Condolences pour in following sudden demise of former world champion Paul Koech

By Jonathan Komen and Dennis Okeyo: Wednesday, September 5th 2018 at 10:28 GMT +3 | Athletics
Former world half marathon Champion Paul Koech [Courtesy]

Shock and grief yesterday greeted the death of former world half marathon champion Paul Koech.

Koech, who held the rank of Major in the Kenya Defence Forces and based at Kahawa Barracks, passed on yesterday morning at Nairobi Memorial Hospital after a short illness.

Tributes immediately flooded social media as the shocking news sunk in even as celebrities and ordinary Kenyans praised the humble but cross country and road running maestro, who hardly attracted a passing glance.

The demise of the soft-spoken 48-year-old, who won gold medal at the seventh IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1998 cast a dark cloud over the euphoria of Kenya’s team heading to the World Masters Athletics Championships that starts in Malaga, Spain, tomorrow.

He’s best remembered for his 10,000m and cross-country rivalry with five-time world cross country champion Paul Tergat as they reduced the competitions into a ‘Two Paul’ show during national trials in the 1990’s.

He’s best remembered for his 10,000m and cross-country rivalry with five-time world cross country champion Paul Tergat [Courtesy]

Family sources say Koech felt sick in June and was admitted at the hospital after complaining of a severe headache. He was uncle to Sally Barsosio, the 1997 world 10,000m champion.

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Barsosio said she has lost a mentor and a close friend. “Paul Koech visited our home one day in 1993 while I was in Form One. And after a talk with my mother about athletics, Paul challenged me to take the sport seriously. He promised to support me and he did. I opted to practice in 10,000m while he monitored my training closely and always insisted that I maintain high discipline standards.

“And I managed to win 10,000m at the World Championships in Athens in 1997 while Form Four Student at Sing’ore Girls,” said Barsosio.

“It’s because of him that I got inspired into joining Kenya Defence Forces. We later married with his friend Vincent Cheruiyot, whom they were enlisted together as cadets into KDF. Paul Koech was a wonderful man,” she said.

National Olympic Committee of Kenya President Paul Tergat said: “Koech was a great hero to this nation. It’s unbelievable that we have lost a man who was also a good leader in KDF athletics.”

Noah Ng’eny, the 2000 Olympic 1,500m champion, said: “Major Koech was a dedicated leader who loved athletics, having worked with him in service and under Sports Management (Pace Sports) when we were active runners. We have lost someone who contributed a lot to athletics,” said Ngeny.

Major Koech was a dedicated leader who loved athletics [Courtesy]

Athletics Kenya said: “AK learnt of the sudden demise of Major Paul Koech, a co-opted member in AK executive with regret.”