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Reflections on former AK boss as he is laid to rest today

SPORTS By ROBIN TOSKIN | September 2nd 2016

“Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood?” Quips Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist and poet in his book, Self Reliance.

He adds: “Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

Perhaps these are thoughts that will dominate the minds of mourners today as former Athletics Kenya chairman, Isaiah Kiplagat, is laid to rest at his Kapseret home.

In the coffin, before thousands of mourners, are the remains of a man who was never afraid to fail as he went about changing the landscape of Kenyan athletics. He may have fallen to the vagaries of cancer, but Kiplagat’s contribution to athletics will continue to be felt far and wide.

His vision for sports sparked into life sometime in 1981, when as the director of the Regional Development Centre for Athletics, he brought on board German Walter Abmayr to build the technical capacity of aspiring athletics coaches.

Under his visionary administration, Kenya would unearth the who's-who in local athletics coaching. Among the most successful in an endless list of coaches are Mike Kosgei, John ‘Warm up’ Mwithiga, Dan Muchoki, Elizabeth Olaba, Lawrence Miano, John Anzrah, Ng’ang’a Ngata, Billy Kosgei, David Okeyo and Sarah Atieno.

Others are Peter Angwenyi, Peter Mathu (now the national coach for Thailand), Charles Nyaberi, Alfred Momanyi, and another five who are deceased: Henry Aluoch, Cornelius Kemboi, Dan Amuke, Dan Omwanza and Paul Odhiambo.

Throughout his career as a civil servant and sports administrator, Kiplagat set out with a single mind to deliver what he believed was right, an attribute Deputy President William Ruto highlighted during the requiem mass at St Francis ACK in Karen, Nairobi, on Wednesday.

“When Kiplagat decided to do something, he did it with his whole heart and to perfection. He stood firm in decisions and was rarely swayed,” Ruto observed.

Quite often he ran counter to the straight and narrow, but like many great people he would always be vindicated, just as one Elbert Hubard asserted: “The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.”

“You would quarrel over officla matters but in the end, he would come round and ask you to accompany him to have a cup of tea,” said Okeyo, one of the products of the Abmayr coaching programme, and who would later rise to become the secretary general of Athletics Kenya.

Kiplagat’s legacy will forever stand out for all to see, said Okeyo who noted that this was one man who was grossly misunderstood.

“Because of his visionary leadership, AK has a solid asset in its own offices (Riadha House). Under his leadership he brought three championships to Kenya starting with the World Cross-Country (2007), Africa Athletics Championships (2010) and next year we will host the World Youth Championship. The first two recorded the highest attendance anywhere in the world.”

According to Angwenyi, Kiplagat’s sense of purpose and vision altered the history of athletics not only in Kenya, but in rest of the world.

“It is safe to say were it not for his seeing it fit to engage Abmayr, who would in turn churn out all these coaches, Kenya’s athletes would not have all these records we see today. Forever, Kenya and the world will be indebted to Kiplagat,” said Angwenyi, an athletics coach who would later serve as the AK public relations officer for eight years.

Many, however, would raise questions over allegations of corruption that dogged his final years at AK and his subsequent suspension by the IAAF - but which remain unresolved.

As Stanley Wolpert wrote in Jinnah of Pakistan, “Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world.”

He may have been fallible in the end, but Kiplagat will forever be counted as one who changed the course of athletics in Kenya.

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