CRY MY BELOVED COUNTRY

Concern as more Kenyan athletes switch allegiance

The script reads the same at the Oregon22 championships in Eugene where a star-studded list of Kenyans have turned their guns on their motherland.

In Summary

•The 2016 African Athletics Championships gold medalist Norah Jeruto Tanui leads a stellar list of Kenyans who have sold their birth rights in search of fame and money.

•The reasons behind the departure of Kenyan athletes to other countries vary but that's a story for another day.

Lately, Kenyan athletes have been denied the traditional glory they enjoyed on the global stage by their compatriots who shifted allegiance to other countries.

The reasons behind the departure of Kenyan athletes to other countries vary. Kenya has been a hunting ground for countries keen on tapping into its rich talent. 

A burning desire for wealth, and individual and national honours, undoubtedly, also serve as incentives for the athletes and the countries that scout them. Over the years, several Kenyan athletes have shifted allegiance to rival countries in major global shows. 

The script reads the same at the 2022 Oregon Championships in Eugene, where a star-studded list of Kenyans have turned their guns on their motherland. 

Norah Jeruto in a past race
ATHLETICS Norah Jeruto in a past race
Image: REUTERS
Norah Jeruto at a past event
Norah Jeruto at a past event
Image: FILE

The 2016 African Athletics Championships gold medalist Norah Jeruto Tanui leads a stellar list of Kenyans who have transferred their allegiance in search of fame and money.

Jeruto, 27, switched her nationality to Kazakhstan and is currently attached to the Altay Athletics club (professional track and field club) in Kazakhstan.

She kicked off her international debut at the 2011 African Cross Country Championships, securing a sixth-place finish in the junior race to complete a top-six Kenyan sweep. Aged only 15, she set a 3000 metres steeplechase best of 9:45.1.

Jeruto made her senior international debut at the 2016 African Championships, where she recorded a personal best run of 9:25.07 in the steeplechase to clinch gold.

On May 28, at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon (third stop of the Diamond League), she ran the third fastest time ever by a woman in the 3000m steeplechase (8.57.98), setting a 2022 world lead.

Daisy Jepkemei

Daisy Jepkemei crosses the finish line in a past event
Daisy Jepkemei crosses the finish line in a past event
Image: FILE

Born on February 13, 1996, Jepkemei also shifted her allegiance to Kazakhstan on January 29, 2022.

Aged 16, she clinched the 3000m at the 2012 World Junior Athletics Championships and the 2013 African Youth Athletics Championships in Kenyan colours.

Her personal best of 9:06.66, set in 2019 at the Weltklasse Zürich meet ranks her in the top 50 athletes of all time.

Winfred Mutile Yavi

Yavi, 23, is a Kenyan-born Bahraini female athlete who specializes in the 3000 metres steeplechase.

Yavi transferred her allegiance to the oil-rich Middle Eastern state at the age of 15 and began flying the country's flag in August 2016.

She represented Bahrain at the 2017 World Championships in London aged 17, where she wrapped up eighth in the steeplechase final, recording a personal best time of 9:22.67.

Eunice Chebichii Chumba

Like Yavi, Chumba, 29, abandoned her Kenyan citizenship for Bahrain after flying the country's flag at several international events.

Chumba is currently ranked the 13th all-time best runner in half marathon history after recording a time of 1:06:11 during the Copenhagen Half Marathon on September 17, 2017.

Lonah Chemtai Salpeter

Born December 12, 1988, Salpeter is a Kenyan-Israeli runner. She competed in the marathon for Israel at the 2016 Summer Olympics and won the 10,000 metres at the 2018 European Athletics Championship.

She boasts a personal best time of 2:17:45 attained in 2020 —making her the sixth fastest woman in marathon history. She also featured for Israel at the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Isaac Kimeli

Kimeli, 28, traces his roots in Uasin Gishu County, Kenya. He will be flying the Belgium flag in the 800m race at Oregon22.

Kimeli rose to stardom after bagging silver in cross country at the 2018 European Championships. He also romped to victory in the 3,000m at the 2019 European Team Championships in Sandnes. During the 2019 Memorial Van Damme, he won the 5,000m with a personal best of 13:13.02.

Hillary Bor

USA's Hillary Bor (C) competes Canada's Matthew Hughes (L) and Kenya's Ezekiel Kemboi in the men's 3000m steeplechase in 2016 Rio Olympics /REUTERS
USA's Hillary Bor (C) competes Canada's Matthew Hughes (L) and Kenya's Ezekiel Kemboi in the men's 3000m steeplechase in 2016 Rio Olympics /REUTERS

Bor, 33, is a Kenyan-born American track and field athlete. He wrapped up in second place at the 2016 United States Olympic Trials to secure a berth in the 3,000m steeplechase.

An alumnus of Arnesens High School in Eldoret, Bor ran 9:15 in the steeplechase and was district champion in the long jump and pole vault. He also ran 3:55 in 1500 meters in high school.

