Kenyan town's fortunes lifted by its elite runners

NAIROBI • Kenya's North Rift has for decades won accolades for producing some of the most distinguished athletes in the world.

The mountainous region has nurtured runners who have gone on to win titles on the global stage.

As a result, the town of Eldoret - the base of 2016 Rio Games gold medallist and world record-holder in the marathon, Eliud Kipchoge, and its environs - have witnessed tremendous economic growth on account of large investments injected by their elite runners.

"The economy of this town has always been dependent on farming. However, in recent years, we have seen investments from athletes compete with agricultural revenues," said Philip Kemboi, an official at Uasin Gishu county.

"The town is now attractive to investors thanks to the new amenities and better infrastructure."

Known for supplying maize and wheat to the rest of Kenya, Eldoret is now taking on a new status as a commercial hub, with developments such as high-rise buildings, malls and international schools helping to attract investors.

Ivy Langat, who owns a chain of enterprises, most of which are found in buildings owned by famous athletes, recalls the drastic changes in Eldoret over the years.

"The town is not as it was 10 years ago. There were a few commercial buildings in the Central Business District. Moreover, they were a preserve of the affluent business owners who could afford high rents," she said.

Andrew Rotich, a seasoned runner and pacesetter, said that he managed to buy land off the proceeds from his first race.

"I built a home for my family and thereafter, I bought a few more plots that I am yet to develop, hopefully, I will construct rentals or dispose of plots," he said.

In Eldoret, athletics is a heritage. The culture of running is so ingrained in the lives of the locals that authorities have erected a gigantic TV screen where major races can be watched by fans.

During the London Marathon last month, thousands of residents, including politicians, celebrated as Brigid Kosgei, another runner who has made the town her home, retained her women's title.

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit runners and locals hard - four of the six World Marathon Majors were axed this year, while Tokyo and a condensed London edition were held behind closed doors - but sportswear entrepreneur Faith Modi is hopeful things will gradually get back to normal by next year.

"Many athletes are not moving out of the county to compete, therefore the uptake is low and far apart," she said. "My hope is that organisers will schedule more races in the coming months because the athletes are slowly getting demoralised."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2020, with the headline 'Kenyan town's fortunes lifted by its elite runners'. Print Edition | Subscribe