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Zakayo: Still in Form Three, but already a world, Commonwealth, Africa champ!

Sunday February 3 2019

Kenya’s Edward Pingua Zakayo celebrates after winning the bronze medal in the men's 5000m final during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games at the Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast on April 8, 2018. PHOTO | ADRIAN DENNIS |

Kenya’s Edward Pingua Zakayo celebrates after winning the bronze medal in the men's 5000m final during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games at the Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast on April 8, 2018. PHOTO | ADRIAN DENNIS |  

BERNARD ROTICH
By BERNARD ROTICH
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We started our journey at 5.00am, headed to a school at the border of Elgeyo-Marakwet and West Pokot counties.

This is an institution which has specialised in nurturing running talent. As we cruised past Iten in Elgeyo-Marakwet County, hundreds of athletes could be seen grouping and getting ready for their early morning run.

Our destination, the iron-sheet structured Kapsait Athletics Secondary School, lies about 150 kilometres away from, and is a place where many athletes now study and reside.

World under-20 5,000m champion Edward Zakayo (left) and other Form three students at Kapsait Athletics Secondary School in Elgeyo-Marakwet County during a lesson on January 29, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA |

World under-20 5,000m champion Edward Zakayo (left) and other Form three students at Kapsait Athletics Secondary School in Elgeyo-Marakwet County during a lesson on January 29, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Our mission was to get to know about the school, the educational programmes it offers, and, most importantly, trace one of the school’s most famous students: Africa 5,000 metres champion, Edward Pingwa Zakayo.

Zakayo, a form three student at the school, is also a World Under-20 Championships gold medallist and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, and has been a huge aspiration to his schoolmates.

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A devout Christian

Other notable names at the school includes Leah Kibet, a semi-finalist at the IAAF World Under-18 Championships in the 400 metres hurdles (who has since changed her race to the 800m), 2018 East Africa Secondary School Games’ 5,000m champion Catherine Relin along with Joseph Muigai, Reuben Longosiwa, among others.

We arrived at the school, just in time for the morning assembly where Zakayo, a devout Christian, was reading a word of encouragement from the Bible, in the book of Psalms 113:5, before leading the students with a word of prayer.

World under-20 5,000m champion Edward Zakayo (left) and other Form three students at Kapsait Athletics Secondary School in Elgeyo-Marakwet County during a lesson on January 29, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

World under-20 5,000m champion Edward Zakayo (left) and other Form three students at Kapsait Athletics Secondary School in Elgeyo-Marakwet County during a lesson on January 29, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

After we settle down for the quick interview, ahead of the start of the day’s classes, Zakayo says it’s a delicate balancing act between sports and education, but adds that he’s giving it his best short.

“Balancing education and sports is tricky, but I have always tried my best to do well in class just as I do in athletics, and my goal is to be a successful athlete with a good, bright future,” said the second born in a family of eight.

His day starts at 6.00am when, together with his training mates, they head for a one-and-a-half hour workout before going to class.

Edward Zakayo lifts the Most Promising Sports Personality of the year (Boys Category) trophy during the 2018 Sportsman of the Year Awards (Soya) gala held at Fort Jesus, Mombasa on January 12, 2019. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT |

Edward Zakayo lifts the Most Promising Sports Personality of the year (Boys Category) trophy during the 2018 Sportsman of the Year Awards (Soya) gala held at Fort Jesus, Mombasa on January 12, 2019. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT |NATION MEDIA GROUP

By the end of the day, they will converge for an evening run which he says is normally “easy” compared to the morning workout.

Zakayo’s career took shape in 2014 when he competed at the national athletics championships, where finished second in the 10,000m race, attracting the attention of national coaches.

But his memorable race, he recalls, was when he teamed up with World Under-20 Championships silver medallist Stanley Waithaka to beat Ethiopia’s rising star Selemon Barega in Tampere, Finland, at the age-group competition.

