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Why Kenya's athletics supremacy is on the decline

 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 19/08/2016. Vivian Cheruiyot (KEN) of Kenya celebrates winning the gold. REUTERS

There is no doubt that Kenyan athletes have required no prop to stand tall on the global stage. 

From middle distance races, road races and marathons to new sprint sensation in Africa 100m men's record holder Ferdinand Omanyala, Kenya's top guns have always swept the board. 

So keen has been their enthusiasm to shatter every record in sight that made the world wonder what makes them claim a bigger slice of the glory? But there is no magic –certain primary and secondary schools have been in handy. 

These schools dotted the world athletics charts for many years putting up a strong athletic empire. From Matungen, Kamoi and Chesubet primary schools in Elgeyo Marakwet then Kaptabuk Primary School in West Pokot to Kiptere Primary School in Kericho; these schools produced the world's top athletes in what would be fit for an Oscar Award. 

The script starts from Kaptabuk Primary School in West Pokot where former world under-18 3000m champion Purity Cherotich Rionoripo, 2006 world cross country junior champion Pauline Korikwiang and 2017 world cross country bronze medallist Lilian Kasait studied. 

Two-time world cross junior champion Viola Kibiwott and 1997 world cross country junior silver medallist Rose Kosgei spruced up their athletics talents as pupils at Matungen Primary School, in Elgeyo Marakwet. 

There also is a legion of track stars from Kiptere Primary School in Kericho County. They include Vigoty Chepngéno and Fancy Cherotich. 

But the resumption of school games after the two-year lull occasioned by Covid-19 pandemic would help stir latent talents in learning institutions, which have faded away despite unrivalled six-decade plus performance. 

From 1956 to 2016, Kenya has won 103 medals at the Olympic Games in boxing, track and field events –with 42 medals from 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2021 outings with four secondary schools in Elgeyo Marakwet –St Patrick’s Iten, Sing’ore Girls, Kapkenda Girls and Marakwet Boys – toasting in a rare fry of sporting. 

St Patrick’s set the bar too high when they ensured that their products or even students made the national Olympic teams from 1972 to 2012, when their brilliant performances started to diminish. 

Former students like Mike Boit (800m), Mike Murei (400m) and Cosmas Murei (800m) set the ball rolling when they competed at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. 

Twins Kipkoech Cheruiyot (1,500m) and Charles Cheruiyot (5,000m) –while Form Three students at the school –flew the St Patrick’s flag in 1984 in Los Angeles games while US-based Peter Rono (1500m), Ibrahim Hussein and Kenyan-born Dane Wilson Kipketer (800m) represented the country in the games in Seoul Korea in 1988. 

Steeplechaser Mathew Birir and Nickson Kiprotich (800m) bagged gold at the Barcelona 1992 Games, while David Kiptoo bowed out in 400m semi finals at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. 

Veronica Nyaruai lead Gladys Cherono in women's 5,000m final during at the Kenya Defence Forces Athletics Championships at Moi International sports Centre Kasarani on June 10, 2015.PHOTO/DENNIS OKEYO

Wilson Kipketer of Denmark (800m), Wilson Boit Kipketer (3000m steeplechase), Japhet Kimutai (800m), William Chirchir (1500m) and Isaac Magut (400m) flew the Saints’ flag during the 2000 Olympic Games.  

At 2004 Athens Olympic Games, the school was represented when 800m world champion and Kenyan-born-Dane Wilson Kipketer, Isaac Songok and former Athletics Kenya head coach Mike Kosgei carried the mantle. 

There was no former St Patrick’s athlete at the 2008 Olympics only until 2012 when Kenyan-turned-Ugandan Abraham Chepkerwok and Nickson Chepseba became the last students to compete at the Olympics. 

In the nearby Sing’ore Girls, the pioneer coach and Principal sister Christine Harvarine and Bro Colm O’ Connell laid the red carpet in the 1970's and 1980's. Rose Thomson and 1,500m legend Saina Chirchir were the first batch of Sing’ore athletes to make a mark at the international level. 

In their footsteps was Fridah Kiptala, a versatile 400m and 800m athlete, who hit the limelight in the1980’s. She worked with the Kenya Prisons Service. 

Lydia Cheromei won the 1991 World cross country Junior Championship in Antwerp, Belgium. She became the first Kenyan woman to win gold at the world cross country championship.  

