Hail Eliud Kipchoge!!!! Hail Eliud Kipchoge!!!! Where Were You On That Night In Zurich?

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By Mukurima X Muriuki

Today, Eliud Kipchoge became the first man since the world was created to run the marathon in a time of 2 hours and 24 seconds. Had he brushed off 25 seconds, Kipchoge would have done something only his mentor and former coach Moses Kiptanui has previously achieved…

Eliud Kipchoge is the embodiment of what everybody wants in an athlete: humble yet marauding on stage; soft spoken yet loud in punishing opponents; and above all diminutive, but with a mamba mentality.

The first time Eliud Kipchoge caught my attention was in 2003 during the world athletics championship held in Paris.

See, going into Paris, there was a lot of hope and optimism that Kenyan squad would do well. It was a hope tapped from the Kenyan environment. Around that time, a poll commissioned by Gallup showed Kenyans to be the most optimistic people in the world, after Kosovo. It was year one under the National Rainbow coalition government (cue in some E-Sir music: ‘Navuta more crowd than Rainbow alliance…. ‘). Hope was pregnant in every corner of our republic and it was just a marvel to see all Kenyans irrespective of tribe, party, Man U or Arsenal (by the way it’s the last year Arsenal won the league….) midwife the change yearned for in decades. It was a new country. Ken Walibora would have described Kenya as it was then as he does in Siku Njema:

“mimi tunda mbichi. Hata na ndege sijadokolewa.”

It wasn’t strange therefore to see Kenyans, with nothing, but optimism that the country would be represented well in Paris. Forget what Jeff Koinange says “oh my wa my” 2003 was birth of the timeless creed in Kirinyaga summed up in 5 K’s……you know them by now-ha!!

The stage was set for an exhilarating 5,000 meters final. That evening, in Kenya, women told their husband there would be no such a thing as East meeting West to build a golden bridge. Children from Baricho could be heard singing “kiere kiria kiiru kia maganjo” as a rallying cry to a fellow Kenyan-Kipchoge-who wasn’t fancied by pundits to win the race (could it the reason Samsung is using this song in their new Samgung S8 advert?). If you are sane, do you think the world could have bet on Kipchoge to win against Kenenisa Bekele or Hicham El Guerrouj?

Well, William Shakespeare once said that dreams are children of an idle mind begot of nothing, but vain fantasy. That day, Kipchoge wasn’t a respecter of Shakespeare for he repudiated this Shakespearean dictum by actualizing those dreams and fantasies he had-beating two of the world’s best athletes at such a moment as Paris provided!

We all know that Moses Kiptanui is the imprimatur when it comes to achieving the unprecedented. I can bet on my moustache that after Kipchoge shocked the world, he pulled him to the side and told him:

“Son, kana ka ngari gakunyaga ta ngari” or simply put: “go on and be better than me.”

Those words, it seems, have thawed and lingered in Kipchoge’s mind for the 14 years. Who wouldn’t want to be better than Kiptanui?

Why?

Today, people talk in terms of “Where were you on the night of Zurich.”

I am told that some of the best hotels in the world, including in Baricho, will add you on their guest list if you dare whisper what happened on that night!

It wasn’t any ordinary 24-hour day!! It was an auspicious occasion (add Moi’s voice). I don’t know if Jubilee or Nasa have promised to add a much needed Moses Kiptanui Day to the few holiday that Kenyans have at their disposal, to celebrate the unprecedented run by Moses Kiptanui in Zurich in 1995

See, many Italians had travelled to Zurich hoping to get some kind of prosthetic to heal their spirits that had been amputated a year earlier when Roberto Baggio missed a penalty to hand Brazil the soccer world cup trophy. Africans were also staring at Zurich hoping that something spectacular would happen that would make the world forget the 6-1 thrashing of CameroonBy Russia. How do you allow one man- Oleg Salenko to score 5 goals against you. What happened to the dictum “ukikosa mpira usikose mguu?

Well, Moses Kiptanui did not disappoint. This is arguably one of my best moments as a Kenyan cheering our talented athletes. Moses Kiptanui did not only break the world record, he became the first man in history to ever dip under eight minutes for the 3000 m steeplechase race.

So for Eliud Kipchoge, those words by Moses Kiptanui about going a rung better continue to inspire him to greatness. Just like Moses Kiptanui was the first man to run sub 8 minutes, I am persuaded that Kipchoge will be the first man to run sub 2 hours in the marathon.

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