In 2007, he won a scholarship to Iowa State University, where he placed fourth in the steeplechase at the 2008 NCAA Championships in 8:36.8. 

His older brothers Emmanuel and Julius Bor also ran for an American college, the University of Alabama. The brothers found a path to citizenship in the country of their education by joining the United States Army.

Bernard Keter

Keter came to America on a scholarship and won numerous honours during his college days as a distance runner for Cloud County Community College, Wayland Baptist University and Texas Tech University. Keter is the United States Army Reserve.

He ran an 8:21.81 in the steeplechase at the American Olympic trials at Hayward Field, Eugene, Oregon on June 25, 2021, coming in second to Hillary Bor. 

Benson Kiplagat Seurei

Kiplagat, 38, is the son of 1987 All Africa Games 1,500m champion James Seurei who competes in 1,500m for Bahrain.

He represented his country in the 1500 metres at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing but didn't make it past the first round.

In 2019, he competed in the men's marathon at the 2019 World Athletics Championships held in Doha, Qatar where he failed to complete his race.

Mike Ozbilen Kigen

Kigen, 36, represented Turkey in the marathon on Sunday.

Born in Keiyo District on January 15, 1986, Kigen graduated in 2005 from the Simotwo High School in Ainabkoi, Keiyo South District where he represented the school in various competitions.

He specializes in the 5000 metres and 10,000 metres and won silver medals in both events at the African Championships in Athletics in 2006 representing Kenya.

In October 2015, he changed his name to Kaan Kigen Özbilen and has since then competed for Turkey.

He set a personal best of 12:58.58 in the 5000 metres at the Bislett Games in Oslo and became the national champion over the distance.

He ran at the Grand 10 Berlin in October and took second place in a largely Kenyan affair, finishing with a new personal best of 27:25 for the 10K distance.

Kigen made his debut in the marathon in January 2013, coming eighth at the Dubai Marathon with a time of 2:08:24 hours.

Abraham Rotich (800m)

Rotich, 29, is a Kenyan-born Bahraini middle-distance runner. Rotich won the 800 metres at the 2012 Diamond League meeting in Monaco.

He kicked off his 2012 season at the Ostrava Golden Spike meeting on May 25 with a third-place finish in the 800 metres in 1:45.52.

Rotich made his Diamond League debut on July 20 at Monaco and won the race in a new personal best of 1:43.13. In his last race in 2012, he beat Olympic bronze medallist Timothy Kitum over 1000 metres at Dubnica nad Váhom, Slovakia.

Albert Rop (5,000m)

Rop, 30, currently represents Bahrain in international competitions. In July 2013 at a meeting in Monaco, he set a new 5000m Asian record of 12:51.96.

Rose Chelimo

Rose Chelimo during a past action /COURTESY
Rose Chelimo during a past action /COURTESY
Image: FILE

The 2017 IAAF world champion and represented Bahrain at the 2016 Summer Olympics, placing eighth in the women's marathon.

In 2014, she recorded a string of victories, including the Alsterlauf, Bredase Singelloop (in a best of 68:40 minutes) and the Paris 20km.

She continued this into 2015 by winning the Adana Half Marathon, San Blas Half.  After a win at the České Budějovice Half Marathon, she gained Bahraini citizenship and began competing for that country.

Isaac Korir

Korir, 32, is a Kenyan-born Bahraini long-distance runner. Korir's first major athletics competition was the 2013 Arab Athletics Championships. 

At the World Half Marathon Championships, Korir performed the best on the Bahraini team coming 23 in a personal best time of 1:01:40.

Korir competed in the 2015 IAAF World Cross Country Championships where he fired the Bahraini team to a third-place finish in the senior men's race standings.

Abraham Cheroben

Born on October 11, 1992, Cheboren is a Kenyan-born Bahraini long-distance runner who won the Valencia Half Marathon in 2014 and 2015.

He finished tenth in the 10,000 m event at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

In 2017 he won the Copenhagen Half in the 4th ever best time for a half marathon: 58.40 min

Shadrack Kipchirchir

Kipchirchir, 33, is a Kenyan-born American distance track and field Olympian specializing in the 10,000 m.

Following in his brothers' footsteps, Kipchirchir enlisted in the U.S. Army in October 2014 and joined the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program after his enlistment.

He is a silver medalist at the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 10,000 meters and placed second in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials - Track & Field 10,000 m.

He ran 27:58.32 and finished 19th in the 2016 Summer Olympics and 8th in 3000 meters at the 2018 World Championships.

Paul Kipkemoi Chelimo

Paul Chelimo in action with Djibouti Hiss Bachir in the men's 1500m during the Kip Keino Classic at Moi Stadium, Kasarani
Paul Chelimo in action with Djibouti Hiss Bachir in the men's 1500m during the Kip Keino Classic at Moi Stadium, Kasarani
Image: ERICK BARASA

Chelimo, 33, is an American track and field athlete. He is the 2016 Olympic silver medalist and the 2020 Olympic bronze medalist in the 5000 meters.

