Eldoret, the town athletes built, By KENNEDY LUMWAMU
Eldoret town has become the investment hub for Kenya’s world beating athletes – despite the previous battle it had with Iten and Kapsabet towns over the “home of champions” tag.
Indeed, there had been intense battle between the three athletics-rich towns on who was the bona fide owner of the prestigious brand – the home of champions. But it’s a fact most athletes migrated and invested in Eldoret.
The reconstruction of Eldoret and many other places in Uasin Gishu County, following the post-election violence that tore the county apart, was spearheaded by world-renown athletes.
Many of Kenya’s world beaters are bringing their wealth back to Eldoret.
Today, they own almost half of Eldoret, Uasin Ngishu County’s capital and Kenya’s fourth biggest town, where they have invested in high rise buildings and in posh estates.
A majority of the modern buildings bear the names of big cities and famous races around the world where their owners clinched victory.
For instance, you will see Rotterdam Centre on Iten Road, GrandPrix Hotel and Johannesburg Plaza.
Eldoret has experienced rapid changes since its inception as a railway station Number 64 in colonial times. It now boasts multi-million shilling modern buildings that have drastically changed its skyline, making it a vibrant commercial hub linked by road and rail to the rest of East and Central Africa.
The athletes are now buying up land as well as purchasing existing homes. Their entry into property has boosted land prices in the town and its suburbs. Almost all the top athletes live in Elgon View, the equivalent of Nairobi’s leafy Muthaiga.
In the town’s central business district, there are at least 20 commercial buildings owned by the athletes, who either come from the area or who migrated to the region.
They include the Komora Centre, owned by three time world 3,000m steeplechase champion Moses Kiptanui, and the GrandPri Hotel, which belongs to two-time Boston Marathon winner Moses Tanui.
Kiptanui, who also owns the Komora Estate in London, was the first man to run the steeplechase in under eight minutes, while Tanui was the first to run a half marathon in less than an hour.
Komora Centre was named after Komora village in Marakwet which is known for producing the world’s best steeplechase runners.
Komora Village Kiptanui and the where 3,000 steeplechase champion Ezekiel Kemboi come from is reputed as the hamlet with the largest number of internationally-acclaimed athletes. It is located in Elgeiyo Marakwet County. Nandi County boasts of producing a host of Marathon Champions like Moses Tanui who won the Boston Marathon three times.
Kiptanui recently entered the supermarket industry after he opened a new one situated near Iten bus station. His Komora Centre houses Tuskys Supermarket outlet in town.
Tanui was among the first to win IAAF Grand Prix races and thus derived his hotel’s name, GrandPri. “It gives me the memories of earning my first money in athletics,” Tanui said.
Laban Rotich, a former 1,500m runner, won the prestigious IAAF World Cup 1,500m final in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1998. And since the World Cup stood out as the biggest win in his athletics career, he named the building Johannesburg Plaza, which is at the junction of Oloo and Nandi streets.
Evans Cheruiyot, the 2008 Chicago Marathon winner, dedicated his Rotterdam Centre to his half marathon victory in Rotterdam in 2007.
The runners are also involved in building houses for rent on the outskirts of Eldoret.
Military Games sensation Sammy Kipketer owns a four-storey building next to Iten bus terminus while Ibrahim Hussein, the first African to win the New York marathon, owns a building at the heart of the town.
The 1999 Amsterdam Marathon winner Fred Kiprop owns Kirem Arcade that houses K-Rep Bank.
Three-time London Marathon winner Martin Lel also has a building in town while James Kipsang Kwambai, the second best marathoner in the world, has bought a plot near Moi Street which he is planning to develop.
Mary Keitany, the former London Marathon, owns Winstar building at the heart of Eldoret town. Keitany who won the 2012/2013 World Marathon Majors series $500,000 (Sh42.5 million) jackpot is married to half marathon specialist Charles Koech.
Daniel Kipng’etich Komen, the current 3,000 metres and two-mile world record holder who is still the only man alive to run two miles under eight minutes, has invested in a private school, Potters Academy.
The athletes have not left out centres of excellence in which they are competing to invest. There are five sports grounds and nine schools as well as a number of filling stations owned by the athletes.
The legendary Kipchoge Keino who runs the International Olympic Committee of Kenya has also funded Kipkeino High School next to the IOC/IAAF High Performance Training Centre.
The Sh50 million Kipkeino High School, on the serene Kazi Mingi Farm was commissioned by IOC President Jacques Rogges in May last year. Eldoret has named the former 64 Stadium after him. It is expected to be Kenya’s first stadium outside Nairobi to have a tartan track. In addition Bristol Academy of Sport honoured Keino – the 1968 Olympic Games 1,500m gold medalist – by naming its stadium, Kipkeino Athletics Stadium. The Kenya team bound for the 2012 London Olympics will train here.
It is no secret that land and education form part of Eldoret’s economic pie as the local community is also involved in these projects.
Most foreign runners live in hotels while locals rent houses near town. They contribute largely to the economy as they retreat to train without distractions.
Both groups spend hundreds of dollars each week, contributing to the economy of the area.
Eldoret and the surrounding areas are seeing a property boom – and it is Kenya’s sportsmen and women who are setting the pace.
Yet there are several athletes who have not invested despite receiving a lot of money. Some have burned it in bars and other entertainment joints.