Street smart athletes invested in farming, business after conquering the world

After years of brilliant shows locally and internationally, athletes retire to enjoy the fruits of their hard labour on the tracks and roads.

A look at a number of Kenya’s world beaters tells a story of their rise and rise as athletics propelled them from poverty to riches and they have pulled all stops to establish empires that have ensured that they earn millions after retirement.

Several athletes bought land in the country’s food basket counties of Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia and Nandi and today, they are reaping big from agricultural ventures.

Others rose to fame before stumbling and falling into struggles. Love for alcohol, frustrations arising from doping allegations and injuries have pushed them into poverty.

But a majority of them practise farming. World marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge is a dairy and wheat farmer.

Kipchoge the farmer.

Former Commonwealth Games 800m champion Japheth Kimutai says he immediately switched to dairy and poultry farming after retirement slightly over a decade ago.

Kimutai, who comes from Nandi County, bought land in Kapseret, Uasin Gishu, during his prime years.

“Farming is my only economic activity after retirement from active athletics. I sat down and decided to plan for retirement and it is paying off,” the former track star says.

With 3,000m steeplechase and 5,000m world records and three world titles (in 3,000m steeplechase) to his name, Moses Kiptanui, who was active in the 1990s, is among legendary athletes who launched life-changing agricultural ventures from their prize monies.

Apart from investing in commercial buildings such as Komora Centre and Utamaduni House, and establishing Tulin Supermarkets in Eldoret, Kiptanui is also taking the lead in dairy farming.

When he set a new steeplechase world record in Rome with a time of 12:55.30 on June 8, 1995, Kiptanui was rewarded with a male horse as a prize for the stunning race and he decided to sell the animal because he couldn’t ship it to Kenya.

After selling the horse, the athlete took the risk of investing the proceeds in dairy farming. It never occurred to him that the decision would change his life from being a steeplechase star to a shrewd milk producer in Uasin Gishu.

Within one year, Kiptanui was already producing more than 500 litres of milk from 20 lactating breeds of Friesian cows, raking in Sh500,000 monthly from the sale of the produce. He has maintained the production levels despite the ever-increasing cost of production.

The legendary athlete does not regret his decision, and when the history of dairy farming, just like athletics, is written, Kiptanui’s name will prominently feature.

Kiptanui's supermarket in Eldoret.

He advises athletes to invest their prize money wisely when they are still active in the sport.

“When milking a cow, there is a time when everything dries up and you have to be wiser to survive. Very few athletes have run beyond 10 years and they can be counted. So, invest whatever you win when you are still running,” Kiptanui told athletes at a camp in Iten last year.

He added: “Not many can even afford shoes and some of them have been forced to use running shoes to move around. We forget where we came from immediately we start making money and before we know it, we are broke.”

Kipchoge Keino, the legendary 3,000m steeplechase and 1,500m athlete who flew Kenya’s flag in the 1960s, bagging two Olympic and three commonwealth gold medals, is also producing milk at his Kazi Mingi farm in Uasin Gishu.

He also sells sports items such as trophies and jerseys at his Kip Keino Sports House in the heart of Eldoret town, but dairy farming, he says, is what he cherishes the most.

At 82, Kipchoge says taking care of his dairy cows excites him, in addition to offering him an opportunity for physical exercises as he walks around the farm, checking on the animals.

He bought the 500-acre farm in 1975 after he left the police service. It is at Kazi Mingi farm where the legend has established his greatest accomplishment after conquering the athletics world.

The expansive farm also houses the Kip Keino School and the Kip Keino High Performance Training Centre, all of them a source of income for the retired athlete.

The Kipkeino School.

World Junior 3,000m steeplechase champion Amos Kirui has also started potato farming on his three-acre farm in Keringet, Nakuru County. He says potato farming is his retirement plan.

Kirui adds he started farming in 2017 after seeking advice from agricultural extension officers on the best ways to produce potatoes.

“I understand that I will retire from the sport and I need to make an income in retirement. I decided to engage experts in the agricultural sector and I was advised to grow Dutch potato varieties such as Tigoni and Sangi,” the athlete reveals.

Just like in athletics, the steeplechaser says he runs his potato venture as meticulously as sports running. For instance, he acquires seeds from Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) and collaborates with Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) in the production of disease-free seeds.

Three-time Boston marathon winner Ibrahim Hussein invested in an expansive farm located between Eldoret town and the Eldoret International Airport.

Hussein’s farm has been producing maize and animal feeds. He also set up a hotel in one scenic section of the Lobo farm, which would host the inaugural edition of the Agnes Tirop Memorial Cross Country Tour in January.

Other legendary athletes who have succeeded in farming are two-time Olympic and four-time world champion Ezekiel Kemboi who produces maize at his expansive farm in Moiben and former African champion Leah Malot, who ploughed her prize money in coffee farming at her Kaptagat farm.

Leah Malot at her farm.

“When I was still competing, I saw a number of athletes retiring and a few months later, they became poor and could not provide basic necessities for themselves and their families. I ran knowing that I had to invest and I invested in farming and agrochemicals because I come from an area where agriculture is the backbone of the economy. I started with maize and I am now doing both maize and coffee,” Malot says.

On the flipside, the country has been treated to tales of legendary athletes who have fallen after rising to the podiums.

A number of them, despite winning millions in prize money, have fallen as fast as their meteoric rise to stardom.

For example, Delilah Asiago, who was feted as Road Racer of the Year in 1995 by Running Times, resorted to tea picking in Trans Nzoia, despite winning millions in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Asiago acknowledges that her woes began in 1999 when she was banned for two years following doping allegations.

“I wish to urge all athletes to try and save part of their prize money. I don’t want them to struggle with life like me when they retire,” she says.

Former Boston marathon winner Sharon Cherop is also farming potatoes in the Marakwet highlands.

After five gold and three silver medals in world major marathons, Wilson Kipsang, a celebrated road racer, plunged into alcoholism after he was banned for whereabouts failures.

His family says he is picking up the pieces, after the fall from athletics grace.

Kipsang had invested in Keellu Resort in Iten and agriculture.

According to his brother Haron Kandie, Kipsang requires professional counselling and rehabilitation.

“Yes, my brother has retired from athletics but we still need him. He has been our strong pillar and our fear is that he could be slipping into alcoholism. He is rarely sober and needs counselling,” Kandie says.

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