The 10 Greatest Kenyan Athletes of All Time
Kenyans are great contestants when it comes to athletics, especially in the long distance running competitions. This fact is known by many people all over the world, and it is not surprising for a Kenyan in a foreign country to get the question… “Oh! You are from Kenya? Do you run?”
No. Not all of us can run, but we stand behind our Kenyan athletes who have broken world records over and over again – they that have their place in the Olympic history books.
These successful sports persons are so many, young and old, but we shall focus on 10 of the greatest Kenyan athletes of all time. Henceforth, the list below is just a taste of the talent we have in the country. There are so many more athletes that are worth mentioning, but maybe in a future document.
In no particular order, the following are 10 of the greatest Kenyan athletes of all time.
Eliud Kipchoge – (Born 5th November 1984)
Eliud Kipchoge has just won the male athlete of the year for the 2nd time in a row. He is an Olympic marathon champion and World Marathon record holder who competes in the marathon and formerly the 5000 m. He is one of the world’s best marathoners.
Kipchoge holds the world record in the marathon with a time of 2:01:39, set on 16th September 2018, at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. His run broke the previous world record by 1 minute and 18 seconds.
He has been a London Marathon winner as well, winning a record 4 times.
Just last month on 12th October, 2019, Eliud made history as the first man to ever run a marathon in under 2 hours when he completed the Ïneos 1:59 Challenge in Vienna, Austria in a record time of 1:59:40.2. However, this run did not count as a new Marathon record as standard competition rules for pacing and fluids were not followed and it was not an open event. But how amazing was this?
In total, Kipchoge has won 12 of the 13 Marathons he has entered.
Eliud Kipchoge has a wife and 3 children who live in Eldoret Kenya.
Favourite quote by Kipchoge: “Athletics is not so much about the legs, it’s about the heart and mind”.
Brigid Jepscheschir Kosgei – (Born 20th February 1994)
Next on our list is a young lady who is also the current Marathon world record holder for women running in a mixed-sex race, with a time of 2:14:04 that she achieved at the Chicago Marathon on 13th October 2019 – Brigid Kosgei. This latest record that she set beat the previous 16-year-old world record by 1 minute and 24 seconds, and the women’s Chicago Marathon record by 3 minutes and 14 seconds.
Brigid is now a winner of the 2018 and 2019 Chicago Marathons and the 2019 London Marathon.
Brigid also won a cross country event and the Kalya Half Marathon in Kenya.
From all the 9 Marathons she has run in her career, she has been in the top two in 8 of them.
When she won the 2019 London Marathon, she became the youngest woman to ever win the event.
Favourite quote by Brigid: “I kept saying, ‘Tomorrow is my day’. I wanted to be the second Kipchoge — the Kipchoge for women. I focused on that.”
Paul Kibii Tergat – (Born 17th June 1969)
You know what is interesting about Tergat? It is that he only realized his talent after graduating High School! Imagine that! Especially after I tell you that he is now regarded as one of the most accomplished long distance runners of all time.
This former professional long distance runner and soldier in the Kenyan Air force became the first Kenyan ever to set the world record in the Marathon from 2003 to 2007, with a time of 2:04:55.
He went on to set several world records including the 1997 men’s 10,000m, the 1998 world half marathon record and the 2003 world record in the marathon. He has also won many more titles on the track, in cross country, and on the road. Specifically, Tergat has won the world cross country championships 5 times.
Runnerworld called him the “Most comprehensive runner of all time”.
Paul was also the first male Kenyan athlete to be awarded Abebe Bakila Award by New York Road Runners in 2010. This was in recognition to his achievements in athletics.
He was named a UN World Food Programme (WFP) “Ambassador against Hunger” in January of 2004.
He also set up the Paul Tergat Foundation in 2005 that is meant to help disadvantaged Kenyan sportspeople.
Paul also founded and established the Baringo Half Marathon in 2001. The marathon aims to unearth and nurture young talents from the region.
Paul Tergat has a wife and 4 children.
Favourite quote by Tergat: “I, Paul Kibii Tergat, want always to watch my children eat with the knowledge that I have done everything I could for them.”
