A Day In Life With: Eliud Kipchoge Part 3

Oct 15 - by SPN Correspondent for SportPesa News

In the last segment of SportPesa News pioneering series, the Olympic champion and world marathon record holder reveals details of his trip to Tottenham Hotspur, his love for FC Barcelona and his aversion to politics

A restaurant waiter serves Olympic marathon champion and world record holder, Eliud Kipchoge (left) before he sat down for lunch with the SportPesa News journalists in Eldoret for the A Day In Life With feature on October 9, 2018. PHOTO/SPN

  • In Part 1 and Part 2 of the pioneering ‘A Day In The Life With’ series on SportPesa News, Kipchoge- opened up on diverse topics ranging from his insane Nike Breaking2 run to his preference of music
  • Kipchoge was the second Kenyan athlete in history after fellow world record holder in 800m, David Rudisha (Arsenal FC in 2012), to be taken on an official tour of an English Premier League club
  • We requested to share with him lunch and gratefully he offered to drive us to a restaurant in the outskirts of Eldoret town that was converted from a residential mansion into a resort

ELDORET, Kenya- It’s approaching midday and after an absorbing conversation that has spanned for over an hour, hunger pangs are beginning to bite the three men converged at the middle of a farm located a few kilometres from Eldoret, the self-styled ‘City of Champions’.

Two of the men had earlier landed from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi in the early hours of Tuesday, October 9 where they had met the third, Olympic marathon champion and world record holder, Eliud Kipchoge, who granted them an interview like no other.

In Part 1 and Part 2 of the pioneering ‘A Day In The Life With’ series on SportPesa News, Kipchoge- who remains the only Kenyan to have won the complete set of medals at the Olympic and IAAF World Championships- opened up on diverse topics ranging from his insane Nike Breaking2 run to his preference of music.

Part 3 concludes the amazing insights of a man who rose from the humble upbringing by a single mother in a Kenyan village to a global phenomenon in distance running whose success story is an inspiration manual.

Kipchoge, the first man to win the Abbott World Marathon Majors title that comes with a jackpot of USD500,000 thrice (Series IX, Series X and Series XI), we learn, is not only about athletics and shuns politics like a plague.

The arguably Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) in marathon running is also a follower of football and we inquired from him why local players do not make a global impact like their counterparts in athletics who have turned Kenya into a distance running powerhouse.

Do you have any interest in Kenyan football? We first inquire.

“I have never watched Kenyan football but I know some teams, Gor Mahia FC, Zoo (Kericho) FC, AFC Leopards SC and others.

“The difference is athletics is an individual while football is more of a team event. On the other side, I think most (Kenyan) footballers are not training to that standard where they can go beyond our borders,” he offered his withering assessment.

Carry on.

“The moment they will grow and think beyond that, and also get more training from their coaches than they are now, they will go far.

“I think, they are less trained according to me, I don’t know… but I think they are not getting good training.”

Tottenham Hotspur visit

Kipchoge was the second Kenyan athlete in history after fellow world record holder in 800m, David Rudisha (Arsenal FC in 2012), to be taken on an official tour of an English Premier League club when he visited Tottenham Hotspur FC in the aftermath of his London Marathon victory in April.

Excited Tottenham stars including compatriot and Harambee Stars captain, Victor Wanyama as well as manager, Mauricio Pochettino, happily posed with him, enchanted to be in the presence of the distance running icon who had captured British hearts with his thrilling 2:04:17 victory on April 22.

How was the experience?

“When I passed through the gates, I realised teams in Europe are on a different class than ours. It’s really a big club, whereby you can visit for benchmarking.

“If visitors from America, Asia or elsewhere visit Kenya today, which club will they visit?” he rhetorically posed.

“We don’t have a club which is run daily with employees and other staff running around. That’s an office; we don’t have that in Kenya. I was really amazed to see how Hotspur handles its business. Kenyans should go there for benchmarking and come with something else to do (in developing football),” Kipchoge lamented.

