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Villagers give new world marathon champion Dennis Kimetto hero's welcome

By Silah Koskei | October 3rd 2014
World Marathon record holder Danis Kimeto (third left) is blessed by elders after arriving at his former Kamwosor Primary in Elgey/Marakwet County. He is accompanied by, from right, former marathon holder Wilson Kipsang, Geoffrey Mutai and the County's Assembly speaker Albert Kuchei (second left). [PHOTO:  Peter Ochieng/STANDARD].

ELGEYO MARAKWET COUNTY: "Looking at a king's mouth, one would think he never sucked his mother's breasts," is an analogy from Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart that aptly captures newly-crowned world marathon record holder Dennis Kimetto.

Through sheer determination, he has risen from ashes to world glory. In his early days, he conquered whatever nature threw his way, devoting most of his youthful years to doing menial jobs such as setting traps in order to flush moles out of people's farms in his rural Kamwosor village in Elgeyo Marakwet County. In those days, he charged a fee for every mole he trapped.

Nobody knew then that he would one day bask in world glory by becoming the first man ever to run a marathon in under two hours and three minutes.

Mr Kimetto, now 30, is a king in his own right. He shattered the world record in the 42-kilometre race by clocking 2:02.57 to command a standing ovation at the end of the Berlin City marathon in Germany.

His stardom status was evident Thursday when he was garlanded in a most colourful homecoming, flying to the home of champions in Elgeyo Marakwet in a private helicopter, stopping to drop in on Governor Alex Tolgos before the ceremony in Kamwosor village.

On Wednesday, he had been given a hero's welcome in Nairobi.

On his itinerary Thursday, Kimetto was accompanied by his wife Caroline and former world marathon record holder Wilson Kipsang.

His entry into the village caused a stir as businesses came to a standstill and people raced towards the venue to catch a glimpse of the new world champion.

On arrival in Kamwosor, Kimetto was treated to a dance by local women, and mursik (traditional milk) as a sign of respect. He also had sinendet, the community's ornamental plant, put around his neck to signify his hero status.

Speaking to The Standard, Kimetto's parents revealed that their son took after their genes in athletics, saying they participated in national races in the prime of their lives.

"In 1968, I represented my school in the 1,500m race in Nanyuki, while his mother competed in the early 1970s. Little did we know that our son would take the sport seriously and extend the legacy to the world stage," said James Kimetto, the joyful father.

James described his fourth born son as a 'go-getter' who never relented even when he dropped from school in Standard Seven.

He noted that due to the family's meagre means, Kimetto went to look for menial jobs in Kapseret, Uasin Gishu County, in 2000. That was where his career in athletics began.

"He was not selective and would even be hired to plant and weed people's farms for a small pay. It was then that he met with other athletes who encouraged him to start practising," said his father.

Alice Kimetto was happiness itself as she recalled the day her son broke the world record.

"I woke up early on Sunday and prayed for him and on my way to church, I passed by a nearby shop and got a glimpse of him at the start of the race until he had covered 25 kilometres. Then I left for church," she said.

She added that in church, she received a call from one of her children saying Kimetto had not only won but also broken the world record.

"I was elated and felt like jumping to the ceiling, to the amazement of the people in church. I did not expect it," said Alice.

Kimetto said he mastered the courage to perform better following a promise he made to break a world record one day.

He revealed that a week before the race, he had contemplated opting out because of an arm injury.

"I almost gave up on the race but I am grateful to my colleague Geoffrey Mutai who encouraged me to forge ahead and fulfil my promise," he said.

The joyful Kimetto said he also owed his great achievement to his mentor, Jairus Kataron, who saw the potential in him and catered for his first training gear when he worked as a casual labourer in Kapseret.

He promised to train hard to break his own record in subsequent races.

Wilson Kipsang, the immediate former world marathon record holder in the race, said he was happy for Kimetto.

"It is not easy to break a record and that is why when Kimetto shared his ambition with us, we had to train with him and give him tips on how to do it because we were worried about our counterparts from Ethiopia who were likely to snatch the glory from us," he said.

Kipsang, who has held the title for one year, said it was his joy that the record came back to Elgeyo Marakwet.

He added that most races held in Berlin had a high tendency of being broken because of a favourable climate and good timing.

Kimetto said he planned to rest while thinking of the major races ahead.

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