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Champ catches them young

Friday November 19 2010

By JOSEPH KANYI [email protected]

He conquered the world – including the Ethiopian world beater, Haile Gebrselassie – at the 2001 Edmonton World Championships in Athletics and nearly a decade down the line Charles Waweru Kamathi is till going strong.

The former 10,000 metres supremo is ‘munene’ – leader or prominent person in Kikuyu – to his fans in Nyeri and ‘bingwa’, Kiswahili for champion, to his fellow athletes.

Morning jogging sessions with his three pacesetters are often interrupted by greetings from pedestrians, motorists and even women picking coffee in the plantations.

His pals would rather call him Kimathi since the Kikuyu ‘ka’ prefix denotes smallness and ‘ki’ bigness but the luminary’s name fits his small athletic frame well.

Kamathi told the Nation in Nyeri Town that he believes fame and glory comes with some consequences: “You become famous at world events but earn reputation back home for what you do to those around you.”

He disclosed that he has been assisting needy upcoming runners since 2001 in Nyeri and neighbouring Nyahururu, where he did most of his training. He even leasing a house for Sh5,000 per month to host runners free of charge with free meals.

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This is the year he burst into the global limelight in Edmonton. The joke in the village is that Kamathi ran so fast in that race he almost lost his ‘centre bolt’.

Those were the days when elite athletes were seen, especially in their rural villages, as wingless angels from the heavenly realm and one can only imagine the respect Kamathi commanded, having been to Japan in 1997 and in 1999 clocking a world-leading 26 minutes 51.49 seconds in 10,000m at the Memorial Van Damme meet in Brussels, among other international highlights.

The runner has trained at least four athletes at any one time, says Nyahururu-based coach Kamau Githuna. Currently, he is assisting four youngsters training in Nyeri in long distance running. Said Kamau: “It was special of him to look back to where he came from and assist those he had left behind.”

An expensive undertaking

But Kamathi said: “I can only take a few runners at a time since nurturing talent is an expensive undertaking and you just cannot predict the outcome.” He added that it takes even five years for an athlete to discover their strength: “Some start in long distance running only to realise they are strong in short races; others take a long time to attain the athletic form.

“Tapping talent is not like growing trees or crops where you can plan a schedule for weeding, pruning or harvesting; these are human beings who have unique bodies that respond differently to training.”

Citing Michael Kagumo, whom he described as “promising and willing to run” but his legs keep letting him down due to injuries, Kamathi said: “I totally understand Kagumo’s problems since I have been there. I know that one day he will make it and I hope it is in marathon.”

James Ndirangu, a 3,000m steeplechase and 5,000m trainee for the past three years, said: “I pray for Kamathi all the time. I don’t know how I can pay him.” Nyeri’s 10,000m blue-eyed home boy Paul Chege, 25, has been training with Kamathi since 2005 and dreams to be like his mentor.

Chege is proud to have competed in the 2007 national cross country championships although he failed to make the national team to the Mombasa World Cross.

“Kamathi is very strict on training; he ensures that we finish our programmes and that we improve. He has given us training kits, stop watches and running shoes,” said Chege.

Saying proper diet is often a challenge to upcoming athletes, Chege however said Kamathi ensures that his charges eat well.

Kamathi disclosed why he has not been assisting female athletes of late: “Women require more care than men, even in terms of diet and accommodation, and given that I travel a great deal I just cannot help it.”

He added that when some years back he tried his hand at a women’s camp in high-altitude Embu he eventually gave up.

Biggest training club

Few have walked Kamathi’s path – like Olympic marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru, who founded the biggest training club in Nyahururu as also Mfae Club, which has 48 athletes under veteran coach Francis Kamau.

Kamathi tops Kenyan marathoners tipped for Gebrselassie’s 2:03:59 world record. Others are Samuel Wanjiru with a 2:05:10 personal best time, Martin Lel, Felix Limo, Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot and four-time Boston Marathon winner Robert “Mwafrika” Cheruiyot. Kamathi set his 2:07:33 marathon PB at the 2008 Fortis Rotterdam Marathon.

On October 10 Kamathi outran compatriots Nicholas Chelimo and Paul Biwott in a scintillating Eindhoven Marathon race in the Netherlands to win in 2:07:38.

Senior Sergeant Kamathi, a police officer since 1998, is married to Elizabeth and they have two sons.

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