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Sibling rivalry: Same mother but flying different flags in big meets

 

Tokyo 2012 Marathon Gold medalist Mike Kipyego. [Michael Olinga, Standard]

Flip through newspaper pages in big European, American and Asian cities in mid-July.

And you are taken on a mental flight back to Kenya, where sibling rivalry among Kenyan athletes and those who switched nationalities to other nations make the headlines.

This comes even as these athletic machines prepare for the 18th World Athletics Championships in Eugene, USA, on July 15-24 at the Hayward Field inside the University of Oregon.

They change citizenships in search of love, fame and monetary gain although athletics is perceived as something held together by bloodlines.

Others opted to acquire nationalities in other countries to escape stiff competition in the battle for places in Kenyan teams.

But it’s a scenario that’s always common in major competitions like World Cross Country Championships, World Championships and the Olympic Games.

The script would, however, look different if 2016 Africa 3,000m steeplechase champion Norah Jeruto and her younger sister Daisy Chepkemei, the 2012 world junior 3,000m steeplechase champion, make good their bid to change citizenship to Kazakhstan.

It will be interesting to see how siblings from certain well-known families stage rivalries as they compete for Kenya while others represent their adopted nations.

However, siblings in national teams have dotted the world athletic charts for some time putting up a strong athletic empire.

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.

As a result, there are two world record holders, four world champions three Olympic and world championships medalists and two big city marathon winners. There is a growing list of family members who have donned different flags.

Ibrahim Hussein, Kenya’s first man to win Boston Marathon in 1988, is the older brother of Mbarak Hussein, a naturalised US citizen who is an elite Master’s marathoner, with two top five finishes in Boston (fifth in 2001 and fourth in 2002).

IAAF Director and Technical Advisor to Athletics Kenya, Ibrahim Hussein and James Wambugu during the launch of the Ndakaini Half Marathon in Nairobi. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The fierce track battle between Qatar’s Saif Said Shaheen (formerly Stephen Cherono of Kenya) and his immediate elder and a Kenyan Abraham at major championships – each on his national jersey – also offer refreshing moments on sibling rivalry.

Shaheen is the world 3,000m steeplechase record holder at 7:53.63 while Christopher ‘Jogoo’ Kosgei is the 1999 world 3,000m steeplechase champion.

There is also the Kibet family from Kapchorwa village in Keiyo South, which has been unleashing a ceaseless fight on the tracks.

The Kibet’s bask in the rare glory of three of the running daughters, alongside their Dutch cousin Lorna Kiplagat, competing at international level. Other three are doing well at local competitions.

Hilda Kibet, a former European Cross Country champion, is a naturalised Dutch while her elder sister Sylvia is the 2011 world 5,000m silver medalist.

Ivy Jepkoech and Elvin Jelimo are twins. Ivy is based at Global Sports Communications camp in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, while Elvin is based in the US. Valentine, the youngest in the Kibet family competes in some races in Netherlands.

Mike Kipyego, the 2012 Tokyo Marathon winner, has seen her younger sister Sally Kipyego, the 2012 London Olympics 10,000m silver medalist, change her nationality to USA.

A similar script reads for Samuel Chelang’a, who is the younger brother of 2007 Rotterdam Marathon winner Joshua Chelang’a, but now represents USA.

Five-time World Cross Country champion Paul Tergat helped Samuel, who was born and bred in Kabartonjo in Baringo County, to get a US track scholarship. The sibling rivalry sprung up during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and the 2017 World Cross Country Championships in Kampala, Uganda.

In Uganda, it even emerged as no surprise when USA and Turkey fielded former Kenyans.

Turkey had a full-house of Kenyan-Turks among them Yasemin Can (Vivian Jemutai), then Meryem Akdag (Miriam Jepchirchir Maiyo), Aras Kaya (Amos Kibitok) and Ali Kaya (Stanley Kiprotich Mukche) in the medley relay.

USA had Samuel Chelanga, Stanley Kebenei, Shadrack Kipchirchir and Leonard Korir. Olympic 5,000m silver medalist Paul Chelimo, who comes from Iten, led the American mixed relay squad.

Unlike in the Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil, where the battle narrowed down to Kenyans versus former Kenyans, the Kampala showdown produced a completely different script –‘exports’ fell by wayside as none of them won a medal in Kampala.

But more than 30 Kenyan born athletes lined up in 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, with Turkey and Bahrain accounting for the highest numbers. USA, Israel and Bosnia had claimed a slice of glory thanks to Kenya’s talent glut.

From USA’s former world champion Bernard Lagat, Turkey’s Mike Kigen to Bahraini constellation of world beating stars that included Olympic 3000m steeplechase champion Ruth Jebet and Olympic marathon silver Eunice Kirwa.

