Martin Keino, 40, is a former professional athlete and pacesetter. Currently the managing director of the Keino Sports Marketing agency, the son of legendary runner Kipchoge Keino spoke to NJOKI CHEGE
Odds have always been staked against him. Not that Martin Keino has not been doing well in his endevours but because he is the son of a legend. So, when he arrived for this interview half an hour late, I was not kicking myself or fidgeting. Understandably, Martin was driving all the way from his base in Eldoret.
Stepping out of the car, I expected him to be worn out but was surprised by his athleticism. Martin looked composed and calm as if he had just driven around a few blocks to the interview.
His boyish looks, well-trimmed body and a bounce in his step did not portray his real age. At 40, it would take a lot of convincing to believe him.
And the moment he opened his mouth, I realised there was more to this man, beyond his father’s fame.
For Martin, growing up as the son of Kipchoge (Kip) Keino was not easy. Everyone expected him to follow his footsteps.
“The expectations were very high (still are). But I must say that I enjoyed running at an early age,” he avers.
Making of a star
Martin says he enjoyed running from an early age of 14 years and was even drafted to compete in high school — Fork Union Military Academy in the USA. But he found going tough in his first year.
“I came last a couple of times, and nobody could understand how the son of a world champion would tail in a race,” recalls Martin.
However, in second year, tables turned and Martin won every race. He did so well that he won a scholarship to the University of Arizona where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Interior Design in 1995.
Soon after graduating, Martin landed a job with Nike International as a designer and began his professional athletics journey.
“I became a professional athlete in 1996 but worked part-time,” says Martin.
He competed in Kenya for the first time in 1996, a move that generated a lot of interest as the public wanted to see if he was a chip off the block.
And Martin trained hard to make his own mark. In fact, his training paid off although he narrowly missed the Atlanta Olympics. Martin came in fourth during the Kenya trials, missing the Olympics berth by a point.
Failing to qualify for Olympics where his father reigned did not dampen his spirits. It spurred him to work even harder.
Soon it paid off as he turned 1996 from a heartbreak year to a fantastic one. He performed better and was even ranked among the top five in the 1500m race in the world and third in the two mile race in the world.
Cutting a niche
But something defining also happened in that hallmark year. It was destiny as Martin calls it.
“Daniel Komen, a fellow runner, wanted to break the two mile world record. My coach requested me to help him achieve his dream by pacesetting the race. He did not only win but broke the world record by five seconds.”
That would be the first of many world records that Martin helped break from his excellent pacesetting, eventually cutting a niche for himself as a world-class pacesetter.
He had a skill that many runners did not posses. Martin had a unique ability of pace judgement that several athletes later came to appreciate. In fact, even great Ethiopian long distance runners Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebresselassie requested him to pace for them.
Martin paced for over ten years and helped other athletes set new seven world records. He became one of the best pacesetters in middle distance races.
Unlike his father who reigned, Martin confronted public expectations and helped others reign, in a way unveiling his set of expectations.
“I realised way back in high school that I would experience lots of pressure so I was prepared for it. I did not want to be caught up in other people’s expectations,” reveals Martin.
His parents, Kipchoge and Phyllis Keino supported and appreciated the path he took as a pacemaker. This is a virtue Martin has come to adopt in raising his two sons.
In 2005, Martin hanged his running shoes and moved on to the next level.
“I felt I had done my part as an athlete, and more so as a pacemaker. I had travelled and seen the world. The novelty wore off after the first three years,” says Martin.
For a long time, Martin had toyed with the idea of sports marketing, an idea he pursued immediately after retirement.
“I have always been interested in sports marketing. It includes sports events, helping athletes get endorsements, prepare them for the endorsement process and manage their rights among others,” he says.
He started Keino Sports Marketing an agency that manages sports sponsorships, strategic event marketing and management, athlete services and other sports consultancies.
Martin has also explored a different tangent and actively participated in peace events such as the Laikipia Highland Games.
Retirement, Martin reckon is not only an exciting experience, but also one that has opened doors for more possibilities.
“Settling down has been extremely fulfilling,” he says, “Besides being away from the limelight, the experience has been of great use.”
Recently, Martin launched a sports magazine television show aptly dubbed Setting the Pace. It provides viewers with an insight into the world of successful Kenyan athletes.
The six-part series, which runs on Zuku Sports Channel 301, attempts to bridge the gap between viewers and athletes and introduce the viewers to the fast-paced world of athletes.
“The idea is to showcase, highlight and promote athletes athletics in general. We want to tell their stories, celebrate their successes, demystify the athletes and attempt to find out what it takes to be successful,” he says.
The TV show airs every Friday at 7:30pm on Zuku Sports.
The show not only highlights other aspects of athletics such as brand building but is also a platform where young and aspiring athletes can draw inspiration and meet their role models.
Martin also involved in various activities.
“I am many things because I like to try out different things,” he says.
Whenever Martin is not drawing strategies for athletes and hosting them on his show, he is on the runway, modelling and trying his hand in acting as well.
He has modelled in the Fafa Fashion for Peace event, and for local designers such as Kiko Romeo and John Kaveke among others. He also had a cameo role in the local drama series Changes II.
Several corporate companies have also enlisted his services as a motivational speaker, where he inspires business executives.
“I basically use my sporting experience to inspire business people by highlighting the similarities between sport and business. Sport requires hard work, intense training and resilience that can successfully be applied into business,” he says.
“The script is the same. It involves training and perseverance because lsuccess is not instant,” he adds.
A mineral water entrepreneur himself, he is also a director of the Youth Enterprise Development Fund, and also the chairman of the board of Lewa Childrens’ home.