NDALAT, KENYA - Kenya's reputation as a producer of world-class marathon runners was further boosted this month when Kenyans Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei broke world records on the same weekend. Running is a big thing for the East African nation, where regular competitions give young runners a chance to prepare for greater glory.
Kenya’s Ndalat cross-country races – a yearly event in the Rift Valley – attract more than 5,000 runners of all ages.
This year’s contest comes just a week after Kenyan marathon runners Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei set new world records in Chicago and Vienna.
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The chairman of the event, Abraham Mutai, said the competition nurtures new Kenyan talent.
“We’ve managed to see that the young ones are the ones participating more. We’ve had about 2,500 of the young ones doing the race. And, for sure I can tell you the country will now have a talent and make sure that supply for an athlete to the national team will never go dry because of Ndalat Gaa Cross Country,” he said.
Runner Daisy Jepkemei won this year’s 10-kilometer race. She dreams of representing Kenya on the global stage.
“I started this year in Gabon as number two,” said Jepkemei, and “my sister was number one ranked, Norah Cheruto. Now I have built my body so that I can represent my country.”
22-year-old Robert Kiprop has similar dreams. He finished third in the men’s junior 10-kilometer race.
“My leg has been giving me a bit of a problem,” said Kiprop. “I was supposed to go to Berlin to compete, but I could not go because of injury. Then I prepared for this Ndalat race to try my luck, he says, and see how I am recovering from my injury.”
Kenya’s Rift Valley has produced most of the country’s athletes and is filled with training camps.
At Kericho County’s Lomitit training camp, 40 young athletes hope to one day become champions.
Emily Chebet was among the first runners to join the camp 12 years ago at the age of 14. Since joining the camp, she has won many competitions.
Chebet said, “I went to compete in Ethiopia, where I finished fourth in the 5,000-meter race. Then I went to Mauritius where I won a gold medal for the 3,000 meters, she says, and then to Colombia where I won a silver medal for the 3,000 meters. Recently, I graduated to compete in the 21 kilometers race.”
Her sister Beatrice Chebet joined the camp five years ago. After winning this year's World Under 20 championship, she is even more ambitious.
“Now I am preparing for Africa cross country, for the Olympics,” Chebet said. “I will work with my coach for the training, the help, and the advice I need. I think I will do well.”
The competition is getting is stiffer as many athletes want to represent Kenya at the 2020 Olympics in Japan.
At the 2016 games, Kenyan athletes captured 13 medals - all but one of them for running.
At local competitions like Ndalat’s cross country races, the winners get flowers and tea bags. It is a small but welcome beginning for many Kenyan athletes who hope to win greater rewards on the world stage.