World under-20 5,000m champion Edward Zakayo (left) and other students at Kapsait Athletics Secondary School in Elgeyo-Marakwet County during a training session on January 29, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA |

World under-20 5,000m champion Edward Zakayo (left) and other students at Kapsait Athletics Secondary School in Elgeyo-Marakwet County during a training session on January 29, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

To show how good Barega is, at the Brussels IAAF Diamond League meeting in August last year, the Ethiopian youngster ran the fourth fastest 5,000m race of all time, 12 minutes, 43.02 seconds, which falls behind the three fastest times ever run by compatriots Kenenisa Bekele (12:37.35), Haile Gebrselassie (12:39.36) and Kenya’s Daniel Komen (12:43.02).

“We had strategized with my good friend Waithaka on how we can beat Barega after he beat us in Nairobi at the 2017 World Under-18 Championships,” says Zakayo.

“It was a sweet revenge for me, and I’m still smiling when I think of that race,” states Zakayo.

But Zakayo recalls that they almost lost it after concentrating too much on Barega, forgetting Jakob Ingebrigtsen from Norway who managed to squeeze in for a bronze medal.

World under-20 5,000m champion Edward Zakayo (left) and other students at Kapsait Athletics Secondary School in Elgeyo-Marakwet County during a training session on January 29, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA |

World under-20 5,000m champion Edward Zakayo (left) and other students at Kapsait Athletics Secondary School in Elgeyo-Marakwet County during a training session on January 29, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“At that time, we knew our great challenge and competitor was Barega forgetting the Norwegian. He was going to win gold but my finishing kick saved the day coming from the behind to beat the four athletes ahead of me,” recalls Zakayo, who maintains Barega may have won in Nairobi, but he isn’t good at the big championship races.

It was Thomas Mukhwana who saw how well Zakayo was running during the secondary schools national championships. He then introduced him to the school in Kapsait, where Zakayo, upon finishing his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) in Osinandi Primary School in Narok County, travelled all the way to Elgeyo-Marakwet to seek a place in Form One.

From left to right: Silver medallist Canada's Mohammed Ahmed, gold medallist Uganda's Joshua Kiprui Cheptegei and bronze medallist Kenya's Edward Pingua Zakayo celebrate on the podium after the athletic's men's 5000m final during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games at the Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast on April 8, 2018.  PHOTO | SAEED KHAN |

From left to right: Silver medallist Canada's Mohammed Ahmed, gold medallist Uganda's Joshua Kiprui Cheptegei and bronze medallist Kenya's Edward Pingua Zakayo celebrate on the podium after the athletic's men's 5000m final during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games at the Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast on April 8, 2018. PHOTO | SAEED KHAN |AFP

On arrival, he met the school’s deputy principal, Painito Chisanya, who enrolled him in Form One where he embarked on his training.

“When I arrived here, I had nothing because we were very poor at home and getting school fees was a challenge. I talked to the deputy principal who allowed me to go on with my education and I’m happy God opened avenues and I can now pay and help my siblings back at home,” Zakayo explains.

World under-20 5,000m champion Edward Zakayo (centre) leads other students at Kapsait Athletics Secondary School in Elgeyo-Marakwet County in a bible verse during a assembly on January 29, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA |

World under-20 5,000m champion Edward Zakayo (centre) leads other students at Kapsait Athletics Secondary School in Elgeyo-Marakwet County in a bible verse during assembly on January 29, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

I would also not forget my friend and former IAAF Diamond League champion in 800m, Ferguson Rotich, who gave me training kit after he saw me running well.

Three weeks ago, Zakayo was named the most promising boy, beating his friend Rhonex Kipruto who was second during the annual Sports Personality of the Year Awards held in Mombasa.

“I was happy to be awarded as the most promising boy’s award recently, and my goal is to be named athlete of the year. My career has just started and I will be working hard to keep my name high up.”

Kenya's Edward Zakayo (left, silver) and Stanley Waithaka celebrate at the end of the boys 3000m final during the World Under 18 Championships on July 16, 2017 at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU |

Kenya's Edward Zakayo (left, silver) and Stanley Waithaka celebrate at the end of the boys 3000m final during the World Under 18 Championships on July 16, 2017 at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU |

Kenya's Edward Zakayo (left) and Stanley Waithaka pose for photos after bagging silver and bronze respectively in the boys 3000m during the World Under 18 Championships on July 16, 2017 at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |

Kenya's Edward Zakayo (left) and Stanley Waithaka pose for photos after bagging silver and bronze respectively in the boys 3000m during the World Under 18 Championships on July 16, 2017 at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |NATION MEDIA GROUP

After bagging silver in 3,000m during the World Under-18 Championships in Nairobi, Zakayo was selected in the team that headed to the Commonwealth Games in Australia, where he clinched bronze in 5,000m in 13:54.06 behind Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei (13:50.83) and Canada’s Mohammed Ahmed (13:52.78) showing little respect to other seniors.

