace the Olympics.

In the nearby Sing’ore Girls, the pioneer coach and Principal Sister Christine Harvarine and Bro Colm O’Connell laid the red carpet in the 1970s and 1980s. 

Rose Thomson and 1,500m legend Saina Chirchir were the first batches of Sing’ore athletes to make a mark at the international level.

In their footsteps was Fridah Kiptala, a versatile 400m and 800m runner, who hit the limelight in the1980s. She worked with the Kenya Prisons Service.

Lydia Cheromei won the 1991 World cross country Junior Championship in Antwerp, Belgium. She became the first Kenyan woman to win gold at the world cross country championship. 

In 1993, Lenah Chesire emerged 1,500m national secondary schools champion and later stepped up to the marathon, where she made it big.

World 10,000m champion Sally Barsosio stamped Sing’ore Girls’ authority in athletics when she became the first Kenyan woman to win a world championship title in 1997 while in Form Four.

Other stars include Olympic 5,000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot and her classmate Viola Kibiwott, the two-time world junior cross country champion.

Why athletics giants went to sleep, yet to wake up
Mike Boit [Courtesy]

Throw in former Olympic 800m silver medallist Janeth Jepkosgei, former world 5,000m silver medallist Sylvia Kibet and elder sister Hilda Kibet, the Kenyan-born-Dutch woman and former European cross-country champion Hilda Kibet and the sporting world is left in admiration.

Mercy Kosgei, who won a silver medal in world junior cross in Fukuoka, Japan, in 2006, is also in the mix.

In 2009 world championships, Sing’ore Girls former students won five medals for Kenya. Vivian Cheruiyot won gold in 5000m, Sylvia Kibet settled for silver while Jepkosgei won silver in 800m. Irene Limika lined up in marathon.

Vivian led the Sing’ore forte at the 2015 Beijing worlds as she won gold in 5000m and 10000m.

Sally Kipyego, the 2012 London Olympics 5000m silver medallist, settled for silver while Jepkosgei bowed out of the semi-finals in 800m.

Maureen Chelagat lost in the 400m semi-finals while Viola Kibiwott made it to 5000m finals.

Three-time world 3000m steeplechase Moses Kiptanui, the 1996 Olympic silver medallist, headlines top stars from Marakwet Boys High School.

Olympic medallists, who are former Marakwet Boys students include William Mutwol (1992 3000m steeplechase bronze), Reuben Kosgei (3000m steeplechase gold in 2000) and Timothy Kitum, the 2012 Olympic 800m bronze medallist.

World 3000m steeplechase record holder Saif Saaeed Shaheen, formerly Stephen Cherono, leads a long list of world championships medallists from the school.

Why athletics giants went to sleep, yet to wake up
Athletics – London Marathon – London, Britain – April 28, 2019, Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot in action during the women’s elite race [REUTERS/Peter Cziborra]

Ismael Kirui, the 5000m world champion in 1993 and 1995 as well world junior 5000m champion in 1992, is another top gun who studied at the school.

Former world junior 3000m record holder Raymond Yator, former world junior 10000m champion Kiara Kamzee, Abraham Cherono — the elder brother of Shaheen and 1998 world junior 3000m steeplechase silver medallist — are also in the mix.

There are also steeplechase big shots in Anthony Kiprono and Paul Chemase as well as 800m sensation Vincent Malakwen. Others are world cross country stars Vincent Kibiwott, Abraham Chebii and Joseph Ng’elebus, third in London Marathon.

The school dominated global charts especially in 3000m steeplechase thanks to their then games teacher and former world 10000m record holder, the late Samson Kimombwo. Steeplechase coach Boniface Tiren is another product of Marakwet Boys.

Kapkenda Girls boasts 2008 Olympic 1500m champion Nancy Jebet Lagat, 2006 world junior 3000m champion Veronica Nyaruai, 1997 world cross country junior champion Rose Kosgei and silver medallist Prisca Jepleting as well as 2009 Boston Marathon winner Salina Kosgei.

Former world junior 3000m champion Pamela Jepchumba, 1987 All Africa Games 10000m champion Leah Malot, former Frankfurt Marathon winner Alice Timbilil, and Agnes Kirop are also in the pack.

Kosirai Mixed produced Olympic 3000m steeplechase champion Conseslus Kipruto, 2014 Commonwealth Games 1500m champion James Magut as well as siblings and world cross country runners Mathew Kisorio and Peter Kimeli.

Africa 400m hurdles silver medalist Haron Koech and Nicholas Togom are among the stars from Cheptil High School.

Why athletics giants went to sleep, yet to wake up
Veronica Nyaruai wins women’s 5,000m final ahead Gladys Cherono of at the Kenya Defence Forces Athletics Championships at Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani on June 10 2015. [PHOTO/DENNIS OKEYO]

Commonwealth Games 10000m silver medallist Stacy Ndiwa, former world junior 3000m steeplechase champion Caroline Tuigong and Immaculate Jebet studied at AIC Kosirai Girls.

But these schools witnessed a drastic drop in athletics performances.   

Reason? O’Connell, who has trained numerous world-beating athletes in the North Rift region since 1976, said: “I have coached students in Iten during holidays — April and August — from 1989.”

“The change of schools calendar has not been good. The cross country season gets to its climax in March, same with the track season that’s on around June and July. It could be good we have schools events coincide with the international calendar since national teams to Africa Under-18 and World Under-20 comprises pupils and secondary school students.”

“The games competitions were organised from various levels from village to national and even to international level for all winners. It was like a culture cutting across all communities in the country,” said O’connel, who worked as St Patrick’s games teacher and principal.

He said the Ministry of Education changed the schools’ programme, which has adversely affected athletics in the country. He asked the government to support budding sporting talents in schools by providing facilities.

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