Thursday, August 20, 2009

For track marvels, it runs in the family

Linet Chepkwemoi Masai of Kenya celebrates after winning the women's 10,000 metres final during the world athletics championships at the Olympic stadium in Berlin August 15, 2009.  REUTERS

Linet Chepkwemoi Masai of Kenya celebrates after winning the women's 10,000 metres final during the world athletics championships at the Olympic stadium in Berlin August 15, 2009. Masai, her brother Moses and Mercy Cherono will be in action at today’s fifth round of the KCB national cross-country weekend meeting in Kisii. Photo/FILE  

By JONATHAN KOMEN and BERNARD KWALIA

Boundless joy describes how Mr John Barasa Masai and his household greeted the double victory when his two children bagged medals at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin, Germany.

Linet Masai of Kenya took the gold in the women 10,000 metres followed by a bronze for her brother Moses in the same distance.

“We all went into a frenzy as Linet battled Ethiopians Meselech Melkamu and Meseret Defar in the home stretch,” says Mr Masai at his homestead in Bugaa village in Mount Elgon District on Thursday.

Two medalists

He goes son: “Before Linet and Moses left for Berlin, we led them in a word of prayer and told them to bring gold to this nation and they promised to.’’

The mother of the two medalists Leonida Cherop, popularly called Mama Masai, chimes in. She wanted to prove that through her daughter, she could match the mother of Ethiopia’s 5000 metres record holder and defending champion Melkamu.

She also wanted to see her son Moses battle Ethiopian icon Kenenisa Bekele down the home stretch.

“I wanted them to prove that all children are born after nine months of pregnancy and are endowed with the same talents and can also shake the world as they (Ethiopians) did,” said Mrs Masai, 50.

Mzee Masai, 55, a runner in his childhood, has been developing the two athletes’ talent, insisting that they take up the sport from a young age.

“We both called on them to run since I knew the talent was within me and they had inherited it. I weaned them on honey to help reduce stomach upsets, especially while running the long distance to school,” he says.

What was special about the honey? He explains: “You know our Mount Elgon Forest has many indigenous trees which have medicinal significance and bees inside the forest suck nectar that contains the medicinal value. The medicine will prevent any kind of stomach upsets and build endurance.”

When Moses and Linet missed medals at last year’s Beijing Olympic Games, their father consoled them by slaughtering a ram for them.

“We told them that their victory would soon arrive. I staged a ceremony for them here at home and was confident that they would soon win medals for Kenya,” said Mzee Masai.

The running siblings both compete for the Kenya Police team and are attached to a training camp in Iten. They, however, usually go to the Mount Elgon Forest for long training runs when at home.

Moses and Linet, first and fourth born respectively in a family of 10, attended Kapsogom Primary School and Bishop Okiring High School. The family was poor.

“It was a fortune for us when Moses won his first slot in the national team in 2005. At the time, we had been flushed out of the controversial Chebyuk Settlement Scheme and Moses had to send us part of his allowances while in camp at Kigari.

Track legend Ben Jipcho accommodated us during the trying time,” said Mzee Masai.

He appreciates that his children share and plan together on how they spend their income from running. A combined Sh14 million or more will come from their Berlin exploits.

New heights

Leonida recalls that initially Linet was too shy to run as she could not dare put on running tights and practice in public.

“When she competed in primary school, I went there with a gourd of mursik (sour milk) and gave her after she won races. Most people laughed but I was not bothered. I have now prepared the mursik for the reception at the airport.Their father will reward them with cows and I appreciate that,” she said with pride.

She is confident that Linet’s younger sister Magdaline will soon storm world athletics having reached national level at this year’s secondary schools competitions.

Jipcho, the 1972 Munich Olympics 3,000 metres steeplechase silver medalist and former world record holder said he was impressed with the Masai siblings.

A neighbour Nelly Chebet, who clinched the 1,500 metres title at the World Youth event last month in Italy, said the Masai victory would boost the district into taking the sport to new heights.

She is a form Three Student at Nairobi’s Riruta Central.

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