Nairobi, Kenya, March 18, 2008 --(PR.com
)-- From early morning the buses arrive from the all the schools in the region, the eager faces of the young hopefuls pressed against the windows. They get off and go through their stretching exercises under the watchful gaze of a large crowd, which includes some of the biggest names in Kenyan athletics. Among them are running legends Mike Boit and Patrick Sang and also Bro. Colm O’Connell, former headmaster of St Patrick’s, Iten, the unrivaled nursery of Kenyan running talent.
This is the scene at the start of the annual Kenya Fluorspar Road Race in the Kerio Valley, which this year (November 18, 2007) attracted a total entry of over 700 runners for the two main events – separate 10-kilometre races for men and women, over a tough circuit which winds through the picturesque terrain of the valley.
The races get underway and the casual observer cannot fail to be impressed by the sight of hundreds of young Kenyan athletes racing past the cheering crowds, looking every inch the champions they want to be.
John Manners, an American athletics aficionado who lived in Kenya as a boy, flew in from his home in New Jersey partly to see the race. "Just look at the talent here," he said. "This is a small, local road race, and yet there are literally scores of runners performing at a level that would be national class in almost any other country. You know, there are lots of people in the West who follow athletics but don't know Kenya. Some of them speculate that Kenyans must be doping to achieve the results they do. Those skeptics should come to a race like this. This would make them believers!"
But there is more to the event than the showcasing of young talent. As the five- kilometre “Fun Run” that preceded the main events shows (and as the T-shirt made for the event proudly stated) this is a community that simply “loves to run”.
Young and old, fit and not-so-fit, it doesn’t matter. They race round the course to the cheers – and a few giggles – of the appreciative crowd. They include Lina Chepsaigut, mother of 10, grandmother of 17, who sells vegetables at Kimwarer Market, who comes near the end of the field, but still finishes strongly. Afterwards, barely out of breath, she says she decided to join in on the spur of the moment “for the fun of it”.
For the record, the main races are won by former world cross-country junior medallist Barnabas Kosgei and Berlin marathon bronze medallist Hellen Kiprop. There is also an international flavour, with a team from Uganda, one runner from Tanzania and a couple of runners from Europe.
At the colourful prize-giving ceremony, Patrick Sang, representing Athletics Kenya, urged the organisers to try to attract even more international runners as a way of encouraging sports tourism.
The event costs Kenya Fluorspar around Ksh 1.2million and is part of the company’s extensive programme for the local community, which includes provision of education and health facilities. The company’s executive director, Charles Field-Marsham, flew in from Canada for the event and competed in and completed the 10-kilometre race.
He said later: “The races and especially the fun run are among the highlights of the year for our staff and the local community. As you can see, the energy and spirit shown by both the participants and the spectators is very special. Sport, particularly running, is an important part of the social fabric of our community.”
He added that the company would hope to encourage increased participation of international runners without losing the community spirit of the event.