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Big money rocks athletes' life and marriage

By By STANDARD on SUNDAY REPORTER | Apr 20th 2014 | 6 min read
Pamela Jelimo with her husband Peter Murrey. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]


Kenya: The huge athletics dollar payout in races abroad aptly obeys the social maxim: more money more problems.

This precisely paints the picture on the lifestyles that some Kenyan world beating athletes lead after they win millions from lucrative competitions.

Although some may have been married before the athletics cash start rolling in, break-ups stand out as a common norm among most of them.

Upon winning millions, women superstars hatch plans to leave their “poor husbands” and vice versa. These developments play out strangely, often resulting in separations or protracted court battles.

This has been the trend in most athletic families in Kenya.

The twists range from middle distance runners to marathoners whose case files keep gathering dust in court cabinets.

Pamela Jelimo, the 2008 Olympic 800m champion and Golden League jackpot winner of $1 million (Sh86.8 million), set the ball rolling when she arraigned her lover Peter Kiprotich Murrey in a battle over a Massey Ferguson tractor.

Kenya’s first Olympic woman gold medalist and her husband have been embroiled in a court case at Kapsabet Law Courts.

It proved hard for Murrey to disclose the source of his money in court in the Sh1.9 million-tractor row, which has caused controversy between them. He told the court he had a joint account with Jelimo.

Jelimo, a double medalist during the 2007 Africa junior championships  — gold in 400 metres and bronze in 200 metres respectively — differed sharply with her husband over the management of farm implements, forcing them to separate.

Jelimo, a global track superstar who was nick-named Kapsabet Express after her 2008 Beinjing Olympics exploits, is best remembered for having ended the dominance of Africa Queen Mariah Mutola of Mozambique at the Africa Athletics Championships in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2008.

She became the first Kenyan woman to win a Golden League Jackpot. She also won two medals at Africa championships, bagging gold in 800 metres (1:58:70) and silver in 4x400m relays (3:37:67) that year.

A victory at the IAAF World Athletics Final was to follow. But her performance slumped from 2009 as the relationship with Mr Murrey slowly turned sour.

Court sessions

She staged a brilliant comeback at the 2012 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, winning gold in 800m in an impressive 1:58.83.

Since then she has disappeared from athletic limelight, only to be spotted attending court sessions over property disputes. Although they are not formally divorced, they live separate lives.

The script is similar for double world champion Vivian Cheruiyot’s husband Moses Kiplagat Kirui, who is embroiled in a court case with his former wife Caroline Kwambai.

Kirui was charged at an Eldoret court in 2012 for allegedly neglecting parental responsibility. The two were married in a Keiyo customary marriage ceremony in 2011.

Kwambai has sued to compel him to meet the basic needs of their three children, whom they got during their 12-year marriage.

The case came up in court a few days before Cheruiyot left for the London Olympic Games, where she won silver and bronze medals in 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres races.

Kwambai, a former athlete who finished fourth at the junior race at the 1990 World Cross in France, through her lawyer Caleb Obwatinyo, said Kiplagat stopped paying school fees for the children in 2007.

She also wanted part of the property she alleges they sourced and developed together transferred to her.

The 38-year-old claimant who works as a warder at Lang’ata Women’s Prison in Nairobi also claimed her former husband has been collecting more than Sh50,000 in monthly rent from their residential houses in Eldoret town.

In the case that appeared before Eldoret Resident Magistrate Mary Njagi, Kwambai said that during their marriage, Kiplagat used to control all the money she won in international races.

She alleged that her former husband kicked her and their children out. “Our eldest son, who had been living with Kiplagat and his current wife was kicked out in 2011. Kiplagat has abandoned his duty as a parent. That’s the reason why the court should compel him to take responsibility,” she told the court.

But Kwambai says she has since lost hope in the quest for justice. “I gave up after the case dragged in court. I decided to concentrate on paying the children’s school fees. I lost hope after he kicked the boy out his house,” Kwambai told The Standard on Sunday last Thursday.

Cat and mouse game

Her  eldest son sat the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Examinations at St Patrick’s High School Iten last year while her second born daughter is a Form One Student at Chebara Girls Secondary School in Marakwet. Her last-born is a Standard Four pupil at Salaba Academy near Iten.

Kwambai warns women athletes: “Take care of your spouses when you earn money from running. Love nowadays is driven by monetary ambitions and I never imagined that I could lose all my sweat to my husband, whom I trusted. Whenever I won races abroad, I handed over the money to him.”

Kwambai’s ex-husband could not be reached for comment by the time of going to press. Two-time Boston Marathon winner Rita Jeptoo, who will compete in Boston Monday evening, is another runner with marriage problems.

Jeptoo is a mother of  a four-year-old boy, whom she got with Noah Businei — a former 800 metres runner — before they got separated.

Jeptoo won the Boston Marathon in 2006, then took a maternity break.

She then staged a strong comeback, winning Chicago and Boston marathons in 2013.

Rita married Busienei around 2005 but the love turned sour and soon they were parting ways. They have never gone to court to formalise their separation although they are living separate lives.

Two-time Berlin Marathon winner Florence Kiplagat, who finished second in last week’s London Marathon, broke ties with her husband Moses Mosop, a former Chicago Marathon winner in 2011.

Mosop and Kiplagat had perennial differences – they even had their case filed at Iten Police Station.

Elders from the two families unsuccessfully tried to mediate between the two. Mosop has since remarried.

Athlete Hosea Kogo ditched Lydia Cheromei, who was Kenya’s first gold medalist at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1991. They have been embroiled in a tussle over joint ownership of property.

Cheromei moved on and is now married to Jackson Kirwa, the winner of 2008 Firenze Marathon in Italy.

Squabbles also rocked former Olympic 1,500m champion Nancy Jebet Lagat and Kenneth Cheruiyot’s marriage. Although they lived together for some time, they were never formally married and they have since separated.

There is a cat and mouse game between athletic spouses, with some preferring to have their parents as next of kin.

Ibrahim Hussein, who was the first African to win the New York City Marathon in 1987, said families of sports personalities are no exception to the challenges facing all families.

“We all need good planning and mutual relationship in our families. The issue of money exist every where even in the business and there are little break ups. So, it is something normal. Our sports people need to stick to our religious beliefs to avert problems,” said Hussein, a thee-time Boston Marathon winner.

He asked athletic families to seek counseling from professionals if they cannot iron out their issues.

“It’s better to seek help than to break up. We all face these small challenges in marriage,” he said.

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