David Lekuta Rudisha – (Born 17th December 1988)
Popularly referred to as “Rudisha” or “King David” by fans all over the world, David Lekuta Rudisha is known by many as the world record holder in the 800m that he set at the London 2012 Olympics on 9th August 2012. He is the first and only person in the world to ever run under 1:41 for the event.
He also holds the world’s best time in the 500m, with a time of 57.69, and also the African record for the 600m with a time of 1:13:10.
Rudisha also won the IAAF World Athlete of the Year award in 2010, and a record 3 consecutive Track & Field Athlete of the Year awards.
He is also the 2012 and 2016 Olympic champion, and 2-time World Champion (2011 and 2015).
Unlike many of the Kenyan long distance runners who come from the same tribe of Kenyans known as the Kalenjins, Rudisha is actually a “Maasai“, and with parents that were also runners.
David Lekuta Rudisha has a wife and 2 daughters.
Favourite quote by Rudisha: “If I could handle winning and breaking the world record in an Olympic final, these others I can handle.”
Ezekiel Kemboi Cheboi – (Born 25th May 1982)
Many of us may remember Ezekiel Kemboi for his thrilling theatrics – his trademark celebratory sign in almost all the races he has participated in.
“Kemboi”, as he is popularly referred to by many Kenyans, is one of the 10 greatest Kenyan athletes of all time. This is because he is the only athlete in the world who has won four consecutive world championships, all while making it look so easy, with his easy-going character and victory jigs at the finish lines.
He also won the 3000m steeplechase at the 2004 Summer Olympics, the 2009 World Championships, the 2011 World Championships, the 2012 Summer Olympics, the 2013 World Championships and the 2015 World Championships.
Kemboi is known to have rubbed shoulders with the Kenya’s top leadership including adorning former president Mwai Kibaki with his Olympic gold medal in 2012, sitting atop former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s car at a rally in Eldoret, handing a t-shirt to President Uhuru Kenyatta in Moscow, dedicating his victory to former musician and now politician Jaguar, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko, and Ida Odinga, wife of Raila Odinga who was celebrating her birthday the day he won.
Ezekiel has a wife and child.
Favourite quote by Kemboi: “Each and every race I compete in is always my best. I do my best.”
Kipchoge Hezekiah Keino – (Born 17th January 1940)
Kipchoge Keino, a former police officer, was once chased by a buffalo. He outran the beast for a time before he hopped into a tree, where he rested until the buffalo went away. He is our next greatest Kenyan athlete of all time.
Mr. Kipchoge is a retired Kenyan track and field athlete. He is a two-time Olympic gold medallist. He was also the chairman of the Kenyan Olympic Committee (KOC) until 29th September of 2017.
Kipchoge was not always an athlete. In fact, he played rugby before turning to athletics.
He is popularly known as the first of many athletes from Kenya who made the country shine. He is also famous for inspiring many of today’s’ popular athletes in the country and making them reach the heights that they have.
Mr. Kipchoge is also one of 24 athletes inducted as inaugural members of the International Association of Athletics Federations Hall of Fame.
He is married and together with his wife, has 7 children. They have also established the Lewa Children’s Home for orphans taking in more than 100 orphaned children, the KipKeino Primary School, and the KipKeino Secondary School.
Favourite quote by Kipchoge Keino: “….But there is no secret, for any country. And I would say that about any country in the world. There is no secret – only hard work”…
Pamela Jelimo – (Born 5th December 1989)
Pamela Jelimo is a household name not just in Kenya, but internationally. At only 18 years, Jelimo broke the 800m world record and became the first Kenyan woman to win an Olympic gold in Beijing.
Jelimo was also the first Kenyan to win the Golden League Jackpot worth one million US dollars.
She also holds both the 800m world junior record and the senior African record over the same distance.
She was awarded the IAAF Revelation of the Year Award and the 2008 Kenyan Sportswoman of the Year Award.
Jelimo has a street named in her honour in Kapsabet town, the capital of Nandi County.
Favourite quote by Jelimo: “One of the things that unites Kenyans is athletics.”
