News that International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has elevated the athletics-rich town of Iten in Elgeyo Marakwet County to one of the world athletics governing body’s global heritage locations has been met with excitement in the county.
At a dinner in downtown Yokohama, Japan, at the weekend, IAAF’s President Lord Sebastian Coe handed the Rift Valley town the “IAAF Heritage Plaque” which celebrates towns or locations important to global athletics history.
And Elgeyo-Marakwet County leaders have termed the development a pleasant surprise, with the hope that it could be accompanied with more goodies.
Over the years, the sleepy town of Iten, christened 'Home of Champions', which lies some 2,400 metres above sea level, has been producing an endless chain of world beating athletes including the former world marathon record holder Wilson Kipsang.
With the recent global recognition, residents and athletics stakeholders are optimistic that Iten’s new status will be accompanied by more blessings.
LEADING TRAINING DESTINATION
Elgeyo-Marakwet County Deputy Governor Wesley Rotich has said the county government will use Iten’s new status to market the town as a leading training destination for athletes so as to attract more athletes from foreign countries to train in the area, and investors to the town.
"We want to encourage investors to come to Iten. Iten now is ripe for investment, and they should come and invest in the hospitality sector here by setting up facilities such as sports camps or hotels because Iten will attract even more people of different nationalities," Rotich said.
Winnie Chepkemboi, Iten-based trader who runs a retail outlet christened ‘Olympic Corner’ and which specialises on African beaded designs is optimistic that her business, which mainly sells items to foreigners who come to train in the area, will pick up even more.
"Most of my customers are from across the world, mostly from France, Canada, Germany and China, who come to camp in the region and to train here. They like African beaded designs, mostly with designs of the Kenyan flag. I'm happy that Iten has been recognised globally, and I expect that more foreigners will flock here,” said a delighted Chepkemboi.
Chepkemboi’s shop is located next to the High Altitude Lorna Kiplagat Training Camp
A number of athletes who train in the town said the global recognition of Iten was timely as the country prepares to host the World Under-20 Athletics Championships next year.
“We hope the elite athletes from all over the world will come to train in Iten as they prepare for various competitions globally, and we welcome them all,” said Elias Kiptum, a former marathoner.
Kiptum also urged the county and the national government to speed up renovation works on training facilities in the region, among them Kamariny Stadium and Kiptingo Stadium, to enable athletes train without incurring injuries.
As it turns out, it is not just Iten’s status as a high altitude town that attracts foreign athletes to train in the region.
Thorsten Steffen, a German marathon runner, has been training in the town together with his marathoner wife for the past one year with the hope of learning the tricks that make Kenyans so successful in athletics.
Steffen disclosed that he is motivated to train with the locals so as to learn their success secrets, noting that it is also cheaper to train in the town.
"In Europe we have better facilities, better roads, some places with high altitude almost the same as Iten, but the Kenyans are still faster than us and our coming here is to try and catch up with the best athletes in the world,” Thorsten said.
Iten was recognised alongside the famous Bekoji town in Oromiya region in Ethiopia.