Apr 10, 2017
Apr 10, 2017

Why is Kenya the number one in distance running?

Top 10 active Kenyan athletes

Geographical and biological factors

Where motivation meets preparation

Why is Kenya the number one in distance running?

Kenya is famous for producing some of the world’s best athletes and topping the medal table at the 2016 World Championships in Athletics is the latest testament to the country’s track star quality. What makes Kenya so successful and what does that mean for the 2017 London Marathon? Read on to find out all about Kenya’s secret of success. 

Africa is renowned for producing talented athletes, but when it comes to athletics, Kenya is at the top of the world. A recent testament to Kenya’s consistent ability to nurture champions came at the 2015 World Athletics Championships in Beijing, where Kenyan athletes managed to top the medal table with a total of 16 medals.

When it comes to the Boston Marathon, Kenyan athletes have been so successful that the event is often referred to as the Kenyan Intramural Championships. So, who are the best Kenyan distance running athletes and what makes this country so prolific in track performance? Let’s find out. 

Top 10 active Kenyan athletes

Top 10 active Kenyan athletes

 

Name

Sport event

Best achievement

David Rudisha

Middle-distance runner (800m)

The first and only person to ever run 800m in under 1 minute 42 seconds

Julius Yego

Javelin throw

With a personal best of 92.71, he is the African and Commonwealth record holder.

Eliud Kipchoge

Long-distance runner

Gold medal at the 2016 Olympics

Asbel Kiprop

Middle-distance runner (1500m)

Gold medal at the 2008 Olympics

Vivian Cheruiyot

Long-distance runner

Gold at 2016 Olympics & 2015 World Championships.

Ezekiel Kemboi

3000m steeplechase

Gold at 2013 & 2015 World Championships

Rita Jeptoo

Marathon

3 time Boston Marathon winner

Wilson Kipsang

Marathon

Former world record holder for the Berlin Marathon

Wesley Korir

Long-distance runner

Winner of the 2012 Boston Marathon

      10.

Hyvin Jepkemoi

3000m steeplechase

Gold at the 2015 World Championships and 2011 All-Africa Games

Geographical and biological factors

The record-breaking achievements of Kenyan runners has captured not only the interest of sports fans but also of science, with theories about why this is the case abounding. One of them suggests that since most runners originate from the mountainous districts of Rift Valley, they get an edge due to the high altitude. Scientist, however, claim that any advantage of living at high altitudes is also available to those living in central Asia and Mexico.

Other theories point to a biological advantage. It is common knowledge that for a runner to be successful, a light and lean body is a key requirement. With the typical East African body shape predisposed to carry less weight on the feet and ankles, these runners need less energy to keep up a fast pace. But is genes the definitive answer to Kenya’s success story?

Where motivation meets preparation

In their prize-winning book Kenyan Running: Movement Culture, Geography and Global Change, John Bale and Joe Sang look at the evolution of Kenyan athletics from its pre-colonial traditions to its modern sport system.

Kenya has a system of scouting athletes from primary and secondary schools in place and the government treats athletes as role models.

The qualities of stamina and long distance running in East Africa were recognized as early as the beginning of the twentieth century by missionaries. Once the British Army reached the country, the colonial administrators used modern running to replace the indigenous folk traditions.

Sports-writer Jackie Lebo has stated in an interview that Kenya’s system of excellence in athletics has developed through the 1950s and 60s and led to a breakthrough in the Olympics in 1968, where Kipchoge Keino overcame a bladder infection to win gold in the 1500m race in Mexico.

Kenya has indeed a system of scouting athletes from primary and secondary schools in place and the government treats athletes as role models. Combine that with seeing somebody from the next village winning a considerable amount of money in a minor half-marathon somewhere overseas, and the chances of giving it a go increase dramatically.

Despite the widely reported inadequacies of AK, Kenya’s sports governing body, the record-breaking ability of Kenyan athletes seems to be transcending all barriers. With the 2017 London Marathon just around the corner, will the Kenyan runners dominate the race once again? 

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