For Kenyan Runners, Winning Can Be a Road to Ruin – News


ELDORET, Kenya — Ten years in the past, within the Dutch port metropolis of Rotterdam, Duncan Kibet lay spread-eagle on the pavement, trying to course of the record-setting run he had simply accomplished and the way it was about to alter his life.

When he toed the beginning line of the 29th Rotterdam Marathon that morning, April 5, 2009, he had been incomes a residing as an elite athlete for practically a decade. However with a marathon private better of solely 2 hours 7 minutes 53 seconds, he was hardly a family title in Kenya, dwelling to the world’s biggest focus of distance operating expertise. Then he ran a 2:04:27, practically three and a half minutes sooner, making him Kenya’s nationwide report holder and the second quickest marathoner in historical past.

The win was price large cash for Kibet, who, like most of his operating friends, had grown up poor. He earned $180,000, together with his look charge. Nike would quickly signal him to a contract price $100,000. In Kenya, the place the price of residing is low, a payday like that was speculated to set him up for all times. However it hardly ever works out that manner, and it didn’t for Kibet.

He purchased a home for his mom in Eldoret, the de facto Kenyan operating capital, and a Toyota Hilux truck. There have been college charges for varied family and contributions to a house for orphans. He purchased Italian fits and had baseball caps and shirts shipped from the US.

A groin damage saved him from ending marathons in Berlin and London. His health waned, and two years after his Rotterdam triumph, he was primarily broke and out of labor.

“I ended up spending all the things,” Kibet, 40, mentioned on a latest afternoon from his dwelling in Eldoret, a one-bedroom condo in a concrete-block constructing that sits between two fuel stations.

Right here within the Rift Valley, the high-altitude area that’s dwelling to the overwhelming majority of Kenya’s elite athletes, the idea in operating as an escape from poverty stays prevalent, however few among the many 1000’s of younger athletes who flock to coaching camps annually ever make a residing from operating. Even for these like Kibet who ascend to the game’s pinnacle, long-term monetary stability is rarer than most understand, even when they win one of many world’s largest marathons, akin to Boston, the place Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono final week took first place and $150,000, or London on April 28.

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Benjamin Limo, the 2005 world champion within the 5,000 meters and a former Kenyan consultant to the Worldwide Affiliation of Athletics Federations, the game’s governing physique, estimated that solely 25 % of the nation’s former top-level athletes have been residing in a “sustainable” method. “Greater than half are actually struggling,” he mentioned.

Kenyan champions typically have massive networks of household to help. Most haven’t completed highschool, some are barely literate and few have any expertise managing cash. A sudden infusion of money, veteran athletes mentioned, can distract from coaching and result in careless spending. Some name it intoxicating. “If you drink a whole lot of alcohol you turn into silly — you don’t know what you’re doing,” mentioned Moses Tanui, a Kenyan marathoning pioneer who received the Boston Marathon twice within the 1990s. “It’s the identical if you get some huge cash.”

Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, who was little identified when he set the Frankfurt Marathon course report in 2008 and ran a course report in Boston two years later, averted the pitfalls because of a trusty lawyer who guided him by means of a collection of investments, together with a 20-acre tea property that has given him a snug revenue since his operating days ended.

Many will not be as lucky. Eldoret, like most cities in Kenya, is dwelling to its share of con artists, and athletes flush with money are simple targets. A standard rip-off includes the sale of pretend land titles. In 2011, Kibet offered the home he had bought after Rotterdam in a monetary pinch. The customer, he claimed, paid him solely half the worth, however gave him the title to a different, smaller property. That deal turned out to be a fraud.

Hassle may also stem from intimate relationships, notably for girls. Many in Eldoret say feminine athletes are inclined to handle winnings extra responsibly. But in a tradition by which males typically take cost of household funds, they’re additionally extra susceptible to exploitation. Athletes converse of male “hyenas” who present as much as junior-level competitions and scout for rising feminine stars, lots of them nonetheless in highschool. Reporting in February by The Star, a Kenyan newspaper, recognized a minimum of 16 feminine athletes who had misplaced tens of 1000’s of {dollars} price of property to males.

