Iten no longer so welcoming to foreign athletes due to ongoing pandemic

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020 00:00 |
Multiple Olympic and World champion, Briton Moh Farah (left) trains with his compatriot Mahamoud Mohammed at Kamarin Stadium in Iten on January 29, 2013. Photo/SPORTPICHA

Iten, Wednesday

The western Kenyan town of Iten is famous for producing an array of athletics stars - but its status as a magnet for foreign runners is being affected by the coronavirus.

While this has much to do with social distancing and local lockdown measures in the face of the pandemic, it is also because some Iten residents are associating westerners with the virus.

Many of the primary sources of coronavirus cases in African countries have been brought in by travellers from Europe and the United States, with Kenya - whose first case came from a citizen returning to Nairobi from the States via London - one such nation.

Over the weekend, a Spanish conditioning coach says he was pelted with stones and called “corona” by children during a run in the Kenyan town, which Olympic champion David Rudisha - amongst others - has called home in the past.

“A group of kids, maybe around 12 years old, were hidden behind trees and when I passed by, they started throwing stones,” Totti Corbalan told BBC Sport Africa.

“All these kids just call you ‘Corona’ and run away making fun of you, so we have to be aware of what is going on around us when we go out on a run.”

Former athlete Elias Kiptum, who lives in the area and is worried about the impact such attitudes may have on Iten’s reputation, says at least two other foreign athletes have approached him to complain about similar attitudes.

Concerned by such incidents, the local government says it is advising foreign residents against racial profiling while also stressing the need for social distancing.

“We wish to assure all international athletes residing and training in Iten and its environs that racial profiling remains illegal as far as efforts to combat coronavirus is concerned,” Vincent Bartoo, the local government’s Director of Communications, told BBC Sport Africa. 

“What the (Elgeyo Marakwet) County Government has only advised against is group training for both local and international athletes.

Athletes have been advised to undertake individualised training regimes after the athletics camps in the area were banned because of the outbreak.

Iten - which has produced dozens of Olympic and world champions - is famous around the world as a training hub for middle- and long-distance athletes, many of whom use the high altitude in the Rift Valley for advanced training programmes.

Others appreciate the simple way of life which affords excellent training opportunities, with Britain’s Mo Farah among those to have made Iten a base in recent years.

World 800m record holder and 2012 Olympic champion Rudisha, two-time world champion Edna Kiplagat and 5,000m Olympic champion Vivian Cheruiyot are some of those who either train in the region and/or have called it home. -BBC

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