Many people were taken aback when, just over a week ago, Kenyan-born Dutchwoman Lornah Kiplagat broke ground for her Sh1 billion Lornah Kiplagat Sports Academy (LKSA) in Iten.
The ceremony, presided over by Sports Minister Ababu Namwamba, was also attended by Great Britain’s double Olympic champion Mo Farah, currently camping for the new season with Team GB at Kiplagat’s High Altitude Training Centre in Iten.
Her latest investment in the pre-university sports academy makes Kiplagat the athlete who has ploughed back the most from race earnings to help her community in Kenya.
“LKSA will give girls from underprivileged backgrounds an opportunity to combine sport and education after they finish high school,” Kiplagat’s husband and manager, Pieter Langerhorst explains.
“Girls will be selected from all over, Kenya based on their academic performance and talent in sport, with the focus being on athletics, volleyball, field hockey and basketball.”
In May, LKSA will start the construction of the first classrooms and dormitories with the first phase expected to be ready in 2014, when it will take in the first students.
Kiplagat recently opened the Iten Club at her HATC training camp while next door, Olympic Marathon bronze medallist Wilson Kipsang, the second fastest marathoner of all time (2:03.42) two months ago opened the high-end Keelu Resort on the Iten-Kamariny stretch.
In Ethiopia, the investments of multiple running legend Haile Gebrselassie, who holds 27 world records, are estimated to be around Sh5 billion.
Haile recently launched the Haile Gebrselassie Marathon to be held in Hawassa town on October 20 this year, immediately throwing in $200,000 (Sh17.2 million) from his Haile Gebrselassie Foundation towards the race’s organisational costs.
Gebrselassie runs his business empire through his flagship company, Haile and Alem International PLC, named after himself and his wife.
Gebrselassie’s investments eclipse those of any other African athlete, his biggest being the five-star Haile Resort, constructed on 7.5 acres on Lake Hawassa, 270 kilometres from Addis.
The Haile Resort has 120 rooms and suites, swimming pools, gyms, a mini-golf course, a 600-metre running trail, along with horse-riding and lawn tennis facilities.
Haile’s Marathon Motors also holds the Ethiopian franchise for Hyundai vehicles and trucks.
Alem Cinemas, housed in the Haile and Alem building, also form part of the star’s business empire, with the cost of his mansion in the exclusive Top View Megenagna area of Addis estimated at Sh135 million.
“It’s good to be a role model,” Haile, the father of three daughters, Eden, 16, Melat, 14, Batiy 11, and a son, Nathan, 7, once said in an interview in Addis.
“When you start something, others follow. When I started my real estate business, others followed suit, which makes me proud.
“I have five buildings in Addis and four more outside Addis, including the hotel in Hawassa. I also have two schools.”
Indeed, Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia’s other running legend, has swiftly followed in Haile’s footsteps, recently completing a Sh130 million running track in a sports complex he is building just outside Addis.
Sports Pitch Engineering
When completed, Kenenisa’s multi-million complex will have a five-star hotel with conference facilities, a golf course and several other sporting facilities.
The tartan track at Kenenisa’s sports complex was laid by Dutchman Rob de Heer, of Sports Pitch Engineering, who is also leading the contract work at the Lornah Kiplagat Sports Academy.
De Heer was in the team that constructed Ajax Amsterdam’s Amsterdam Arena, several other top pitches and also developed the first natural grass wicket at the national cricket centre near Amsterdam.
The Dutchman also constructed a tartan running track, recently opened in Gebrselassie’s birthplace of Asela in the Arsi region.