Last weekend, when Kenya was selecting a team to represent her at the 2023 Budapest World Championships coming up next month, one of the country's legends quietly exited the stage.
Joseph Chebet, a soft-spoken legendary athlete who won the prestigious Boston and New York marathons in 1999 passed away while undergoing treatment in an Eldoret-based Hospital last Friday.
And days after his passing, the athletics world continues to pay tributes to a man described as a hero who oozed class during his prime.
He was a man of many firsts, his family and fellow legends say.
Chebet was born in Kapyego, Elgeyo Marakwet County before relocating to Kiptoi in Trans Nzoia County.
A burial committee and his family yesterday announced that the marathon legend who died after battling a pancreatic disease for three months will be laid to rest on Saturday, July 22.
First, Chebet is remembered as the first marathoner from the then-Marakwet District to register success in the 42km race.
Yesterday, decorated athletes such as three-time world 3,000m champion Moses Kiptanui described Chebet as a humble athlete who joined the ranks of legends who established Kenya’s marathon dominance. Kiptanui and the late Chebet trace their origins to Sambirir in Elgeyo Marakwet County.
Chebet took over the marathon mantle from two-time Boston Marathon winner Moses Tanui and other Boston stars; Ibrahim Hussein (three-time champion) and Cosmas Ndeti (double winner).
He owns Chebet House, a storey building in Eldoret town.
His athletics talent was identified in the early 1990s when the late legend was a student at Kapcherop Boys Secondary School in Marakwet West.
Secondly, he was among pioneer athletes who trained alongside former Honolulu marathon champion Erick Kimaiyo.
The camp located on the Marakwet highlands would later produce world beaters such as marathon record holder Brigid Kosgei, and Kimaiyo who earned the name Commando because of his coaching style as the camp’s coach.
His brother Ben Chebet, also a retired athlete, yesterday told Standard Sports how Joseph opened the marathon doors to him (Ben) and two others Peter and Elias.
Ben Chebet, who was the runner-up at the Gold Coast Marathon and Shanghai marathons before retiring in 2014 described his late brother as a man of few words who encouraged him and his brothers into athletics.
“My brother had a big heart. He did everything to build our athletics careers,” Ben Chebet said.
He continued: “He started his athletics training in Kaptagat before shifting base to Kipsait where he became among the pioneer athletes alongside side coach Erick Kimaiyo.”
Kiptanui, the retired three-time world steeplechase champion said Chebet was an uncelebrated hero who rose into stardom from humble background.
“He was a hard worker throughout his life. Even after his retirement, he invested heavily in agriculture in Trans Nzoia and Elgeyo Marakwet counties. He spent most of the time in his retirement in his Trans Nzoia farm where he produced maize. He also invested in Uasin Gishu,” Kiptanui, who is on the late Chebet’s funeral committee said.
The late Chebet’s athletics talent was identified by the late Major Michael Rotich, who also secured him a place in the military athletics team.
“I visited him when he was a student at Kapcherop Boys secondary school and he got more inspired and started focusing on his athletics career. He would later join the Kenya Navy where he later retired,” Kiptanui said.
He added: “We are planning to give him a heroic funeral. It is my hope that Athletics Kenya will honour his glory during the burial ceremony.”
Tanui, the two-time Boston Marathon winner eulogised the late Chebet as a selfless athlete who helped his compatriots win.
“The country has lost a hero and gentleman who helped his compatriots win,” Tanui said.