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I'm lucky to be alive, says Boston champ

Friday February 19 2010

Moses Tanui, former World 10,000 metres champion during the interview in Nairobi on Friday. Photo/MOHAMMED AMIN

Former World 10,000 metres champion, Moses Tanui during the interview in Nairobi on Friday. Photo/MOHAMMED AMIN 


Two-time Boston marathon champion Moses Tanui cheated death on Wednesday afternoon. As he recounted his ordeal on Friday, Tanui had only one thing to say - God loves him and he has unfinished business.

He said it was a miracle for him to walk out of wreckage of what remained of his car, after it collided head-on with a stationary truck along the Nakuru-Nairobi road. But his friend, David Lelei, a former All Africa Games 1,500m runner, was not lucky. He was driving the ill-fated car and died on spot.

“All I remember is a loud bang! I was asleep and when I woke up, I realised we were flying and the car landed on the roof. Usually I don’t like buckling up, but on that day, I had my seat belt on and in the air I was suspended with my face facing down,” said Tanui, a former 10,000m world champion.

He called out but no one came to rescue him. And as they say, a soldier is always a soldier, and Tanui, a former military man, gathered courage and the strength to unbuckle himself and walked out of the wreck. “When I looked back, I could not believe my eyes. How did I get out of this mess? I started wondering what had happened. There was no Lelei, he was not in the car, where was he? I had no idea he had passed on,” said Tanui.

The two had come to Nairobi for a noble course; to launch a website for the Kass Marathon. It was just a day like any other for Tanui and Lelei, the former All Africa Games 1,500. After their function in Nairobi, the two headed to Eldoret on Wednesday morning. “Lelei took my car keys after the launch and offered to drive me. I rarely allow anyone to drive me, but somehow, I gave in,” said Tanui.

As they engaged in talk, Tanui remembered he did not have enough money and the car needed refuelling to enable them arrive in Eldoret. But Lelei, declined saying the available fuel in the tank was enough to take them to Nakuru and there was no need to stop at Tanui’s bank for some quick cash.


“But when we arrived at Lord Delamere’s farm, Lelei offered to buy me lunch. I objected because my son was waiting me to pick him up from school at Gulab Lochab in Eldoret. He heard none of it,” said Tanui, who was discharged from Nairobi Hospital on Friday.

On resuming their journey, Tanui said he felt dizzy. He buckled up and angling his seat back to a sleeping position. “I promised to help him drive once we get to Nakuru. He agreed and it was our last conversation; when I woke from my sleep, courtesy of a loud bang, Lelei was no more.”

Instinctively, dripping blood from the bruises, Tanui could only recall one man, his friend Paul Tergat. “I had tried to call him during the day, but we never hooked up. But when I emerged from the wreck, it was Tergat that I could remember to call. How I got his number I don’t know because everything was too dark to comprehend,” he said.

Tergat, left his business and rushed to St Mary Hospital near Gilgil to respond to a friend call. “ I stopped everything, I rushed to Gilgil and drove with him back to the capital where he was admitted at Nairobi Hospital. It is sad that we lost Lelei, he was a man dedicated to improving the life of athletes. He was a true sportsman,” said Tergat.

The two great marathoners extended their condolences to the late Lelei terming his death untimely. Tanui survived with minor injuries – a few bruises on the hand and leg and chest pains caused by the effect of the seat belt. “I am grateful to live. To God I say thank you. It is apparent Kenyans love me and my friend Lelei. I have received hundreds of calls and many have dropped in to check on my condition. I say thank you,” said Tanui.

Athletics Kenya chairman Isaiah Kiplagat sent a message of condolence saying he was shocked of the untimely death of the former 800 and 1,500m athlete. Julius Kirwa, the national head coach, called in from his base in Kinshasa, DRC and said Kenya had lost a true sportsman.