Before engaging Spurs players who include England stars, Harry Kane (captain), Dele Alli and Danny Rose and other stalwarts such as Christian Eriksen (Denmark), Erik Lamela (Argentina) and Toby Alderweireld (Belgium), the 2003 world champion in 5000m had to sit and watch a two hour training session.

“Just imagine, they trained for two hours, went to change, we had lunch together and later chatted. I think they’re bigger stars than me because football has more followers around the world than athletics.

“All watched London Marathon and they are now really happy with athletics. In fact, when I was running Berlin, nearly all of them were glued on their TVs watching,” he continued with a wide grin.

Kipchoge hailed Spurs manager Pochettino as ‘a great man’ when he got the rare chance to engage him on his thoughts about football and life.

“It’s good my coach (Patrick Sang) was there to exchange notes with another coach. Pochettino is a very strict and straightforward football coach. In football, one thing is they don’t compromise, if it’s one hour, its one hour.

“Kenyans should learn that we don’t need to compromise with time. The moment you compromise with time, you are done, and you’ve failed. If training starts exactly at seven and takes two hours, that how it should be done.”

“Pochettino told me not to compromise on time when I asked how he handles himself and the time they report,” Kipchoge stressed on his key take out from the Spurs trip.

Messi of the marathon

Do you follow any other European football team?

“I’m a fan of Barca of La Liga and my favourite player is (Lionel) Messi.”

Can we say you are the Messi of the marathon? We pressed on, drawing amusement from the three-time London and Berlin champion.

“No! Messi is too much! I’m not,” he replied.

We pointed out to him that the respected New York Times last month rated him as the greatest athlete in history, bigger than retired Jamaica sprint icon turned footballer Usain Bolt.

“What does the whole population watch? Football is the showpiece,” came the modest reply from a man who is also a master at dimming his own achievements.

If Messi was a marathoner, he would want to be you, we insisted…

Prolonged laughter was the answer.

How long have you followed FC Barcelona?

“For some time but I don’t watch their matches so much because sometimes, their games come at night when it’s too late for me.”

Farid confessed Barca is also his favourite team, drawn to the Catalan giants by the exploits of retired Brazilian wizard, Ronaldinho who sparkled under the stewardship of Dutch head coach, Frank Rijkaard in the mid 2000s.

“I’m also a fan of Ronaldinho and when I met him in the dining room at Beijing 2008 Olympics. I just greeted him, that was enough,” Kipchoge admitted, confessing he too gets star-struck like the two guys interviewing him.

Conversation shifted to what it feels like to be in the presence of the best sporting talent from across the world gathered at the greatest sporting carnival on earth at the Games Village.

“When you are in an Olympics Village, it’s like when (President) Uhuru is in State House, walking everywhere and meeting everybody. The problem is if your mind happens to be focused on the race.

“The only time you can enjoy Olympics is when your race is among the first competitions and you have won the medal. Then you can go round meeting everyone (sporting superstars),” the man who won gold for Kenya on the final day of Rio 2016 on August 21 highlighted.

Sneaking back

Having brought home a treasure trove of big medals for his country, Kipchoge prefers to slip back almost unnoticed from his exploits. Recently, after he smashed, sorry, obliterated, sorry, destroyed… okay, you get the idea, the previous world marathon record of 2:02:57 by over a minute, he was up to it again.

With a country waiting to give the hero a resounding welcome fit for a king, Kipchoge ‘sneaked’ back to Kenya three days after his September 16 record-breaking run at the 2018 BMW Berlin Marathon before re-appearing in public for few pre-arranged engagements with little fanfare.

We have never seen you hang out in State House with the President or paraded by Governors, in fact, when we saw you with one (Alfred Keter, Nandi County) we were stunned, why is this the case? We enquire.

“The best celebration is when I cross the finish line and more than half or 60 per cent of the Kenyan population celebrates. I don’t see any meaning of another celebration or climbing up a car and going around the town.

