In Kenya, home of Boston Marathon winners, 'sports more powerful' than hate

Kenyan champions and coaches today urge runners to participate in upcoming London marathon as protest against fear and for the spirit of humanity. 

Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters
Rita Jeptoo of Kenya reacts after crossing the finish line to win the women's division of the 117th Boston Marathon in Boston, Mass., Monday. Not surprising in wake of Monday's unsolved bombings that the Kenyan public is slightly shocked, but also that Kenyan athletes and runners have rallied.

When it comes to the modern Boston Marathon, no country has closer ties to "Beantown" than Kenya. Since 1988, Kenyans have won the men's race 20 times and the women's race 10, gracefully loping across the Boylston Street finish line in what now seems a nearly automatic "first" for the East African country. 

So it is not surprising in wake of Monday's unsolved bombings that the Kenyan public is slightly shocked, but also that Kenyan athletes and runners have rallied. In emotional statements and press events, the marathoner community here is urging unity against the attacks, and calling for participation in London's upcoming marathon as a protest on behalf of the human spirit. 

“I urge all athletes to go to London with confidence. They should not fear. Sports are more powerful," said Paul Tergat, who held the marathon world record between 2003 and 2007.

Mr. Tergat told Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper that runners should not be intimidated and said the London marathon on Sunday should be turned into a display of the power of sports and its unifying factor. "Let’s pull together and shame the people who targeted innocent fans in Boston."

In Kenya, as has become traditional on the third Monday of April, citizens were glued to the television, keenly following and cheering the race as marathoners went down familiar grass-lined suburban streets before reaching the downtown finish line. 

This year's defending men's champion, Kenyan Welsey Korir – now a member of Parliament – placed fifth in the race, while another Kenyan, Micah Kogo, came second. 

Kenya's Rita Cheptoo took first in the women's race, her second victory since 2006, and celebrations broke out in Eldoret town, the hub of Kenya’s long distance running. 

Nearly three hours later, after Ms. Cheptoo had left the scene, two explosions close to the finish line killed three people and injured 140 more. 

“It is very sad some people decided to attack the world’s oldest marathon. We condemn the act," says James Kattam, Ms. Cheptoo's coach at the administrative police unit athletics team. "However, this is unlikely dampen our running spirit because Kenyans love athletics.” 

David Leting, Kenya's national marathon coach, added that, “there is some fear among some of our athletes … but I want to assure all that we shall participate in all marathons as we have done before. We have already also been assured of security.”

He was referring to the London marathon set for next Sunday, which race organizers have said will take place despite the attacks in Boston.

The attacks have reminded us that we should give special interest to security during future international marathons, says Douglas Wakiihuri, the first Kenyan marathoner to win the world championship, in 1987. 

“We never stopped competing and I would like to urge all runners not to panic [but] they should also remain very cautious about their security,” says Mr. Wakiihuri, who now mentors young athletes.

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