Chelimo initially went to the US in 2011 to run for Shorter College where he won the 3000 meters in his debut appearance for the institution.

Chelimo found his path to citizenship by joining the United States Army as a water treatment specialist, then entering their World Class Athletic Program in 2014. He qualified for the World Championships by taking second place at the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships on the same track a week earlier, setting a personal record of 7:39.00. 

Leonard Essau Korir

Born on December 10, 1986, Korir is a Kenyan-born American long-distance runner who competes over distances from 5000 meters to the marathon.

He was twice NCAA champion, winning an indoor 5000m title and outdoor 10,000 metres title in 2011 for the Iona Gaels. He gained United States citizenship and began competing for his adoptive nation in 2016.

Korir attended Tambach Teachers Training College and it was only there, at the age of 20, that his skill for running was identified. He won the Bix 7 Road Race that same year but was down the order at the Delhi Half Marathon in ninth.

In 2015 a win at the New York Half Marathon in 61:06 minutes established him among the best on the American circuit, as he edged training partner Stephen Sambu by one second.

In September 2015, Korir joined the U.S. Army as a driver. He gained eligibility to represent the United States in May 2016.

İlham Tanui Özbilen

Born on March 5, 1990, in Kocholwo, Kenya, William Biwott Tanui is a middle distance runner now representing Turkey. The 1.77 m (5.8 ft) tall athlete weighs 60 kg (130 lb). He is coached by Kenyan Patrick Sang.

Özbilen, then competing as William Biwott Tanui, won the 1,500 metres at the 2009 World Athletics Final in Thessaloniki, Greece. He holds the current world junior record in the mile run with his clocking of 3:49.29 minutes, achieved in Oslo on 3 July 2009.

Bernard Kipchirchir Lagat

Bernard Lagat during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials
Bernard Lagat Bernard Lagat during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials
Image: FILE

Born on December 12, 1974, Lagat is a Kenyan-American middle and long-distance runner. Lagat was born in Kapsabet, Kenya. Prior to his change of domicile to the US, Lagat had an extensive competitive career representing his native country.

He is the American record holder in the 1500 m and mile run indoors, as well as the 1500 m, 3000 m, and 5000 m outdoors, and is the Kenyan record holder at 1500 m outdoors. Lagat is the second fastest 1500 m runner of all time, behind Hicham El Guerrouj.

Lagat is a five-time Olympian, having competed in the 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016 games, and is a thirteen-time medalist in World Championships and Olympics including five gold medals. At the age of 41, he finished 5th in the finals of the 5000 m at the Rio Olympics.

Evans Kiplagat Barkowet

Barkowet, 34, is a Kenyan long-distance runner who competes for Azerbaijan since June 2016 when he gained citizenship.

He emerged in national events in 2008 before competing abroad in road running events, with a third-place finish at the 2009 Lille Half Marathon in 59:56 establishing him as an elite-level runner.

He made his marathon debut at the Amsterdam Marathon in 2009, finishing the distance in 2:10:46 hours. In 2019, he competed in the men's marathon at the 2019 World Athletics Championships held in Doha, Qatar. He did not finish his race.

Meryem Akda

Born Mirriam Jepchirchir Maiyo on August 5, 1992, Akda now turns out for Turkey in the 3000 m steeplechase and 5000 m events.

She competed for Kenya until May 21, 2015. On March 13, 2016, she became officially eligible to represent Turkey at international competitions. Akda earned a quota spot for the women's 5000 m and another one for the Women's 3000 m steeplechase event in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Tarık Langat Akdağ

Born on June 16, 1988, in Nandi, Kenya, Akdağ competes in the 3000 m and 5000 m events. He qualified to participate in the 3000 m steeplechase event at the 2012 Summer Olympics, finishing in 9th.

He became the gold medalist in the 3000 m steeplechase event at the 2013 Islamic Solidarity Games held in Palembang, Indonesia.

In 2017, he competed in the men's 3000 metres steeplechase at the 2017 World Athletics Championships held in London, United Kingdom.

Yasemin Can

Born Vivian Jemutai on December 11, 1996, Can is a European champion Kenyan female long-distance runner representing Turkey competing in the 5,000 m and 10,000 m events.

 On March 13, 2016, she became officially eligible to represent Turkey at international competitions. Can won the gold medal in the women's 10,000 m event at the 2016 European Athletics Championships held in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

At the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, she was a finalist in the fastest 10000m race in history. She placed seventh with a personal best time of 30:26:41.

On March 5, 2017, Can won a silver medal in the 3000m at the 2017 European Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade behind Laura Muir.

Can won the gold medal in the women's 10,000 m event at the 2017 European Athletics U23 Championships held in Bydgoszcz, Poland. 

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star