Kenya's Edward Zakayo celebrates after winning the 3000m Heat 2 during the IAAF World Under-18 Athletics Championship on July 13,  2017 at Moi international Sports Centre, Kasarani. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |

Kenya's Edward Zakayo celebrates after winning the 3000m Heat 2 during the IAAF World Under-18 Athletics Championship on July 13, 2017 at Moi international Sports Centre, Kasarani. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |NATION MEDIA GROUP

He went ahead to seal the deal in the IAAF World Under-20 Championships, where he bagged a gold medal in 5,000m before proceeding to Africa Championships in Asaba, Nigeria, where he didn’t disappoint after clocking 13:48.58, beating Ethiopia’s Getaneh Molla (13:49.06) and Eritrea’s Yemane Haileselassie (13:49.58) to bag gold.

World under-20 5,000m champion Edward Zakayo (centre) during the interview on January 29, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA |

World under-20 5,000m champion Edward Zakayo (centre) during the interview on January 29, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Zakayo’s already in the thick of a busy season as he aims to compete in the National Cross Country Championships in Eldoret on February 23. Zakayo will be seeking a place in the Kenyan team that will be heading to Aarhus, Denmark, for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships slated on March 30.

“My season started well with a few races outside the country which has kept me in good shape and I will be looking forward to a good run at the national trials for the cross country championships.

It will a hard task because this is my first time and I will be happy to get chance,” he said.

IAAF World Championships

Once done with cross country running, Zakayo will then concentrate on the IAAF Diamond League series where he says he wants to restore Kenya’s lost glory in the 5,000m race.

“If you follow the 5,000m race history, you will find that Kenya has not been performing well recently, and I will start my build-up for the race immediately in May when the Diamond League series starts. I hope I will be able to perform well,” he added.

He is also expecting to represent the country in the IAAF World Championships which will be held in Doha, Qatar, in October.

Edward Zakayo (right) is served porridge by John Ondabwa during a break on January 29, 2019 at  Kapsait Athletics Secondary School in Elgeyo-Marakwet County. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA |

Edward Zakayo (right) is served porridge by John Ondabwa during a break on January 29, 2019 at Kapsait Athletics Secondary School in Elgeyo-Marakwet County. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

His school principal, Lawrence Isinta, says Zakayo has been “a very obedient” student and is always ready to help upcoming athletes in training and by also motivating them.

“We are really proud of Zakayo because he has put our school on the world map for his good performances in athletics. He has been motivating students on the need of remaining disciplined and working hard in class,” said the principal.

He also said Zakayo has been helping fellow students out by buying them small things, like the geometrical sets for those who come from poor families, from his earnings in athletics.

Mpaima Pingwa, a class six pupil, is following his brother’s footsteps and has also been competing in the 5,000m race.

Zakayo remains grateful to their mother, Agnes Pingwa, who brought them up well, despite various challenges.

Edward Zakayo (centre) enjoys porridge alongside other students during a break on January 29, 2019 at  Kapsait Athletics Secondary School in Elgeyo-Marakwet County. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Edward Zakayo (centre) enjoys porridge alongside other students during a break on January 29, 2019 at Kapsait Athletics Secondary School in Elgeyo-Marakwet County. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

According to his coach Erick Kimaiyo, a former Honolulu Marathon champion, Zakayo has proved that he can perform well both in class and in sports.

“Zakayo is a hard working boy and with the way he is training and performing, he will do wonders in the long distance races in track events,” said Kimaiyo, who is also the director of the school which sponsored by American sportswear giants, Nike.

Kimaiyo also coaches Chicago Marathon champion Brigid Kosgei among other upcoming athletes.

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