“I like a low profile life. Crossing the line is the ultimate victory. Even if you slaughter 1000 bulls for people to eat that is nothing but when you cross the finish and see people jumping, that’s the happiest part of (my) life,” Kipchoge who leads Series XII of the Majors with 25 points following his Berlin victory quipped.

In his time, Kipchoge has battled and fell Goliaths of long distance running, from Moroccan legend, Hicham El Guerrouj, Ethiopian dynamo Kenenisa Bekele and a slew of powerful local rivals among them Wilson Kipsang, the only man to have handed him defeat in the marathon so far.

However, it has not been always smooth sailing, the lowest moment being his failure to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics in 5000m and 10000m, a huge setback that saw him quit track running for the roads shortly after.

With every crushing loss in his career, Kipchoge retreats back to his Global Sports Training Camp in Kaptagat to regroup and return even stronger to the point he is now almost untouchable in his speciality.

“I treat life as yesterday, today and tomorrow. I stay calm and will stay that way forever in order for me to handle the many things I have to do.”

How do you manage to rise from obstacles in your career?

“Before you become a professional in sport, you must accept defeat. That is the only way to enjoy sport. Immediately you absorb that in your blood, you are ready to go.”

We asked the three-time Olympian what he would want to be remembered by once his career is done.

“I’ve tried to get medals from all championships (Olympics, world, Commonwealth) and I hope I will be a good example in the future. 

"I wanted to get those medals and run good races for people to enjoy. I hate comparisons but I hope somebody will be compared to me in a positive way one day in the future.”

Would you ever build a school in your name?

“I don’t know, I’ve never thought of it but when the time comes, I will consider. I take everything a step at a time, that’s how life is. My foundation is in the pipeline, I have given it a thought and soon, it will roll off.

“The biggest beneficiaries will be the youth. I will be concentrating mainly on mentorship for the young guys and education for the less fortunate. Mentorship is injecting knowledge to someone.

“My foundation will inject a huge dose of knowledge for those interested and I hope they will find a cure,” Kipchoge discloses with his eyes lighting up.

Political apathy

What do you think we are as a country and how can sportspersons fit in determining our future?

“I don’t want to comment on politics. I know, politics is life and maybe I’m a fan since I voted last year but I don’t want to comment about it.”

When you went to vote, did you stand for long in the long lines like everyone else?

“I queued like every other person, yes.”

You mean they did not let you through to the front? After all, you are Eliud…

“No, no, no… that’s the way to do it, I do things the right way and if you do that, you’ll will stay for long.”

When he is not busy training or in camp at Kaptagat, Kipchoge spends his evenings with his family, spouse Grace and their three children when they are home from school.

“Children do not differentiate whether you’re a star or not to them, I'm just dad. Inside the house I’m a father but outside the gate, you can become a star.”

With that, we wrapped up the gripping chat but our day in life with Kipchoge was not yet over.

We requested to share with him lunch and after accepting, he gratefully offered to drive us to a restaurant in the outskirts of Eldoret town that was converted from a residential mansion into a resort.

As we went through the dirt road before turning to the tarmac, the fact that the man behind the wheel chauffeuring us while engaging in light hearted chatter was a global icon made the it even more mind-boggling.

At the serene restaurant, he ordered a sumptuous dish of Ugali one of his favourite meals accompanied by wet-fried chicken served with onion and tomato salad popularly known as Kachumbari.

His preference for the quiet location became apparent, his is not one to play super star although he courteously saluted back those who sought his attention.

“I like it here during lunch time. In the evening, kuna walevi wengi (so many drunk patrons),” he pronounced.

After the splendid meal washed down by an interesting talk on topical subjects of the day, time had come to part, before we met him again the following morning (October 10) in the gym. 

As we sadly left the legend for the journey back in Nairobi, these were his parting words.

“Have faith in your beliefs and define belief your own way, not the way someone else defines it. Then, that belief will work for you.”

-Report by Farid Kipirash and Mutwiri Mutuota