It’s sad that the Kenyan athletics family is once again mourning another prominent runner, Paul Koech, just days after losing the 2015 world hurdles champion Nicholas Bett. Koech, 49, died on Monday this week after a short illness.
For those who know the background of legendary Paul Tergat’s athletics history, Koech was very much part of it.
He distinguished himself in cross country, track and on the road as one of the top distance runners. He won the 1998 World Half Marathon Championships, but remained in the shadow of Tergat.
According to Tergat, it’s the kind of competition he received from the likes of Koech that made him what he is today. Indeed, Koech was phenomenal and the athletics fraternity always looked forward to his rivalry with Tergat, which the late athlete always dominated, locally.
In cross country running, Koech was unbeatable before the home crowd while Tergat always got his revenge abroad.
It was the same case in 10,000m, where the two were inseparable.
The beauty was that the two remained good friends off the field, despite the rivalry. It was this kind of competition that drew many young men to feature in both cross country and 10,000m.
Products like John Cheruiyot, Charles Kamathi and Wilbeforce Talel, among others, were as a result of the pace set by the two athletes.
Even after retirement, Koech continued to serve athletics.
At the Kenya Defence Forces, where he served as a Major, he has nurtured many other athletes and will no doubt be missed by all.
His top achievements include bronze in the 10,000m at the 1995 All-Africa Games in Harare before claiming the 5,000m African title in Yaounde in 1996.
He was fourth in 1996 and 1997, fifth in 2003 and sixth in 1999 and 2000. On the road, Koech won the 1998 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in 60:01 and later ventured into the marathon finishing second at the 2003 Chicago Marathon (2:07:07), his best achievement in the 42-kilometre distance.
It’s sad that the government has always promised to set up a retirement scheme for athletes, especially during their funerals, only to renege on their promises once the athletes are buried.
As a country, we need to honour our heroes and heroines in a special way and the scheme is the right step forward.