Stars who missed school games but broke world records

Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge celebrates after winning gold medal in men's marathon at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, yesterday morning. [AP]

They watched, celebrated with hearty claps as their peers ruled the tracks at school games.

And after soul-searching, they got inspired into athletics. Within a short time, they took away the fans' breath crushing opposition without much fuss.

Their drive and latent talents shot them to global fame.

From world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge, former Olympic marathon silver medallist Paul Tergat, former world 3,000m steeplechase record holder Moses Kiptanui, former world marathon record holders Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto as well as Olympic marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir and world women's mixed race record holder Brigid Kosgei; the script is no different.

Elijah Lagat, the 2000 Boston Marathon winner and former MP for Chesumei Constituency, offers a refreshing and inspiring story.

In 1992, Lagat was fat and weighed 158 pounds (71.7kg) at that time and battled breathing problems that resulted from clogged arteries.

Doctors advised him to start running, which he did in January 1993. He went on to win Berlin, Prague and Boston marathons.

Lawrence Cherono, who has won Boston and Chicago marathons, has come a long way since operating a posho mill in Eldoret.

Geoffrey Mutai, who basks in course record marks in New York City (2:05.06) and Boston marathons, was born of a peasant family and endeared numerous challenges to ascend to the top of marathon running. He dropped from school for lack of school fees.

He endured sugarless tea and porridge while a young boy in his impoverished family. Mutai never competed in athletics while in school.

While sports enthusiasts continue following the East Africa Secondary School Games in Arusha, Tanzania, Standard sports looks at the world beating athletics stars that never graced school games.

Eliud Kipchoge

Kipchoge's struggle inspires and warms the hearts of budding athletes. He says: "If you don't believe you can run fast, even in the best shoes you can't do it."

After completing Form Four at Kaptel High School, Kipchoge tried his hand in business.

He started operating butchery and later opted to buy milk and transported using his mother's bicycle to Kenya Cooperative Creameries (KCC).

While transporting almost 150 litres of milk to KCC, Kipchoge's bicycle broke down at Kimondi area -some five kilometres away.

He decided to run to his friend Daniel far away to borrow another bicycle. He impressed his peers on the roads who asked him to enter an athletics competition in Kapsabet that weekend. Kipchoge gave it a shot and paid huge dividends.

He has won four Olympic medals -two gold, silver and bronze and has won 14 of the 16 well-heeled big city marathons he has competed in -as well as basking in 1:59.40 marathon mark at the Ineos Challenge in Vienna, Austria in 2019. And the rest is history.

]Paul Tergat [Standard]

Paul Tergat

Paul Kibii Tergat stands out among the most successful African sportsmen, having won numerous big city marathons as well as lending a hand to charity.

Tergat has had a fair share of fortune and fame in sports. That earned him his nick-name 'Gentleman' from far and wide. And the gentleman had not yet betrayed his years, having picked up athletics a year after he was enlisted into Kenya Defence Forces in 1990.

"I missed out on the juniors and I really regret it. I am encouraging parents, teachers and coaches to develop talents right from primary school. Let them not fall victim to my unfortunate situation," said Tergat.

In September 2003, he ran a superb 2:04:55 to break the marathon World record in Berlin, slicing a massive 43 seconds of the then all-time mark.

Not bad for a man who braved famine and lack of other basic needs since joining Riwo Primary School at the age of eight years before joining Kapkawa Boys High School in Baringo County for his secondary education. He struggled on many occasions without food, school fees and other basic items. But now he holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel at the Kenya Air Force and several other accolades from many institutions across the globe.

Not bad for a man who was born and bred in a polygamous family of 17 children on 17 June, 1969 in Riwo village near Kabarnet.

26/4/15 Kenya's Wilson Kipsang, Kenya's Dennis Kimetto, Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge and Kenya's Stanley Biwott during the Men's Elite race Action Images via Reuters

Moses Kiptanui

Moses Kiptanui, who was the first man in the world to run 3,000m steeplechase under eight minutes (7:59.18) at Zurich's Weltklasse meeting in 1992, was a superb footballer while a student at Marakwet Boys High School.

At the Zurich meet, it was a moment to write history in the race. But it took Kiptanui 85 minutes to celebrate the historic 3000m steeplechase record before Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie erased his world 5000m record with a new mark of 12:44.39 in Zurich.

The late Samson Kimombwa, who set a 10,000m world record of 27:30.5 on 30 June 1977 in Helsinki, Finland, was his games teacher. Kimombwa spotted his athletic talent and asked him to ditch football for athletics. Kiptanui did not heed the advice.

Upon completing his secondary education, Kiptanui was recruited into Kenya Defence Forces courtesy of his football talent.

"I was fortunate to get recruited into the Kenya Army as a footballer. After serving for a year, I remembered the advice from the late Kimombwa. And I decided to give athletics a try. I picked it up so easily and the rest is history," said Kiptanui, the three-time world 3,000m steeplechase champion.

Wilson Kipsang

His rise to the pinnacle of distance running is just another archetypal case of from rags to riches and far beyond.

Kipsang ventured into athletics when training at Kenya Police College turned out difficult.

"At the police college, I just realized opportunities in sports were quite open. And because I loved athletics, I resorted to it," said Kipsang, who did not proceed to university despite attaining the entry mark.

He later graduated with a degree in Criminology from Mt Kenya University.

Upon completing Form Four at Tambach High School in Elgeyo Marakwet, the third born in a family of nine began buying potatoes from the outskirts of Nakuru town in Kaptembo and Njoro and transporting it with a bicycle to the Nakuru town market.

"I had to struggle for survival as poverty impoverished our family. But getting recruited into Kenya Police was a God sent to me. This is where I started off my athletics career," said Kipsang in an earlier interview.

Dennis Kimetto

Dennis Kimetto, who rose from trapping moles in Kamwosor village in Keiyo South to global fame, stunned the world when he ran a jaw-dropping 2:03.57 time in 42km -becoming the first man to run a sub-2:03 in a marathon.

He shattered Wilson Kipsang's record by 26 seconds at the Berlin Marathon in September 2014.

Not a mean feat for Kimetto, who did odd jobs such as setting traps in order to flush out moles in people's farms in his rural Kamwosor village in Elgeyo Marakwet.

When he charged a fee for every mole that he trapped to avoid destruction of crops so as to guarantee residents of their food security, the entire villagers never expected that he would one day rise to the pinnacle of global athletics.

April 18, 2022 Kenya's Peres Jepchirchir celebrates winning the elite women's race REUTERS

Peres Jepchirchir

Peres Jepchirchir, who became the first Olympic champion to win the New York City Marathon at last year's edition, is the fourth woman to set multiple 21km times. But she never competed on the tracks -even while a student at Kosirai Girls High School in Nandi County.

Jepchirchir, who is the only sibling in a family of 24 to take up athletics, was the second Kenyan woman to win the Olympic Marathon title since the event was added to The Games in 1984 in Los Angeles, USA.

- April 28, 2019 Kenya's Brigid Kosgei in action during the women's elite race REUTERS

Brigid Kosgei

Brigid, who set the women's mixed race world record of 2:14.04 at the 2019 Chicago Marathon where she erased Paula Radcliffe's record 2:15.25 set in 2003, has also come a long way.

"When I remember my humble beginnings and the challenges we went through, I feel I cannot get back to that kind of life and it pushes me to do well," said Brigid.

When her mother could not raise school fees, Brigid dropped out of school while in Form Three. And she decided to take up athletics to make ends meet.

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