Phillip Boit: I would sell my cows again to take part in Winter Olympics

Philip Boit is still the first and only black African to register the fastest time in the Winter Olympics’ 10km skiing race, almost 10 years since he had hanged his skis.

 He achieved the rare feat in his second Olympic appearance in 2002 at the Salt Lake Games in Utah, US. To date, no other black African has managed to lower his time of 28 minutes in the distance.  Boit’s journey started in the early 90s after he showed signs of switching from track and field. But he had to wait until 1995 for an opportunity to come knocking.  

 ??Skiing for the Winter Olympics was an experience that Boit picked up after he was convinced by sports apparel manufacturer, Nike, to volunteer in an experiment. When he and his middle-distance compatriot, Henry Bitok heard that the American sportswear maker had sent out a word to Kenya in December 1995 that they were looking for a couple of volunteers, the daring pair quickly took up the offer.

 Three months later, Boit and Bitok were on board a plane destined for north Finland – about 7,000 miles away from begin a new chapter of their lives - to train as Winter Olympic athletes.

 In 1998, Boit made his debut entering the history books as the first Kenyan to have participated in the Winter Olympic games. Boit had pulled out with an injury. Boit, who would go on to clock eight World Championships and three Winter Olympics appearances, became the first African to compete in the world cross-country skiing competition in 1999.

 “The crowd was cheering me and despite the fact that I was last, it felt like I had won the race,” Boit recollects his experience in Nagano, Japan.

 But it is not the only memory that Boit took from Nagano. While preparing for the championship, he had met Norwegian Bjorn Daehlie of Norway, one of the greatest cross-country skiers.

The Norwegian boasts of 12 Olympic gold medals - eight of them gold - and over 40 World Cup titles, is by any standard, the most successful man ever to strap on a pair of cross-country skis. While the rules required organizers to hand over the winners’ medal immediately after crossing the line, Daehlie refused to take to the podium and instead opted to wait for Boit to finish the race to congratulate him.

“I’ve never seen anywhere in the world, not even at the Summer Olympics, where the winner waits for the last participant to finish the race. What he did gave me hope to push on because I could see spectators cheering me on and when I got to the stadium,  the air was just filled with love. I felt like a winner even though I was last among 92 participants,” Boit told The Nairobian.  “Ordinarily, the prize ceremony was instant but Dæhlie stopped everything and waited for me to finish. That was a big gesture of friendship and sportsmanship.

 Back at home, Boit’s partner was expecting a baby. And just two weeks later, they received a bundle of joy.

 “That Olympics was in March but back home I was expecting a baby. When he finally arrived, we decide to name him Dæhlie in honour of the gesture from the Norwegian.

 Nelly is now 23 and an aspiring runner.

 Even though he didn’t follow in the footsteps of his father, or the legendary Dæhlie whom he is named after, the younger Boit wants to fulfill the dream that his father never achieved on the tracks.

 “I’m not a Winter athlete like him but maybe one day I’ll represent the country in the Summer Olympics,” Dæhlie Boit, 23, told The Nairobian.

 The aspiring 800-metre runner believes that had his father received the much-needed support from the government, maybe his career and life would be better than it is todayIt is saddening to learn that my father had to dispose of his investment to represent his country. But that shows just how much he loved this country. He likes helping people. He even started some skating camp for the local youth but unfortunately, it didn’t pick up,” added the younger Dæhlie, who has gone to Norway seven times to meet his namesake.

 “We have met like every Olympic year. The last one was about three months ago,” added the aspiring athlete.

 Boit was left to train in Kenya after Nike dropped the sponsorship in 1999. Even the American firm later came back, briefly though, in late 2001, in the run-up to the 2002 Olympics, Boit was forced to sell his cows and a piece of plot to raise funds for training.

 “Even though I didn’t win anything, I achieved a lot. I’m still standing here being the fastest African in my category,” said Boit, who was the Chef de Mission at the South Korea Olympics. Nike sponsored me for five years but withdrew. After that, I had to do contributions from family and sometimes I sold my cows to raise funds for training. Sometimes, I would be hosted by families in Europe.”

 At the 2006 Games, Boit, who resides in the quiet neighbourhood of Kasis, Uasin Gishu, was forced to dispose of a town plot of land to take part in the Torino.

 “I don’t regret selling my cows and a plot to represent my country at the Winter Olympics. Given a chance, I would do it again,” added Boit who would go on to take part in three Olympics (1988, 2002 and 2006)

 He could have made it to four Olympics had he not picked up malaria on the final days of the 2010 Games that were staged in Vancouver.  Boit was born into an athletic family. His older brother, Mike Boit, won bronze (800 metres) at the 1972 Summer Game.

 By 1998, Kenya was the only African country at the Winter Olympics.  Though the number increased to 24 in PyeongChang, China, at  next month’s Winter Games in Beijing, Sabrina Wanjiku Simader, who was also the sole representative in Seoul, will be Kenya’s only representative.