Those that have fallen hardest embody a few of Kenya’s largest stars. Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, a four-time Boston Marathon winner (who will not be associated to Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot), received $500,000 because the inaugural World Marathon Majors collection champion. In a number of interviews, he insisted that he was residing properly and having fun with his treasured Dunhill cigarettes, however a number of former coaching companions mentioned he had offered a lot of the properties he bought and routinely requested to borrow cash.

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Samuel Wanjiru received the 2008 Olympic marathon, then started consuming closely. He died after an obvious fall from a balcony in 2011. The dying was initially dominated a suicide, however a authorities pathologist later decided he had been struck with an object at the back of the top.

In distinction to many former champions who’ve struggled, Kibet speaks brazenly about his monetary challenges. Like lots of his friends, he grew up with little: His father, a truck driver, was not round a lot, and the household relied on cash from conventional spirits that their mom brewed out of their dwelling. Kicked out of faculty in 11th grade for misbehaving, he labored a collection of strange jobs: at a manufacturing facility grinding maize to make the staple dish ugali and as a conductor on a minibus, or matatu, answerable for amassing fares.

He ultimately obtained into operating by means of his older brother, Luke Metto, a 2:10:57 marathoner who was competing in France. Metto purchased him his first pair of trainers, helped join him to a supervisor and paid for his first flight to compete overseas at age 22. He scratched out a residing operating internationally for eight years earlier than Rotterdam.

“That race modified all the things,” he mentioned.

The win enabled purchases like the brand new dwelling for his mom. However the cash and the accompanying fame led to temptations. Nicknamed Jamaica in class due to his westernized method of speech and gown, he sported a hipster beard and a flashy necklace, and carried an iPhone when it was nonetheless a novelty. He frolicked in pool halls, the place he ran the desk with custom-made cue sticks and sipped on Amarula, a South African cream liqueur.

“He was residing life as if there’s no tomorrow,” mentioned Shadrack Biwott, Kibet’s youthful brother and an elite runner now based mostly in California. Biwott completed third on the 2018 Boston Marathon and 15th final Monday. “Duncan needed to assist folks as a lot as he may, and a few of his buddies took benefit of that.”

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There may be some hope for change. Kenya’s Ministry of Lands is within the technique of digitizing land title databases to stop fraud. A brand new technology is studying from the errors of the previous one, although Renato Canova, an Italian coach who has labored with Kenyan runners for twenty years, mentioned most managers, who organize race appearances and endorsements, have been based mostly in the US or Europe and provided little steerage on monetary issues.

Athletes say the identical about Athletics Kenya, the nationwide federation that oversees the game on behalf of the Kenyan authorities. It has gotten blended up in a collection of scandals, together with the embezzlement of funds from Nike by former prime officers. As an Athletics Kenya consultant, Limo proposed the creation of a pension plan to help athletes struggling in retirement. He failed to realize help. Athletics Kenya officers, together with its president, Jackson Tuwei, didn’t reply to repeated requests for remark.

Now Kibet, like many former stars, is coming into center age uncertain of what to do subsequent. Today he spends a lot of his time in his condo, the place he lives alone, watching crime dramas or CNN. Sometimes, he mentioned, he makes use of his connections to assist buddies promoting land discover respected consumers; the small commissions assist him keep afloat. He visits together with his 8-year-old daughter, Alexis, who lives along with her mom, and his lawyer, who’s attempting to reclaim the property he offered in 2011, arguing the fraudulent deal ought to nullify the entire transaction. The house’s worth has since risen to $230,000 from $90,000 — Kenya’s property markets are booming.

Over cups of tea in his condo, under a framed picture of his Rotterdam end with arms raised in triumph, he mentioned he had been fascinated with changing into a felony investigator. In any case, he mentioned, he was a sufferer of land fraud and is hooked on crime dramas, such because the “C.S.I.” reveals. He would wish to complete highschool first — in his 40s — then pursue larger training.

Operating nonetheless has its lure as properly. He hasn’t accomplished a race since 2014, when he ran a disappointing 2:18:38 marathon in a comeback try in China. Regardless of a nagging groin damage, he goals of standing on a beginning line subsequent to his brother.

“Give me three good months of coaching,” he mentioned. “I’ll be prepared.”


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