BY GABRIEL KUDOI This year’s world Olympics kicked off on August 5 in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. But for the residents of Kenya’s athletics rich North-Rift, competition started a week later when their sons and daughters took to the track to showcase their rare prowess. And Eldoret town literally sprung to life as athletics fans jammed the streets to follow the action that was being beamed live on three big screens set up at the Iten Road junction, near the national library. Alice Aprot, Hellen Obiri and Vivian Cheruiyot were among the Kenyans who were battling it out with Ethiopia’s Amaz Ayana in the 10,000 women’s meters. The jubilant fans cheered on as their favorite athletes took the lead interchangeably. But their spirits were dampened when Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana shook off Cheruiyot and Aprot in the last lap to clinch the victory after clocking 29: 17: 45. On that day, traffic police officers had rough time controlling motorists who were literally slowing down along the Old-Uganda road to catch a glimpse of the Rio proceedings. Not even the evening drizzle scared off the fans, some of who had closed their premises to catch the action. “Sasa ndio Olympics imeanza officially (Olympics has just started)”, quipped Robert Kimei, a fan. To the residents of the North Rift, athletics is a very emotive issue, religiously followed by fans. And nothing can vividly capture this than the mixture of emotions that was witnessed in several entertainment joints in Eldoret town when Bahrain’s Ruth Jebet cut the tape in the 3000m Steeplechase ahead of the World Champion Hyvin Kiyeng to claim the gold medal. At the Destiny Club along the Ronald Ngala street in Eldoret for instance, some fans who had initially been cheering both Kiyeng and Jebet were confused, unsure on whether they should continue cheering on when it became apparent that Jebet was winning the race. “Aahhh… I wish that Chebet was representing Kenya, that would have been another Gold for us,” said a disappointed fan, James Rotich. But another fan, Alice Cheptoo had a different view. “Does it matter whether it is Kiyeng or Chebet? All these are our daughters. They could be representing different countries but at the end of the day, they are all Kalenjins,” she said. None other than Ruth Jebet herself echoed Cheptoo’s sentiments during her grand reception at the Eldoret International Airport upon her arrival from Brazil. “Indeed the race was tough. But we had talked and agreed between ourselves, referring to Kiyeng, (a Kenyan who came second in the same race), that we should not allow the whites to beat us. But my sister Kiyeng later told me she was not feeling well. So I broke off and ensured that the victory remains with one of us,” said the 19-year-old athlete who runs for Bahrain. The Kenyan born athlete says she opted to run for Bahrain after being assured of a fully paid scholarship to pursue a degree course in Animal Health. She also adds that unlike Kenya where we have a galaxy of athletes and therefore making it hard for one to secure a slot in the national team, it is so easy for one to get a slot in the Middle East. Although Jebet expressed Joy for being back in her home country, she has no plans for running for Kenya now. “I had to come back and celebrate with my parents and villagers first before I go back to Bahrain for another celebration organized by the State in my honour,” she said. Jebet says although she runs for Bahrain, Kenyan blood still runs in her veins. She trains in Kapsabet in Nandi County. Her father, Joel Sitienei does not regret his daughter’s decision to run for a foreign country. “I used to live in a grass thatched house, but since my daughter went to Bahrain, she built me a decent house, a piece of land and two dairy cows. I now live comfortably,” The kind of goodies offered by some foreign countries have lured several Kenyan athletes to run for them. Dutch long- distance runner Lorna Kiplagat who hails from Kabiemit in Elgeyo-Marakwet County is one of the most decorated female runners from Kenya whose investments in Iten are a clear testimony of her success. The former world half marathon record holder who gained Dutch citizenship in 2003 has set up a Sports Academy on a 50 acre piece of land in Iten at a cost of about Sh1 billion. The women’s only pre-university institution meant to cater for underprivileged girls will have hockey fields, basketball and volleyball courts. The all -weather tartan track in Iten, the only one of its kind in the North Rift is one of her investments. Great Britains Olympic 5000m and 10,000m meters undisputed world champion Mo Farah is among the foreign athletes who frequently train at the facility. Besides running athletics cloth line business in Nairobi she also owns a High Altitude Training Center in Iten that has a state-of-the-art gym. Lorna is just one of the many athletes who have channeled their investments back to their mother country.