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Feature30 May 2001

Kiplagat centre provides for the next generation


Lornah Kiplagat in the 1997 London Marathon (© Getty Images)

When Lornah Kiplagat collected 500 dollars for winning the Britannic Asset Management Women's 10 kilometres in Glasgow earlier this month it was a modest amount by her standards but could help provide for the next generation of great Kenyan runners. 

That is because Kiplagat uses much of her earnings from running to fund a centre to nurture the development of young Kenyan female athletes.

Housing up to 40 runners, the centre pays for room and board to travel expenses to local races, often the first stepping stone on the road to international glory for so many promising runners. 

The 27-year-old Kiplagat said she founded the centre in Iten, about a two hours drive from Eldoret, because, unlike the male runners who are mostly provided for by the military and public companies such as the the post office, there is not the same level of support for the women.  "I had a lot of reasons why the camp started, and this was one of the reasons," she said. "To give opportunities to women." 

Kiplagat does most of her racing on the road circuit in the United States but keeps in touch with her young protegees via a laptop computer and the internet. She said the youngsters look up to her because they know she experienced problems when she started competing professionally and overcame them to establish herself among the best in the world.  

Kiplagat's victories include twice winning the Los Angeles Marathon in 1997 and 1998 and Rotterdam in 1999 and also finishing second in Chicago last year. Her personal best for the distance of 2 hours 22min 36sec is the ninth fastest in history.

"It was not easy, but I always wanted to keep my own way," Kiplagat said.

"So with all those problems, I thought, once I get something I like to do, I'm going to give something back. and that was one of the reasons I started the training camp." 

The High Altitude Centre, to give it its full title, was officially opened last November and is managed by Kiplagat's sister Monica.

It is in the ideal location for long distance running, being not only at altitude but also set among hills and roads of red-clay dirt which lessens the chances of injury.

Runners are housed two to a room and have the luxury of hot showers and a canteen which is run by professional cooks who prepare nutritious meals using food from the farm of Kiplagat's parents. The younger athletes are only allowed to stay in the camp if they continue with their schooling. 

The benefits of the camp, in which Kiplagat estimates she has invested several hundred thousand dollars, are already beginning to be seen. In Glasgow the only runner who could cope with the pace Kiplagat set was the runner-up Linah Cheruiyot, a 28-year-old mother of two who describes herself as being "rescued by Lornah".  

Kiplagat said, "She was a good junior so I knew about her. I thought I could help her." It is a fair bet in the future many Kenyan female runners will have Kiplagat to thank for her generosity.

Duncan Mackay for the IAAF 

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