Sports! The love of my life, the bane of my existence. It has given me the highest highs watching athletes I’m rooting for win medals, trophies, championships, and break World Records.
It has brought me untold grief watching athletes I’m rooting for fail on the biggest world stages never to return. So why am I still at it? Because every so often, someone comes along and shines a bright light, rekindling that spark when I thought my soul was surely done with it. Someone comes along and gets me to fall in love all over again.
Maybe that explains why the best thing about Kenya for me is the athletes. Kenyan athletes are unparalleled. In an industry that gets varying degrees of support from the government, ranging from inadequate to none, they choose to go out and wave the Kenyan flag proudly every time.
And we have a rich history to boot. Starting from the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan where Kenya competed as an independent country for the first time, to our dominant run in the 3,000m Men’s Steeplechase (a chapter I hope we can revive), to the just concluded World Championships in Budapest. Our athletes’ pride remains firmly on display every time.
Every so often, we are blessed with the emergence of a Kenyan athlete who etches their name indelibly into the annals of sports history.
Names like Kipchoge Keino, David Rudisha, Samuel Wanjiru, Eliud Kipchoge, Brigid Kosgei, Vivian Cheruiyot, and Hellen Obiri readily come to mind. Among this distinguished roster, the most recent luminary to ascend to greatness is Faith Kipyegon.
Let’s consider why athletes who stand out are so well known. Eliud Kipchoge, Lebron James, Serena Williams, Lewis Hamilton and the late great Kobe Bryant would tell you the answer is discipline and hard work.
The journey to greatness is lifelong. As an athlete, you are always an athlete. There are no days off if you want to stay competitive and keep winning. You must dig deeper, challenge yourself more, and fight harder to climb up to the next rung of the ladder. Because there’s always a next.
Ms. Kipyegon is not new to the scene by any measure. She started winning in the World Cross Country Championships as a Junior in 2010 in Bydgoszcz, Poland, but she announced herself on the global stage when she won gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
Remember that moment? It’s as clear as day in my mind. With 400m left to run, Genzebe Dibaba (World Record Holder at the time), Faith Kipyegon and Laura Muir pulled away from the rest.
At the 200m mark, Dibaba and Kipyegon increase their differential to Muir. I’m yelling at the TV now. Faith Kipyegon sprints to gold and falls on the track. Happy tears in my eyes. Dibaba settles for silver and Jennifer Simpson battles for bronze.
Not content with the one win, Faith decides she’s going to win all 1500m events she enters going forward. I’m talking 2016-2023! Her only non-win came in 2019 at the World Athletics Championships in Doha where she came second to Sifan Hassan who had an extremely impressive run (I’m going to chalk this one to the fact that Faith had become a mum barely a year before the Championships).
Then in 2023, Faith decided she wanted WR (World Record) appended to her name. Probably told herself, “Who wins a race for that many years, has 2 Olympic Gold Medals, 2 World Athletics Championships Gold Medals and doesn’t have WR? NOT ME.”
And so on 2nd June 2023 in Florence, at the Golden Gala Diamond League meeting, Faith Kipyegon was set on one target – to append WR to her name. She had the pace-setters flanking her, the big screen TV following her movements, and the lights pacing her run towards jumping over the final hurdle between her and superstar status.
She won, breaking a record held by Genzebe Dibaba for 8 years. “She’s ahead of the lights, she’s ahead of the schedule”, remarked the commentators. 58.81 seconds on her final lap and a run time of 3:49.11 crowned her the first woman to win in under 3:50.00!
One week later, on 9th June 2023, she decided the double WR holder had a better ring to it so she broke the 5,000m record in a time of 14:05.20. This was especially more impressive (how many times have I said this now?) given she has only run this distance thrice, with her last run in 2015.
Oh c’mon, isn’t she phenomenal! Not content with 2 world records, on July 21 2023 at the Monaco Diamond League, she shattered the women’s mile world record by almost five seconds, smashing Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan’s 2019 mark of 4:12.33. At this point, I’m blown away. Like, she’s running the mile now? I’m blown away.
But when was more gold ever a bad thing? In Budapest, Hungary at the World Athletics Championships held in August 2023, Faith Kipyegon bags gold in the 1500m race, showcasing her forever impressive last lap dash. But that’s not all. At the same event, she continues her winning streak by winning gold in the 5000m race; a feat that hasn’t been achieved before!
I have watched many athletes across a diverse spectrum of sports. Few bring me such immense joy as witnessing Faith Kipyegon’s remarkable accomplishments. It is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
So, what makes a person the golden standard in a sport? Is it the Championships? The Gold Medals? The World Records? The number of titles? The years of staying on top? No matter what it is, Faith Kipyegon’s name is firmly etched in G.O.A.T. history.
With each race, she ascends another rung on the ladder to new heights. I, for one, stand proudly among the legions of admirers bolstering her every stride.
This story by Sarah Wambi originally appeared on Wakilisha on 16/09/2023.