I was a young sports editor in 2003, heading a small team of four behind a magazine called Sports Monthly, a round up of sports news, features, and opinions in Kenya. It was a great time to be a sports editor. Kenya had lit the sporting world with outstanding performances. This was my first foray in the world of sports journalism and away from my weekly column beat as a relationship critic in a weekend newspaper.
The publication was the brain child of Aasif Karim, who had hit pinnacle as an international cricketer. He appeared for Kenya in the 1996 and 1999 World Cup. Aasif was 40 years old, a forgotten sports hero running a successful insurance brokerage in an uptown address when he got called back to national duty during the 2003 Cricket World Cup. Kenya produced a historic performance reaching the semi final. Aasif’s proudest moment was against Australia, one of the finest sides in One Day International History. He harassed the world’s top batting side, nailing seasoned batsman Rick Ponting with style and three successive priced wickets to earn a Man of The Match crown. It was a world class bowling spell that thrush Aasif into the annals of legendary cricket performance. It had taken Aasif 23 years of a distinguished sporting career to get to that moment.
Three years earlier, I was invited to the launch of Sports Monthly magazine. Aasif appeared to have called it a day with his sporting years behind him. He was content as a decorated athlete, a tennis and cricket world class performer. As a family man he redirected his energies to concerns about the administration and promotion of Kenyan sporting talent and idea of a magazine to celebrate sports was born.
The guest of honour at the launch of the magazine was Paul Tergat who was at the height of his career. Tergat had moved to the marathon after a stunning run as a 10 000m champion.
In 2003 Paul Tergat would set a new world record in the Berlin marathon and reach the summit of an extraordinary sports career. It had taken him 11 years to become the first man to run the marathon under 2 hours and 5 minutes. On that day, Tergat reached his maximum.
The man who would put me in the know of these two sporting legends was Absalom Mutere, Bimbo, an ex Kenyan rugby international with a distinguished playing career. He was a founder member of Miro RFC, Mean Machine, Mwamba and his generation laid the foundation for successive sporting excellence of Edward Rombo, Sammy Khakhame, Benjamin Ayimba, Lucas Onyango, Humphrey Khayange and Collins Injera.
2003 was also the year, a young Kenyan stormed the world 5000m field and beat the fastest men in the distance, Kenenisa Bekele and world champion Hicham El Guerrouj, to the tape. The new star was an 18 year old named Eluid Kipchoge.
14 years on, I am running late for an Eliud Kipchoge event on Mombasa road. I announce to the taxi driver, “I am meeting a celebrity, do you know Eliud Kipchoge?”
His response lacked the enthusiasm it demanded. “Is he a runner?”
Eliud Kipchoge is running meets efficiency, endurance, poetry and fire. He brings a quality of grace and zen to the art of running a marathon. Eliud is the first man in the world to have run a full marathon in 2 hrs and 26 seconds. He is an Olympic marathon champion, one of the top three leading runners in the world marathon circuit and he has not lost a world title since 2013.
Isuzu Kenya had named Eliud brand ambassador with a years’ training sponsorship package that included a Double cab pick up. I arrive late to find Eliud posing for photos infront of the Isuzu Dmax. He wears a fitting running suit that defines his zero fat lithe body. I strain to hear his voice because Eliud speaks softly.
He has the same quality I admired in Paul Tergat. A down-to-earthiness, that forces one to reciprocate with politeness and good manners. There is an air of calmness around this man that even my star struck eagerness cannot prick.
When the sports journalists filter away towards the refreshments tent after the speeches, I take the opportunity to shake his hand and score a picture. I hold his hand tightly and smile like a man who has won a lottery. In 7 days he has promised to lower Daniel Kimetto’s 2:02:57 record set in Berlin in 2014. He is up against the two fastest marathoners in the world, record holders, fellow Kenyan Wilson Kipsang and Ethiopian champ Kenenisa Bekele.
It is the kind of sporting moment that contains all the ingredients required to produce something magical. I imagine the pressure that Eliud Kipchoge is nursing inside his calm exterior. He is about to face his moment of greatness and he has been preparing for 14 years to seize this single moment.
I hope like Aasif and Tergat, he reaches his maximum on the 24th September in Berlin and runs to empty.
PS: Eliud Kipchoge blew away a world class field to win the Berlin marathon in a time 2:03:32. The weather conditions hampered his world record attempt but having won 8 out 9 world class marathon, he still remains, ” The Boss Man”.