In 1993, Lenah Chesire emerged 1,500m national secondary schools champion and later stepped up to marathon. 

World 10,000m champion Sally Barsosio stamped Sing’ore Girls authority in athletics when she emerged the first Kenyan woman to win a world championship title in 1997 while a Form Four student. 

Other stars include Olympic 5,000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot and her class mate Viola Kibiwott, the two-time world junior cross country champion. 

Throw in former Olympic 800m silver medallist Janeth Jepkosgei, former world 5,000m silver medallist Sylvia Kibet and her elder sister Hilda Kibet, the Kenyan-born-Dutch woman and former European cross-country champion Hilda Kibet and you'll realise the talent that these schools had. Mercy Kosgei, who won a silver medal at the world junior cross country in Fukuoka, Japan in 2006, is also in the mix. 

In 2009 world championships in Berlin, Sing’ore Girls former students won five medals for Kenya. Vivian Cheruiyot won gold in 5000m, Sylvia Kibet settled for silver as Janeth Jepkosgei won silver in 800m. Irene Limika lined up in marathon. 

Vivian led the Sing’ore forte at the 2015 Beijing worlds as she won gold in 5000m and 10000m. Sally Kipyego, the 2012 London Olympics 5000m silver medallist, settled for silver while Jepkosgei bowed out of the semi-finals in 800m. 

Maureen Chelagat lost in the 400m semi-finals while Viola Kibiwott made it to 5,000m finals. 

Three-time world 3000m steeplechase Moses Kiptanui, the 1996 Olympic silver medallist, headlines the top stars from Marakwet Boys High School. 

Sally Kipyego competes in the women's 10,000m final to qualify for the Rion Olympics Games during the National Olympics Trials on June 30,2016 at kipchoge Stadium, Eldoret.[PHOTO:DENNIS OKEYO/STANDARD]

Olympic medallists from Marakwet Boys forte include William Mutwol (1992 3000m steeplechase bronze medallist), Reuben Kosgei (3000m steeplechase gold in 2000) and Timothy Kitum, the 2012 Olympic 800m bronze medallist. 

World 3000m steeplechase record holder Saif Saaeed Shaheen, formerly Stephen Cherono, leads a long list of world championships medallists from the school. 

Ismael Kirui, the 5000m world champion in 1993 and 1995 as well world junior 5000m champion in 1992, is another top gun who studied at the school. 

Former world junior 3000m record holder Raymond Yator, former world junior 10000m champion Kiara Kamzee, Abraham Cherono –the elder brother of Shaheen and 1998 world junior 3000m steeplechase silver medallist –are also in the mix. 

There are also steeplechase big shots in Anthony Kiprono and Paul Chemase as well as 800m sensation Vincent Malakwen. Others are world cross country stars Vincent Kibiwott, Abraham Chebii and Joseph Ng’elebus, third in London Marathon 

The school dominated global charts especially in 3000m steeplechase thanks to then games teacher and former world 10000m record holder, the late Samson Kimombwo. Steeplechase coach Boniface Tiren is another product of Marakwet Boys. 

Kapkenda Girls boasts 2008 Olympic 1500m champion Nancy Jebet Lagat, 2006 world junior 3000m champion Veronica Nyaruai, 1997 world cross country junior champion Rose Kosgei and silver medallist Prisca Jepleting as well as 2009 Boston Marathon winner Salina Kosgei. 

Former world junior 3000m champion Pamela Jepchumba, 1987 All Africa Games 10000m champion Leah Malot, former Frankfurt Marathon winner Alice Timbilil, Agnes Kirop are also in the mix. 

Kosirai Mixed produced 2016 Olympic 3,000m steeplechase champion Conseslus Kipruto, 2014 Commonwealth Games 1,500m champion James Magut as well as siblings and world cross country runners Mathew Kisorio and Peter Kimeli. 

Africa 400m hurdles silver medallist Haron Koech and Nicholas Togom are among stars from Cheptil High School. 

Commonwealth Games 10000m silver medallist Stacy Ndiwa, former world junior 3000m steeplechase champion Caroline Tuigong and Immaculate Jebet studied at AIC Kosirai Girls. 

And even before the dust settled, they also started to fizzle out –begging the question: what’s not right? These schools have witnessed a drastic drop in athletics performances. 

 

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