Uganda’s little known ‘village’ churning out world champions

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020 00:00 |
Joshua Cheptegei.

Kampala, Tuesday

Perched on the ranges of Mount Elgon, an extinct volcanic mountain shared by Uganda and Kenya, lies Kapchorwa, a little known lush green land churning out world athletics champions.

The rich volcanic soil not only produces premium arabica coffee, cereals and vegetables, but is also giving birth to champions who have helped Uganda break the ceiling to join top tier of long distance running nations.  

Every day at sunrise, Nasta Kissa, 17, joins a team of other talented athletes to run on the high altitude land, hoping that one day they will hit the world stage.

When Covid-19 hit, the country and the government-enforced restriction measures instituted to stop its spread, training was halted for nearly seven months. 

“Covid-19 affected us a lot because of the restriction measures, we could not gather.

Because of this, there was a halt in all activities,” David Cherop, the coach of the young talents, told Xinhua in a recent visit to the area.

Cherop added that as the government continues to ease the lockdown measures, many children have returned to camp. 

The number of trainees is now in the dozens, although not yet to the over 100 as it was before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, according to Cherop. 

After the morning training session on October 18, Kissa told Xinhua that she is striving to improve her running skills. 

She has attended several competitions in the country and hopes that one day she will represent the country in major athletics competitions.

Her peer, Edwin Chemutai, 15, also shares the same dream. Chemutai’s dream is to compete in the London Marathon. 

Jacob Kiplimo, who won the men’s World Half Marathon gold in Poland. Photo/PD/FILE

“Long distance running is the future for them. In Kapchorwa here, running is a talent.

We have come to train them so that in future we shall have more runners in Uganda,” said Cherop.  

All these dreams are anchored in the achievements that star athletes in this land have made.

Jacob Kiplimo, who won the men’s World Half Marathon gold in Poland on October 17, is Chemutai’s idol. 

World champion Joshua Cheptegei, in August, conquered Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele’s 16-year-old 5,000m world record at the Diamond League in Monaco. 

Cheptegei is already the 2019 men’s 10,000 world champion and world cross country champion.  

Cheptegei and Kiplimo are not the only star athletes from Kapchorwa. Stephen Kiprotich who won Uganda gold at the 2012 London Olympics marathon also hails from Kapchorwa.

However, becoming a star athlete in Uganda is a journey of endurance. Cherop said that many athletes are forced to train without the appropriate gear, which limits their performance.

For example, Kissa took on her 8km training session without appropriate training shoes. 

Despite all these challenges, these young talents are determined to make it. At times, they get inspirational talks from the senior athletes whom they look up to. - Xinhua

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