Lagat, the former world 1500m champion, is the elder brother of Kenya’s Viola Lagat, who was in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games squad. She’s also based in the US.

Mike Kipyego, the 2012 Tokyo Marathon winner, is the immediate elder sibling of world 10000m silver medalist Sally Kipyego and marathoner Christopher Kipyego.

Qatar has always fielded their naturalised athletes in major championships. A decade ago, there was a massive exodus of Kenyan athletes to the oil-rich Gulf nation. The world beating stars then attributed their change of citizenship to lack of compensatory remuneration from the Government.

After more than a decade now, the athletes who attracted hefty pay in the oil-rich nation have returned to their motherland and now go about their businesses as they no longer run.

Shaheen and Musa Amer Obaid (formerly Moses Kipkurui), fourth at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, now live in Eldoret. Shaheen, an alumnus of Sergoit Secondary School in Keiyo North, is engaged in farming activities.

This is despite the fact that he received a lifetime monthly wage of $5,000, and $250,000 if he wins a world championships or Olympic gold medal for his adopted nation.

Lucrative deals

These stars were given Qatari names and offered lucrative deals and sponsored to train in Iten and Eldoret since Qatar is blessed with oil riches but cursed with a climate wholly unsuited for long distance running training.

They lived in expensive hotels, where they began lavish lifestyles buying top of the range cars and doing big time farming that perhaps compromised their training programmes. And this may have contributed to their dip in performances at major global competitions.

Musa Amer Obaid (formerly Moses Kipkurui) had earlier said he was recruited in the Qatari Defence Forces.

Shaheen, James Kwalia and Albert Chepkurui (Abdullah Ahmed Hassan) are the only athletes in the clandestine of defections to Qatar that won medals at global competitions. It’s not clear whether the stars have retired.

However, there has been no love lost when Kenyans, often used to signaling each other with Kalenjin word ‘Ngebe’ (let’s go), devise new tactics to counter the growing number of Kenyans donning flags of their adopted nations.

They switch nationalities in the quest for money, fame and even in search of love –as others get married.

Ruth Jebet, who hails from Kosirai area in Nandi County, made a strong statement about Kenya’s athletics siblings rivalry as she is a cousin to 2008 world 5,000m silver medalist Mathew Kisorio and former Paris Marathon winner Peter Kimeli.

Bahrain also had John Koech and Nelson Cherutich (3,000m steeplechase) as well as marathoners Eunice Chumba and Eunice Kirwa, who won silver medal.

Benson Kiplagat Seurei, son of 1987 All Africa Games 1,500m champion James Seurei, lined up in 1,500m Rio Games. 

Seurei said he opted to change his citizenship as it is hard to make the national team in Kenya. 

Abraham Rotich (800m) and Albert Rop (5000m), who was born in Kapsabet, were other Kenyan-turned-Bahraini in Rio. Rose Chelimo, Isaac Korir and Abraham Cheroben (10000m) were also other ex-Kenyans in Team Bahrain.

Lucy Kimani was the only former Kenyan in the Bosnia squad while Lonah Chemtai competed for Israel in women’s marathon.

European champion

Turkey, which has turned out as a new market for Kenyan athletic talent, had six athletes Kenyan ‘exports’ in the Olympics.

They included reigning European 10,000m champion Yasemin Can formerly Vivian Jemutai and Tarik Langat Akdag whose birth name is Patrick Kipkirui Langat.

Others included Ali Kaya (formerly Stanley Kiprotich) who competed in 5,000m and 10,000m and Ilham Tanui Ozbilen (William Biwott Tanui) in 1,500m.

Meryem Akda (Miriam Jepchirchir) competed for Turkey in women marathon and in Uganda.

Kaya was born Amos Kibitok in April 1994 and at last year’s European Championships in Amsterdam, he won silver medal in the 3000m steeplechase. Before representing Turkey, Kaya competed for Kenya.  

Polat Kemboi Arikan (born Paul Kipkosgei Kemboi in Cheptiret in 1990) sealed a 1-2 finish for Turkey. Kemboi changed his nationality to Turkey on June 8, 2011 and changed his name to Polat.

He had to wait for two years following his naturalisation to be allowed represent his adoptive country.

In February 2012, he was granted a lifeline by then IAAF, now World Athletics, to compete for Turkey starting with the 2012 World Indoor Championships in Istanbul.

At the 2013 Mediterranean Games in Mersin, Turkey, Polat won gold in men’s 10000m.

European Cross Country winner Yasemin Can (born Vivian Jemutai) led the women’s front in Kampala. Jemutai never competed for Kenya in professional races.

 

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