Vivian Jepkemoi Cheruiyot – (Born 11th September 1983)
Vivian is the reigning Olympic 5000m champion. She also holds the Kenyan and Commonwealth records for the 5000m, and also for the 10,000m with her best time of 29:32:53 that she set at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
She is the 2012 Laureus Female Athlete of the Year.
Vivian also won the 2018 London Marathon in London with a time of 2:18:31.
She is remembered for her famous “killer kick” to the finish line, which always demolished her opponents. She has also been fondly referred to as “Pocket Rocket”.
Favourite quote by Vivian: “I remember when I was passing her. I had that energy. I said today I am going to be an Olympic Champion.”
Samuel Kamau Wanjiru (The late) – (Born 10th November 1986)
The late Samuel Wanjiru was the first Kenyan to win an Olympic Marathon gold at the 2008 Olympics games in Beijing, China. At only 18 years, Samuel also broke the world record in the half marathon. He also set the current 10,000m World Junior Record in 2005.
In 2008, the late Samuel became the youngest gold medalist in the Marathon since 1932. He would later win both the London Marathon and the Chicago Marathon in the following year, running the fastest marathons ever recorded in the UK and USA respectively.
Samuel Wanjiru died in 2011.
Favourite quote by Samuel: “I watched Bekele assisted by his brother Tariku and concluded they were good because they ran as a team and understood each other’s capabilities.”
Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei – (Born 13th December 1983)
Janeth is another 800m champion. She has been described as the most consistent 800m runner ever on grass. She made history as the first Kenyan woman to win the world 800m title at 2007 in Osaka, Japan.
She got her breakthrough in athletics in 2006 after winning the women’s 800m race at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, and African Championships later in the same year.
However, it was her win in 2007 at the World Championships that made history and really made her famous.
Janeth has fondly been nicknamed “Eldoret Express” (the public transport buses plying Western, Rift Valley, Nyanza routes) by Kenyans.
Janeth’s father Michael Busienei was an 800m runner, same as her younger brother Dennis Kiprotich.
Favourite quote by Janeth: “I always believe in experience.”
It would not be fair to leave you with only these 10 names, knowing that I have already sparked your interest this far. So I will give you two additional names, one of someone who is not a runner, and the other of a female I personally admire. Read on…
Julius Yego – Born 4th January 1989
Julius Yego competes in the javelin throw. He is “Mr. YouTube”, a nickname he was given by Kenyans because he learned how to throw the javelin by watching YouTube videos of other javelin athletes. He also made the sport popular in the country, inspiring others to follow in the same footsteps.
Mr. Yego is the African record and Commonwealth record holder for the event, with a personal best of 92.72m.
He also won the javelin title at the All-Africa Games in 2011 and at the African Championships in Athletics in 2012 and 2014.
In 2014, he became the first Kenyan to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal in a field event.
Yego, a policeman by profession, is regarded as one of the finest sportsmen in the country.
Yego has a wife and child.
Favourite quote by Yego: “I have passion for javelin throw, I think somewhere in my blood is written javelin.”
Catherine Nyambura Ndereba – (Born 21st July 1972)
Catherine Ndereba has been referred to as “Catherine the Great” by fellow athletes, and not for nothing. She is one of the best marathoners the world has ever seen, and she hails from my County – Nyeri County. Perhaps why I have a personal interest in her.
Catherine has twice won the marathon at the World Championships in Athletics and won silver medals at the Summer Olympic Games in 2004 and 2008.
She is also remembered for breaking the women’s marathon world record in 2001, running at 2:18:47 at the Chicago Marathon.
Catherine is also a four-time winner of the Boston Marathon.
In 2008, a Chicago Tribune sportswriter described her as the greatest women’s marathoner of all time.
She has a brother and sister who are also marathon runners
Catherine is married and has a daughter.
Favourite quote by Catherine: “…there are those who know more than we do…”
There you have it! The list of Kenyan stars who have shone and represented the country in numerous athletic competitions all over the world, our greatest Kenyan athletes of all time! As you look for thing to do in Nairobi, you might want to research more on these great men and women and come ready with questions!