When the country's athletics history is written, Mike Kosgei’s name will be written in every chapter.
Many would describe him as a no-nonsense coach, while some knew him as a master tactician because of his mastery of sprints, which earned Kenya many gold medals in various international athletic championships.
His track tutelage was exceptional and got accolades both in local and world athletic championships despite brushing shoulders with what he termed as the holders of status quo and cartels in the athletic industry.
But when he unceremoniously exited Kenya's training camp, he retired to his home at Kamurguiywo, a little-known village in Nandi County.
Though he did not abandon his coaching profession, he ventured into tea, maize, and dairy farming.
“I did my best that I could for the teams that represented Kenya at international level. Being a disciplinarian, my focus was to see whatever I did benefits athletes, I was proud seeing them winning after following my instructions,” he said.
Caught up by The Standard Sports, he sat on a couch outside his house while reading athletic magazines that reminisced about his hey-days, running alongside his trainees, flexing and doing press-ups which was his daily duty.
One cannot recognise his immense prowess in athletics. His dark complexion and shiny, soft skin cannot betray him as a septuagenarian who has clocked 71 years.
He was born and bred at Kamoba estate and went to Kamoba primary school where he developed an interest in athletics. He got a scholarship to join St Patrick Iten Secondary School, the first school that majored in mentoring young athletes in Rift Valley.
His mastery of 200m and 800m races enabled him to secure further scholarship in the United States, where he got a first degree in Social Science from Washington States University in 1974.
“I came back to Kenya to look for a job. I was first recruited as an executive member in athletics under the Ministry of Sports and Culture in 1975. I also occasionally supported the national teams as an assistant coach, but I was given administrative functions in the sports department,” he said.
Kosgei had come of age in his 30s and he was able to participate in a number of competitions, but claimed that he had a calling and passion of coaching and supporting the athletes, even as his duties were limited to administration.
He got a one-year scholarship in Germany and got a diploma degree in Track and Field course in Mainz University in 1984, and thereafter, he was officially appointed as Kenya's national head coach in 1985.
Under his tutelage, Kenya significantly commanded in track and sprint races in World Championships, Olympic Games and World Cross Country.
Kenya gained momentum in 1987 when it earned six gold medals in Rome and eight in Tokyo, Japan (1987) World Championships.
Kosgei’s outstanding performance was in the 1993 World Championships where Kenyan men won 16 of the 30 medals from their five favourite races: the 400m, 800m, 5000m, and 10,000m, as well as the 3000m steeplechase.
But suddenly, the country experienced an economic meltdown and the KANU regime under President Daniel Moi took radical austerity measures and sacked civil servants from all government ministries. Unfortunately, Kosgei was among those sacked from the sport’s department in 1995.
“Lucky enough, another window was opened for me. I got a gig in Finland, a three-year’s contract training the Finnish athletes before returning home. I wanted to give back to my community and I trained a few of the athletes who had secured a slot to represent Kenya in various international events,” he said.
Ahead of the 2001 Edmonton World Championships, Kenya had no substantive coach to lead the Kenyan team to Canada and Kosgei then was managing the Rift valley team in his personal capacity.
He was unanimously chosen by the selected athletes to temporarily support the team which eventually flew the country’s flag position three after garnering six gold, six silver and four bronze medals.
The stellar performance displayed by Kenya saw Isaiah Kiplagat, the Chair for Kenya Athletic Amateur Association (KAAA) reappoint Kosgei as the national head coach.
It didn't take long before Kosgei picked up issues with the KAAA over mismanagement of the athletes and corruption that marred the sports sector.
“I believe that the athletes are our bosses and their challenges needs to be addressed to better their welfare and morale. However, my criticism did not sit well with KAAA officials, and it elicited a fierce fight with the senior sport's officials,” he said.
Their differences went overboard and morphed to public spat all over mainstream media, both local and international. The infighting in the sports sector rendered his services untenable, thus opted to tendering his resignation from the helm of the country's national team in 2005.
“I wanted the efforts put by our athletes to be reciprocated with privileges given to them. They had inadequate training facilities and fall victims of exploitation by the rogue management system. I pushed for changes to be made to enhance their welfare,” Kosgei said.
He claimed the official team were abandoned once they represented Kenya in various international teams.
After the recent World Championships in Budapest, Hungary where Kenya bagged three gold medals, Kosgei, popularly known as Coach, claimed that the team would have done much better were it not for poor management of the athletic sector.
“Kenya has a talented crop of athletes, but they should be supported morally and psychologically. There is laxity on time in which the athletes should report to the national camp. For instance, they are recalled three months to the World Championships, and they will not get time to be trained and monitored in their conditions,” he said.
He said that the Kenyan athletes have unmatched racing pace and resilience and what they lack is morale and teamwork.
“Ineffective leadership is a let-down to our Kenya team. The team lacks coordination and cooperation that would have enabled to earn more gold modals in 5000m, 3000m steeplechase for men and 10,000m for both men and women,” he said.
He says that there are chances to win medals in the sprints.
He noted that is a fertile ground for talented runners, but the management is wanting forcing many to flee to other countries where they are rewarded, and their welfare is taken care of.
“Why do we have Yavi (Winfred) in Bahrain, Selpeter (Lornah Chemutai) in Israel and many others? There is something wrong with the Athletics Kenya (AK) that should be addressed as soon as possible or else Kenya will join the list of the countries that were once the powerhouses of athletics and field events,” he said.
Kosgei, who has volunteered to train upcoming athletes in the community, said that people went to him andasked to be trained and he no option but offer his services to the ambitious athletes.
“I didn't want to start up my training camp for them, but they always come to my home every weekend for consultation and using the sauna I established for them. At my age, I don't have something to be proud of other than seeing them prospering just as my children,” said Kosgei, a father of five.