•"Retirement policies should be put in place. Few people come to see you after you retire, but millions come to bury you."—Wakiihuri.
"I don't encourage the use of muscle stimulants in competition. Discipline is essential in any profession, and it is my personal responsibility as an athlete to train hard until I achieve my targets," _ Wakiihuri
The 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Kenya and Japan is being commemorated this year.
Amid the much-anticipated celebrations, an intriguing narrative centres on one man who appropriately captures the rich coexistence of the two nations.
Douglas Wakihuri, 60, is one of Japan's most beloved Kenyans, and there's a good reason for that.
He gained global fame after winning the marathon gold medal at the 1987 World Athletics Championships in Rome while wearing white gloves.
In fact, no other male Kenyan runner had ever won the marathon at the World Championships or Olympic Games until 2007, when Luke Kibet did.
Wakiihuri won the London Marathon in 1989 and the New York Marathon in 1990. He bagged a silver medal in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, finishing second to Gelindo Bordin.
He recalls with fondness his moments of glory in one of the most difficult races.
"My greatest athletic achievement to date has been winning three gold medals, one Olympic silver medal, and two big city marathon races," Wakiihuri said.
"I also coached former First Lady Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta and assisted her in running a marathon in 7 hours 28 minutes."
The towering sportsman is overjoyed to have received the Order of the Rising Sun Gold and Silver Rays.
“The Order of the Rising Sun is a Japanese order founded by Emperor Meiji in 1875. The Order was the first national decoration bestowed by the Japanese government, and it was established on April 10, 1875, by a Council of State decree."
The badge depicts sunlight rays from the rising sun. The Rising Sun design represents energy as powerful as the rising sun, in keeping with Japan's "rising sun" concept ("Land of the Rising Sun").
Wakiihiru recounts advantages he gained while running in the Asian country.
"As a Kenyan, I had a rare opportunity to learn Japanese, which helped me communicate better with my coaches, Kiyoshi Nakamura and Murao San, who were both great teachers," he said.
He stated that he had special friends in Japan who stood by him and made his life easier, and he specifically mentioned S&B Food Company.
"I am grateful to S&B Food Company and S&B running club members for believing in me to bring the Tasuki (relay ribbon) not only to Japan, but also to Kenya and Africa."
"The Orange Ribbon Tasuki Relay began in 2007 to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect prevention. It has since become one of the main activities of the Tokyo-Kanagawa Child Abuse and Prevention Campaign."
In light of the increasing number of Kenyan athletes being suspended for violating anti-doping laws, Wakiihuri has some important advice for aspiring athletes who want to achieve the same level of global recognition and success as he did without taking shortcuts.
"I don't encourage the use of muscle stimulants in competition. Discipline is essential in any profession, and it is my personal responsibility as an athlete to train hard until I achieve my targets," he says.
Wakiihuri showered flowery words on Kenya's marathon icon Eliud Kipchoge, saying he had set an unprecedented record in the race and made the country proud.
"Kipchoge has improved his times. Each athlete will be remembered for his or her patriotism toward his or her country and its people.
“Kipchoge was the first Kenyan to break the two-hour barrier in the marathon. His legacy will have an impact not only on the world, but on every athlete who aspires to run under two hours as a pioneer," Wakiihiru said.
When asked what he has been up to since he stopped competing in athletics and if he still actively participates in sports, Wakiihuri stated that he has not completely abandoned the game.
"I'm a very active person who trains every day and coaches recreational runners."
Aside from sports, the former world marathon champion is actively involved in environmental conservation campaigns.
"I am also a member of the Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary CFA, where we participate in forest conservation activities," he stated.
"I hope the young generation will not be asked to buy air in the near future. We are doing everything possible to keep our water clean and safe for human consumption. Unfortunately, our rivers and streams are not as clean as they once were. Even more troubling is the fact that air quality varies by location."
In his spare time, he composes a fusion of Japanese, English, and Kiswahili music and owns and operates a marathon fitness center and training school.
The marathon legend expressed satisfaction with Kenya's efforts to develop new athletes, but suggested that the country take additional steps to produce more elite athletes.
"I want to believe that it is the responsibility of sports federations to develop athletes for future events, just as I found my way to Japan and represented Kenya.
"The pathway for young athletes to the international top stage should be established very early in life."
Wakiihuri recommends that the government implement comprehensive measures to protect Kenyan athletes from financial hardships associated with retirement.
"Retirement policies should be put in place. Few people come to see you after you retire, but millions come to bury you."
"Our athletes deserve to be treated better after they announce their retirement. They are the reason for the existence of federation officials. National sporting events have been reduced to birthday parties because the situation is so depressing."
His potential as a world beater began to emerge during inter-school competitions.
"I attended CCM Township Primary School in Meru, where my running career began in 1969.
"I later transferred to Langata West Primary School before moving on to Ravals Secondary School, where I completed my Form Four exam in 1982," Wakiihuri explained.
"After finishing high school in 1983, I traveled to Japan with the late Sunichi Kobayashi."
Wakiihuri's running career began at Meru Prison, where he would join his classmates for a lunchtime run because, unlike other privileged children, they did not bring lunch to school.
After years of agonizing persistence and determination, his interest eventually paid off.
"Running was very much my game, and I was in the junior team, finishing third at Kamiti cross-country and sixth at Mosocho cross-country."
Wakiihuri has challenged Kenya to step up its game by constructing cutting-edge facilities that will propel athletes to victory.
"In terms of facilities, Japan and Kenya have no comparison. Our shortcomings are unacceptable, having worked with World Athletics in the under-18 and under-20 age groups. To meet modern standards, what has been built must be demolished.
"We tend to mix football pitches with athletics and only one local facility can meet the international standards. In terms of sports science and equipment technology, Japan is far ahead of the rest of the world."
Wakiihuri says goodbye to aspiring athletes who look up to him as a role model.
"Your dream is valid only when you invest time patience discipline and hard work. Life is short, but a marathon is even shorter; to see the sunrise, you must wake up before it rises."