One April evening in 2004 on a KLM flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam, one man chatted animatedly with travel-weary passengers.
At one point, one sleepy traveller saw him as a nuisance and mumbled words to the effect that he should shut up and let the weary travellers find some sleep. But on arrival at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport the following morning, roles were reversed.
The noisy traveller turned out to be a VIP, whisked away through immigration into a waiting limousine that drove him to the port city of Rotterdam.
Along the way, Adidas billboards with his image lined up the streets and back in their hotel rooms, some of the erstwhile irritated travellers were taken a back by a television commercial of one Felix Limo by Dutch bank Fortis. Limo was the star elite runner lined up for the Rotterdam Marathon on April 4, 2004.
The affable, humorous and vastly talented marathon runner at the weekend announced his retirement from athletics, saying he has opted to focus his energies in tea and dairy farming alongside his real estate business.
In the Netherlands, Limo, now 32, was hugely popular with the media, race organisers and fellow athletes alike with his great sense of humour and professional approach to issues.
The highlights of his almost decade-long, high level career included beating multiple distance running world record holder Haile Gebrselassie in a sprint finish to win the 2001 Seven Hills Run in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, in a then world record time of 41 minutes and 29 seconds.
Limo, who sprung into prominence by clicking 27:04.54 in the 10,000m at the 2000 Van Damme Memorial meeting in Brussels, ran his first marathon (2:06.42) in Amsterdam in 2000 four years later at the Rotterdam Marathon, he leapt into greatness, topping the world marathon rankings after a 2:06.14 course record in the port city.
A statement issued by his management - One4One Sports marketing and Management - at the weekend said Limo had quit to concentrate on his tea farms and real estate business.
“At the end of last year, I had some tough decisions to make. I had some back problems which meant I could not train as well as I would have liked, which lead to me dropping out of the Toronto Marathon last October,” Limo, who also won the 2005 Chicago and 2006 London marathons, said.
“In fact, I have had back problems for a number of years. They have never been serious but were the reason why I also dropped out of the Chicago Marathon in 2007 and they have become worse in recent years.
“I feel confident I could still run marathons in 2:09 or 2:10 but I can’t do the intensity of training that I was able to do seven or eight years ago. I also have to be realistic, those times are not going to get me into the top three of the best marathons these days,” said Limo.
“In addition to obviously spending more time with my family, I’m looking forward to devoting more of my energies to my business affairs away from athletics as I have interests in real estate, dairy farming and tea plantations.”
Michel Boeting, Felix Limo’s athlete representative, at the weekend described Limo as a great professional, saying his personal highlight with the Kenyan star was his triumph in the 2006 London Marathon.
“Winning the London Marathon in a non-Olympic or non-World Championship year is a great achievement because everyone is there,” said Boeting on telephone from the Netherlands.
“I have my many good moments with him, including when he beat Haile in a sprint finish in 2000 to break the world record in the 15-kilometre race, and other moments like when he came to Europe for the first time and won his first race.”
Never really talented
Boeting said Limo was great with race organisers and sponsors and recalled the Fortis Bank TV commercial: “They (Fortis Bank) wanted something different and Felix understood all the facts and was good with the sponsors. He was very popular in the Netherlands.”
Boeting noted that Limo was never really a talented athlete, but he worked hard.
“He had a great career and won some of the best marathons and broke the world record in the 15km race... he was never the most talented athlete but he was determined, came up slowly and was always focused.
“When you retire, its always good to sit back and look at the good times in your career. You don’t focus on the bad ones. It was a pleasure to work with Felix - he was a real professional.”
Limo was born in Kobujoi, South Nandi, on January 1, 1982 and is married with three boys, including a set of twins born in 2006 after his London Marathon triumph.