Foreign athletes pitch camp at ‘home of champions’ in Iten

Wednesday March 9 2016

America Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec (centre) trains in Iten with Cherangany MP Wesley Korir (second right), London marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge (right) and Olympic marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

America Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec (centre) trains in Iten with Cherangany MP Wesley Korir (second right), London marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge (right) and Olympic marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By WYCLIFF KIPSANG
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Iten town in Elgeyo-Marakwet County is globally famous as the home to the world’s greatest distance runners.

They say Iten has the largest concentration, per square kilometre, of world and Olympic athletics champions, hence the reference to Elgeyo Marakwet County as the “Home of Champions.”

Indeed, multiple world champions and record holders Florence Kiplagat, Edna Kiplagat, Wilson Kipsang, Lornah Kiplagat along with current World Marathon Majors champion Mary Keitany all live five kilometres, or less, from one another in this athletics rich town.

Besides athletes, who were born and live in Iten, hundreds more world beaters have chosen the high altitude town as their preferred training location.

They include world and Olympic 800 metres champion David Rudisha, world and Olympic 5,000 and 10,000 metres champion Mo Farah of Great Britain, Dutch marathon champion Michel Butter, Great Britain’s women’s world marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe along with USA’s top woman marathoner Desire Davila.

Elgeyo-Marakwet’s flagship schools, St Patrick’s Iten and Sing’ore Girls have between them produced hundreds of world champions at both junior and senior level in the last 30 years.

What greets your arrival to the quiet little town is an arch reading: “Welcome to the Home of Champions.” Nestled at an altitude of 2,400 metres above sea level, Iten reminds the visitor of a little Switzerland in the middle of Africa.

With its mild climate and pure air, it offers outstanding training conditions for athletes.

Besides distance runners, globally recognised paragliders camp annually at the scenic Kerio View Hotel, the most sought after hotel in Iten.

Iten is also home to professional cycling teams with two-time Tour de France champion, Kenya-born Briton Chris Froome, a regular visitor here where he mentors young cyclists and donated racing bikes and other equipment.

Also, world-famous triathlon athletes hone their skills in Iten to prepare for annual “Ironman” triathlon contests that incorporate swimming, cycling and runing.

The Lornah Kiplagat Sports Academy’s camp and tartan track offer modern training facilities for top athletes and even First Lady Margaret Kenyatta camped here as she prepared to run in the 2014 London Marathon to raise funds for her ‘Beyond Zero’ campaign.

Travelling along the Iten-Kabarnet road, dozens of runners can be spotted running along the red dirt tracks, some alone and some in groups, some wearing the latest expensive gear and some barefoot.

Your tour here is not complete without a visit to a number of hotels beautifully perched on the peak of the cliff overlooking the breath-taking scenery of Kerio Valley, which is a pathway for the elephants that roam the Rimoi Conservancy.