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‘Daily Nation’: Home of champions Iten elevated to IAAF’s global heritage location

YOKOHAMA – THE allure of Iten as a distance running haven is legendary. Elgeyo-Marakwet County’s famous headquarters has once again struck global headlines with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) at the weekend elevating it to one of the world athletics governing body’s global heritage locations.

For any follower of global athletics, this is hardly surprising given the number of success stories crafted in this town that lies 2,400 metres above sea level, providing ideal conditions for distance running training.

Top: Visiting athletes to Kenya’s ‘Mecca’ of long distance training relax at the gardens Kerio View Hotel in Iten, Elgeyo Marakwet County. Above: A mass of aspiring athletes break into a mid-morning run on the busy farm tracks around Iten

Top: Visiting athletes to Kenya’s ‘Mecca’ of long distance training relax at the gardens of Kerio View Hotel in Iten, Elgeyo Marakwet County. Above: A mass of aspiring athletes break into a mid-morning run on the busy farm tracks around Iten

Located some 35 kilometres away from the bigger and busier Uasin Gishu County seat of Eldoret, Iten – popularly referred to as the “home of champions” – has produced an endless line of global distance running champions.

At a dinner in downtown Yokohama, Japan, at the weekend, the IAAF’s President Lord Sebastian Coe handed the Rift Valley town the “IAAF Heritage Plaque” which celebrates towns or locations important to global athletics history.

 

Above, below: The breathtaking quiet stretches ideal for running, all-year-round in Iten

Above, below: The breathtaking quiet stretches ideal for running, all-year-round in Iten

Across the border in Ethiopia, another Rift Valley town was similarly celebrated for churning out successful middle and long runners over the years.

The sleepy town of Bekoji in the Oromiya region, which has delivered legends such as Kenenisa Bekele, the world-beating Dibaba sisters Tirunesh, Genzebe and Ejegayehu along with Africa’s pioneer female Olympic champion Derartu Tulu, was also recognized for its pivotal role in athletics development and history.

The serene compound of Lornah Kiplagat's high altitude training base in Iten

The serene compound of Lornah Kiplagat’s High Altitude Training Center (HATC) in Iten

“This recognition is really about something that’s in the heart and soul of athletics,” Chris Turner, the head of IAAF’s Heritage Department explained on the sidelines of the IAAF World Relays championships that ended Sunday in Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium.

“The fact that so many athletes come from one area and train in one area, and that many athletes have gone to Iten and live there  — a place where athletes go, a home of champions  — is one of the reasons why we recognized Iten with this plaque,” he noted.

Entrance gate to Lornah Kiplagat's Sports Academy all-weather running track half a mile from her high altitude training camp in Iten

Entrance gate to Lornah Kiplagat’s Sports Academy all-weather running track half a mile from her HATC in Iten

On the running track at Lornah Kiplagat's Sports Academy, Iten

On the running track at Lornah Kiplagat’s Sports Academy, Iten

Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe outside Iten Town when the Great Britain team set camp there ahead of the London Olympic Games in 2012

Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe outside Iten Town when the Great Britain team set camp there ahead of the London Olympic Games in 2012

Mo Farah out-and-about at Iten's open air markets in search of oranges and other fruits

Mo Farah out-and-about at Iten’s open air markets in search of oranges and other fruits

“It’s like when you think of the javelin, you think of Finland or when you think of the discuss, you would probably go to Germany. The same way with distance running, you think of Iten.”

The actual plaque will be presented to the Elgeyo Marakwet County and Athletics Kenya authorities next year as the IAAF is currently undergoing rebranding which will affect the design of the plaques being handed out.

Kiplagat has a busy time in the country of her birth, running operations at the High Altitude Training Center. Below: Lornhah copes with office work.

World cross country champion for The Netherlands, Lornah Kiplagat has a busy time in the country of her birth, running operations at the High Altitude Training Center in Iten. Below: Lornah tackles office work.

The swimming pool at Lornah Kiplagat's centre and, below, the gymnasium

The swimming pool at Lornah Kiplagat’s centre and, below, the spacious gymnasium

Central to Iten’s athletics prowess is St Patrick’s High School and lay Catholic missionary, Br Colm O’Connell, who, for the last three decades, has knocked into shape a huge number of Kenyan world and Olympic champions, including Peter Rono, Wilson Boit Kipketer, Mathew Birir and David Rudisha at the famous sporting school.

Iten is also home of celebrated athletes including two-time world marathon champion Edna Kiplagat along with other marathon legends Florence Kiplagat, Mary Keitany and Kenya-born Dutchwoman Lornah Kiplagat.

Coaching living legend Bro Colm O'Connell (centre) with one of his proteges nurtured at Iten, double Olympic champion David Rudisha (left)

Coaching living legend Bro Colm O’Connell (centre) with one of his proteges nurtured at Iten, double Olympic champion David Rudisha (left). Below: O’Connell (right) with Rudisha

Bro Colm O'Connell's (in white hat) word of advice to visiting aspiring sportsmen at Iten

Bro Colm O’Connell’s (in white hat) word of advice to visiting aspiring sportsmen at Iten

Many athletics camps have mushroomed in the area with Lornah Kiplagat’s High Altitude Training Centre annually hosting scores of global distance running stars, including Great Britain’s legends Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe along with USA’s marathon sensation Desiree Linden.

The IAAF Heritage Department’s key role is to preserve the legacy of athletics, its heroes and heroines, their artefacts, and the documents, videos and photographs that portray them and in turn engage with and inspire the stars and fans of the present and future.

Four-time New York Marathon champion and three-time winner in London, Mary Keitany lives in Iten. She is a little ‘pocket dynamo’ easy weight for most people to offer a piggyback ride

Four-time New York Marathon champion and three-time winner in London, Mary Keitany is lives in Iten. She is a little ‘pocket dynamo’ easy weight for most people to offer a piggyback ride

Another training paradise, above and below, in Elgeyo Marakwet County is 52km south of Iten; the NN Running team camp of the Global Sports Communication run by another Dutch national Jos Hermes

Another training paradise, above and below, Kaptagat, in Elgeyo Marakwet County is 52km south of Iten; the NN Running team camp of the Global Sports Communication run by another Dutch national Jos Hermes

IAAF Heritage celebrates and forges connection across 3,000 years of track and field along with road running and walk competitions, telling athletics’ rich story.
IAAF Heritage’s goal is to put sports heroes, their records and their performances, into context, chronicling their very personal odysseys which were the very foundation and motivation of their careers. (IAAF)

-Reported by Elias Makori who is the Nation Media Group’s head of sports and a member of  IAAF Media Committee

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