Friday, March 21, 2008

Report from Iten Peace Run

Peter Vigneron is in Kenya for the next few months to work on KIMbia Foundation projects. Here’s his account of the Iten Peace Run, held last Saturday in Kenya’s unofficial running capital.

Our correspondent and some of his new rafikis (friends).A little after 8am I arrived at the soccer field in Iten center, shepherded by Paul Koech and with 30 girls from Silgich Hill Academy following in two matatus. Already I was traveling with a former world champion, and presently I would meet another, then an Olympic gold medalist, then a reigning world champion at 800 meters. I snagged a picture of the man who holds the greatest record in track and field, and—true to form—he made an early exit from the scene. This was the start to my fourth day in Kenya, 74 hours into the trip.

Toby Tanser and Lornah Kiplagat have held a girls race in Iten since 2004. This year’s edition was scheduled for January 5th, but events intervened and the race did not proceed. On February 28, Kenya’s rival politicians signed a power sharing agreement that has brought a nervous peace to the country, and the event, which in normal circumstances promotes education and athletic achievement for young girls, was recast as a peace march and 4k cross country fun run. This year, it featured nearly every prominent Kenyan runner of the last four decades.

Douglas Wakihuri (1987 world marathon champ) and Luke Kibet (2007 world marathon champ) with their country’s flag.When the idea for a peace run was born, Kenyans had made precious few serious gestures toward peace and reconciliation nationwide. In fact there is still a disheartening shortage of such gestures, but the running community is beginning to make its voice heard. “Actions speak louder than words,” Olympic bronze medalist Mike Boit said after the race, “and we have told everyone that we want peace in Kenya.”

The elephant on the field Saturday afternoon was a report published by the International Crisis Group (ICG) February 21 that accused runners of funding and organizing some of the post-election violence in Rift Valley Province. It quoted sources who suggested that Kalenjin runners with military training helped to drive the Kikuyu supporters of Mwai Kibaki out of the Rift after the election, and were thusly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people and the widespread destruction of Kikuyu homes and shops.
These allegations came several weeks after several athletes received SMS text messages threatening violence against runners if they purchased abandoned Kikuyu land. The ICG paper reports that runners involved in the violence had “partly economic” motivations for supporting Kalenjin militias, and the SMS threats were probably intended to deter athletes from buying Kikuyu land at low cost. Moses Tanui, who owns several large commercial buildings in Eldoret, was also harassed by police, whom many Kalenjins say sided with the government against the opposition.
Who needs CoolMax? Tanser recruited nearly 600 girls from local primary schools for the race, and gave each a yellow t-shirt bearing the Shoe4Africa logo and the words “Run for Peace.” Tanser’s organization distributes running shoes to underprivileged Kenyan children, and each girl received a pair of sneakers at the finish line.
Each elite athlete was also asked to don a shirt, and so shortly after 10am, a parade of yellow clad runners—past, present, and future—marched through the small commercial center of Iten. 1988 Olympic silver medalist ’87 world marathon champion Douglas Wakiihuri carried the Kenyan flag at the head of the parade with Luke Kibet, the reigning world marathon champion who was injured in the violence. Wakihuri is Kikuyu and Kibet Kalenjin.
The 31 page ICG report contains only one paragraph on athlete participation in the violence, but that paragraph has attracted worldwide media attention. An article on ForeignPolicy.com noted how disappointing it would be if athlete role models were responsible for or involved in violence. It is a concern that has deeply offended the Kenyan running community, who view themselves as the face Kenya shows to the world.
Well, so much for a blazing kick–some girls queued up 100 meters from the finish.After the march, KIMbia athletes Chris Cheboiboch and Tim Cherigat led the girls through the two-lap 4k course. 14 year old Paskaline Kosgei took an early lead, running alongside Cheboibach for a solid victory over Chelimo Ng’etich and Gladys Cherop, who were paced by Cherigat. Kosgei won a Compaq laptop for her school, and Ng’etich and Cherop took home 12,000 and 8,000 Kenyan Shillings, respectively, or roughly $185 and $125 USD. All but a few girls racing went barefoot, and the scene at the finish was at times both chaotic and comical. Race organizers and staff rushed to hand out shoes but were quickly overwhelmed. At one point the queue for the finish grew to over 100 meters.
The athletes I’ve spoken with are furious that the paragraph implicating runners in the ICG report has been seized upon by the media. “It’s all political,” one told me. “It’s people taking advantage of the situation to tarnish big names in the running community. They see an opportunity and they take it.”
In Iten, business is back to usual. The hundreds of runners who normally train on the town’s famous red dirt roads have returned. KIMbia athletes Cheboiboch, Cherigat, James Kosgei and Mike Jeptoo put in a very good 25k effort on Wednesday, and Charles Kibiwott ran 2:08 at the Seoul International Marathon on Sunday. World Cross County is coming up. The athletes would like the violence, and now the accusations, behind them.

