The Athletics fraternity has been thrown into mourning following the death of veteran administrator Isaiah Kiplagat.
Kiplagat, who has been battling cancer, took his final bow at his Karen home Wednesday morning.
Many eulogised him as the father of athletics in the country.
Kiplagat, 72, was one of the longest serving sports administrators in the country, having served in various capacities at Athletics Kenya (AK) for four decades.
Kiplagat, born on November 12, 1944 in Ndalat, Nandi County, leaves behind a widow, Joan, a son and four daughters.
Kiplagat, fondly known as Fundi, endeared himself to both friend and foe as a shrewd administrator, who worked his way out of difficult situations to retain his position as AK chief since 1992, before he stepped down last year.
To his friends, Kiplagat’s hard work, commitment and great foresight saw AK transformed into a vibrant federation that has been an envy of many, winning awards locally and internationally.
But to his foes, he was a ruthless leader. His authoritarian style kept him in power for decades.
“On behalf of Athletics Kenya, we want to send our heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and the athletics fraternity,” said AK senior vice-president Paul Mutwii. “Kiplagat is behind the success the country is enjoying in athletics now and we shall miss his advice greatly.”
Mutwii said they will visit the family home today to make funeral arrangements. Former AK vice-president, David Okeyo, and treasurer, Joseph Kinyua, also paid tribute to Kiplagat, whom they worked under for 16 years.
Also paying tribute were former World 5,000m champion Benjamin Limo and former Olympic champions John Ngugi (5,000m) and Wilfred Bungei (800m).
Okeyo, who eulogised Kiplagat as a fearless and visionary sport administrator, said he received a call from Kiplagat’s family at 9.30am shortly after he had passed on.
“They wanted me in Nairobi immediately,” said Okeyo, who was speaking from Kisumu. “It’s a sad day. My condolences to the family."
“Though seen as harsh, it was not out of bad faith, since Kiplagat wanted athletics to grow from strength to strength and that is why many people are now enjoying the fruits of his hard work,” said Okeyo.
Kinyua said Kiplagat has left a legacy that will be remembered for many years to come.
“I worked with him for 16 years after he called me from Kenya Science Teachers College to become his treasurer. At the time, AK account was in deficit of Sh2 million but I left the account last year with Sh130 million in cash besides the Sh1 billion in fixed assets,” said Kinyua. “We are the only federation with a fully-fledged headquarters that is an envy of many.”
Limo said Kenya’s athletics scene has thrived since early 1990s owing to Kiplagat’s good leadership.
“It’s unfortunate that Kiplagat has to leave office amid corruption allegations,” said Limo.
“He stood for what he thought was right and for sure his capacity building helped athletics thrive.”
Legendary athlete John Ngugi said even though Kiplagat ruled with an iron fist, he worked hard to improve athletics in the country.
“He was a no-nonsense leader who would take on any minister who tried to mess around with athletics,” said Ngugi. “Athletes benefited despite his authoritarian leadership.”
Kiplagat, who took over Kenya Amateur Athletics Association (KAAA), now AK, as chairman in 1992, ploughed the federation from a non-profit making entity to the richest sports body in the country.
By the time of his unceremonious and controversial departure last year, AK had Sh130 million in cash and almost Sh1 billion in fixed assets that include the AK headquarters, Riadha House.
Kiplagat passed on while still under investigation alongside three other former AK officials by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Ethics Commission.
Kiplagat, Okeyo and Kinyua were suspended for six months in November last year for their alleged involvement in graft and subversion in anti-doping control in Kenya.
That suspension was extended for another six months in June this year to enable Sharad Rao, who is investigation the officials, more time.
2016 went down as the year in which sweeping changes happened at Riadha House. Kiplagat, who had served both locally and internationally for four decades, left the scene under controversial circumstances.
Kiplagat had in May stepped aside as AK president so as to concentrate his energies on campaigns for one of IAAF’s vice presidential posts in August.
He however lost and his efforts to return at AK hit a dead end when he was suspended. Athletes also staged a protest at Riadha House in November to stop Kiplagat’s return.