World marathon superstars Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto left South Africa this week having left behind an indelible impression on South Africa’s running community.
The more talkative Kipsang (32) and the quieter Kimetto (30) were in South Africa to attend the 2014 Global Athletics Conference in Durban and then joined kit sponsor adidas, who arranged for them to engage and inspire runners and school children during a whistle-stop tour of Cape Town.
It’s been a massive year for the two. Kimetto smashed Kipsang’s marathon world record in Berlin in September to become the fastest man of all time. Kipsang meanwhile went on to win the New York City Marathon and with it the World Majors Marathon title and its R5-million purse.
‘The one message I would like to leave with runners in South Africa, especially those who want to compete on the world stage is to work very, very hard,’ Kipsang. ‘In Kenya it’s nothing for us to walk 80km to the village in 32 degree heat. We work from a very young age, and we are used to it. So I want South Africans and the world to know that to achieve anything at this level takes a lot of hard, hard work.’
Over the course of six days they shared their very similar Kenyan stories of life in rural communities with South African runners first. The two men were asked to pose for hundreds of pictures with social runners, admirers, children and passers-by, which they agreed to without a complaint, indicative of their humble and soft spoken demeanour.
‘I have enjoyed my stay in South Africa, but I have never taken so many pictures in my life,’ said Kimetto. ‘In Kenya we are greeted by people in public who wish us well but they seldom ask for a photo. Over here everyone wants a picture,’ he said.
In Stellenbosch on Tuesday, the two, together with South Africa’s premier marathon runner Lusapho April had an opportunity to train with athletes from Elana Meyer’s Endurocad performance academy through its partnership with adidas.
Said Meyer: ‘It means so much to have these superstars of running here. What the two of them shared with the athletes here will always be with them and surely inspire them to push on for even greater success.’
For Kipsang, who whose wife Doreen gave birth to their fourth child just over two weeks ago, interacting with emerging elite athletes was an experience that he cherished. ‘I can see that the runners are very passionate about the sport and they want to do well. I hope that our words to them today will assist them to improve their performance.’
He also had some wise words for April, who competed against him in New York two weeks ago finishing 12th in difficult windy conditions. ‘In Kenya we run in groups of 40 to 70 and that way we can improve all the time. We are all runners and we love to run, more than anything else. So Lusapho is welcome to come to Kenya and train with us before the big race.’
It is a challenge that April, says he won’t shirk. ‘I’d love to do it. I’d like to spend maybe three months in Kenya running with Wilson and Dennis and learning from them.’
Both Kimetto and Kipsang say they would love to compete in South Africa – of course issues such as appearance fees and performance bonuses would have to be factored in – and it would more than likely be over the half-marathon distance.
‘It has been wonderful to see so much of South Africa,’ said Kimetto, who jets off to Monaco where he is up for the IAAF Athlete of the Year Award. ‘I’ve competed here once before as a junior but that was long time ago so I would like to come back and race here. It’s a beautiful country with beautiful people.’
In the picture (from left to right) are Kipsang, April and Kimetto. Picture courtesy of adidas