International athletes in attendance, Shoe4Africa Run For Peace:

  • Daniel Komen
  • Janet Jepkosgei (The Eldoret Express)
  • Lornah Kiplagat
  • Yobes Ondieki
  • Joyce Chepchumba
  • Amos Biwot
  • Moses Tanui
  • Luke Kibet
  • Moses Kiptanui
  • John Yuda
  • Paul Koech
  • Mike Boit
  • Douglas Wakihuri
  • Ezekiel Kembio
  • Jephart Kimutei
  • Ben Maiyo
  • Matthew Birir
  • Kimutei Kosgei
  • John Litei
  • Durka Mana
  • Silvia Kibet
  • James Kosgei
  • Rebbie Koech
  • Peter Tanui
  • Christopher Koskei
  • Paul Cherop
  • Ben Kogo
  • Rose Tatamuye
  • Wilson Juma
  • Jonah Birir
  • Luke Kipkosgei
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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Kibiwott Fifth in Korea

Charles Kibiwott took fifth this morning at the Dong-A Marathon in Seoul, South Korea. Tom Ratcliffe was there and filed this report:

A nice, sunny, cool day here. Very little wind at the start, but a bit of a headwind over the final few kilometers. The pacemakers were supposed to start with 15:10, 15:10 and then drop to 15:00 and continue through 30k, but they started with 14:43, 14:56, 15:33, 14:48. I’m not sure why the organizers wanted 15:10 x 2 and then 15:00, but that didn’t matter as the pacemakers seemed to have no clear sense of their orders … just that someone was shouting at them to slow down, thus they ran 15:33 for the 3rd 5K and then to speed up and then ran 14:48!

Regardless, it was quite a good race with Sammy Korir always near the front, pushing the pacemakers along and then taking the lead at 30K and periodically injecting a significant increase in speed. The field was down to 5 at 30K and Charles fell off at just before 35K. Korir got a bit of a gap at 41K, but 2nd place finisher Mbote looked like he was going to take the lead as they entered the Olympic Stadium, but Korir was too strong and ran away over the final 300m.

Sammy Korir 2:07:30
Jason Mbote 2:07:37
Edwin Komen 2:07:45
Francis Kiprop 2:08:30
Charles Kibiwott 2:08:33

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

If the 8K Championships Were a Cross Country Meet….

Then Kimbia would have taken the team title. (Well, if scoring was 4 deep.)

This morning in Central Park, Jason Hartmann, James Carney, Fasil Bizuneh and Tim Nelson took 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th, respectively, at the U.S. 8K championships. Jason ran 22:48 to finish 6 seconds behind winner Jorge Torres and Andrew Carlson. James and Fasil were also in the lead pack that went through 5K in 14:10. James finished in 22:53, Fasil in 23:03.

Tim was the top finisher from the chase pack, closing well after splitting 14:22 at 5K to finish in 23:05.

Results | Post-race video of Fasil

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Checking in With Tim Nelson

Tim Nelson returned to competition this morning at the national 8K championship in Central Park. Here’s what he had to say for himself last night.

Falmouth was your first road race as a pro. What have you been up to since then?

Our man in Kenya.I headed to Kenya for 3 1/2 months for a study abroad program, which also allowed me an opportunity to do some pretty intense training with some of the Kimbia guys in Iten. I took classes in Nairobi for the first 7 weeks, then did a 6-week “internship,” in which I hung around at the Singore Girls School with Coach Kipchumba, shadowing him during practice. I also help lead some core and stability strengthening sessions with the girls, but many of the girls were better at the exercises that I was since they had learned them at Brother Colm O’Connell’s camp. So I was pretty much there for the experience and the training.

At noon on Saturday, you’ll be satisfied with your race at the Central Park 8K if…

…I place in the top five or otherwise run a “good” race. It is difficult to set goals or limitations since I haven’t raced in about six months. But I definitely want to get in the mix of the likes of Webb and Carlson and see what I can do.

What else are you racing between now and Olympic Trials?

I will be at the Stanford meet on April 4th, running the 5K. Then I hope to go for the Olympic A standard in the 10K at the Cardinal Invitational on May 4th. That’s all I’ve got right now.

Have you incorporated into your routine anything you learned or observed in Kenya?

Well, the most important things I learned in Kenya don’t seem to have a lot to do with running. In some ways I learned more about myself and how I am different as an American than I did about running. But I also saw how the unique culture in Kenya plays into developing amazing distance runners: the value for hard work and the unmatched focus that the Singore girls shared was inspirational in itself. The most important thing I learned is that there really isn’t a “secret” explaining why many Kenyans excel in distance running. From my experience, I would say that many Kenyans simply work harder and have a stronger motivation to work harder than most American distance runners.

You mentioned homework. Of what sort?

I’m finishing up my 5th year here at UW-Madison (it feels good to almost be done!). I’m taking 14 easy credits, 6 of which I need to graduate with a degree in Communication Arts: Radio, TV, Film. The other classes are just for fun: second semester Swahili and African International Relations. I’m enjoying it. It only took five years, but I think I finally enjoy school.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Teg Podcast

Our friends over at The Final Sprint have a new podcast up with Matt Tegenkamp about last month’s national championship and what’s in store between now and June’s Olympic Trials.

Would you listen to podcasts with Kimbia runners produced specifically for this site? Why or why not? Comment away below!

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