He is among the pioneer athletes that stamped Kenya’s authority in track and field events at the global stage.
And despite taking part in three Olympic outings and two World Championships, Joseph Chesire cannot attract a passing glance.
Since he laid the foundation for the steady 800m and 1,500m production line, Chesire now leads a quiet life in Kapserere Village in Elgeyo Marakwet County, where he runs his two private schools –Kapserere Highland Academy –and is also a farmer.
He chose to invest around his rural home and most residents simply know him because of the schools, and not because of representing the country in major championships.
But the number ‘4’ tag stands out as his distinctive signature. As a 1,500m athlete, Chesire finished fourth on his international debut at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles; fourth at the 1987 World Athletics Championships in Rome; fourth at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea and fourth at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
Serving at Kenya Army
Whether by default or design, Chesire emerged the fourth best candidate at Lelboinet Primary School in Keiyo South during Certificate of Primary Examinations (CPE).
He served in Kenya Army and his service number started with number 4.
“It is very funny. Everything in my life bears the figure four. Let me tell you even my service number in the military starts with figure four (429xx).
“I finished fourth in three Olympic appearances and World Championships in 1500m. Sadly, I used to win in Grand Prix meetings and when it comes to major championships, I miss the medal bracket.
The number four spot in various championships, according to him, looks like a curse.
“I have some regrets finishing fourth in these big competitions. I think this is the reason I have faced a lot misfortunes in life. I made a lot of money in athletics and I am a bit too generous. People borrow my money and they don’t refund. It is the military discipline that saved me a lot.
“I am not so aggressive in so many things. The investment I have put in these schools is less than 10 per cent of my athletics earnings.”
Chesire is among an armada of Kenya’s world beating siblings to make the national team at the same time.
“We made the national team to World Athletics in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1993 alongside my younger brother Mike.”
But his high moments came when he was named into the Olympic team in 1984, having trained from 1972 to 1984.
“I am happy that I am the only man to dominate national 800m championships. I won for 11 consecutive years. I got inspired seeing then President Daniel Arap Moi cheering from the VIP dais. People could travel from Eldoret to Nairobi to watch Joseph Chesire compete.
Chesire has come a long way. “I am from a humble family. I could trek five kilometres to school. It was hard to get school uniform and I wore my first pair of shoes when I joined Form One in 1973.
“But when I was in Standard Seven, my interest in athletics started. I loved classwork, so when it reached lunch hour I could take 20 minutes doing some revision then run home and quickly dash back to school.”
Like many other stars, Chesire looked up for inspiration from Kenyan legends.
“Mzee Kipchoge Keino, then an Olympic champion in 1,500m and Mike Boit who was a student in St Patrick’s Iten and had won bronze in 800m at the Olympic Games in Munich motivated me. I later came to compete against Boit.
“After the Olympics in 1972, Boit organised a session near our home in Chepkorio. We were selected to compete in a mile race with him. I led in the first three laps but lost it to Boit. Keino spotted me and gathered some interest in me. That was when I took the sport seriously.
“I did my CPE in 1972 and joined Lelboinet Secondary School, where I never took part in any sport. I concentrated on academics. The school was not so active in athletics,” he said.
That did not derail his athletic ambitions. “It was until when I joined Kenya Army that I started training in athletics. I also wanted to further my studies in the military. I studied electrical course.
“I started training with the focus on 1980 Olympics in Moscow. But Kenya boycotted. And I was certain that if we were to compete in Moscow Olympics, I could have performed well. That was my lowest moment. I competed abroad for the first time in Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. So, the boycott for Moscow Olympics disadvantaged me.
“Kenya lost a lot of potential in the Montreal (1976) and Moscow (1980) Olympic boycotts. Henry Rono, whom we trained together in Nyahururu then could not represent the country at the Olympics despite breaking three world records within 81 days in 1978. Big disadvantage.”
Chesire said the fourth place finish at the 1992 Olympics still haunts him. “I was in great shape and then head coach Mike Kosgei had tipped me for the gold medal. I was the oldest in the team. He planned the race well in bid to ensure I win. But I failed to kick in the final stretch.”
But Chesire is happy to have raised and educated his children. “I am married and have children who are adults. I have a lawyer and two doctors,” he said.
On his transition from athletics to business, Chesire said, it depends on an individual’s mindset. “I was lucky to have done some courses in the military. Transition from athletics, especially if you served in disciplined forces, is easy if you have good communication skills.
“Athletics gave me exposure. I was the only athlete from around here. Everybody wanted to be associated with my village. I remember in 1984 when we arrived from Los Angeles, I was surprised to see about five buses from our home who came to welcome me at the airport. I had no medal. I wept to see the community.”
That stirred his ambitions to establish a school in his rural home.
“I felt like I should invest in a school. I started with three nursery school children. And it has grown this far. My happiness is that I have touched and changed lives. I am encouraging everyone to take education seriously.
“I decided to work with the community when I established the school. It makes work easy and professional. It is being run like public schools.”
“When athletes make money abroad, they think that is the sure way to live. No, they must take athletics as a secondary form of income and have a profession to bank on.
“Nowadays, there many athletes unlike during our time. In 1986, we were only seven athletes competing in a race in Europe. It included Kenyans who were based in USA. There are many athletes nowadays and that’s why they compete for few years,” he added.
He rose through ranks to retire at the rank of Warrant Officer Two after serving in Kenya Army for 40 years.