For decades, Kenya has been known to produce the best of athletes who have put the country on the global map especially in long distance races.
Many of these athletes hail from the Rift Valley region and take advantage of the high altitude training centres which boosts aerobic capacity and lactic acid tolerance.
However, Kenya has been losing some of her athletes to foreign nations thanks to mouth-watering money deals that are simply irresistible. For other athletes however, the cutthroat competition in the East African nation was enough reason to change their allegiance. This ensured that they made appearances in otherwise elusive international ambitions.
In 2021, Joan Chelimo, Stella Ruto and Delvine Meringor acquired Romanian citizenship in what was reported to be a way of beating the tough competition of flying the Kenyan flag.
In 2022, Stephen Cherono, an athlete who bagged medals in the 3000m steeplechase changed his nationality to Qatar after being offered a lucrative deal.
This came just after he had won in the 2002 Commonwealth Games. He would later change his name to Saif Saeed Shaheen and is the world’s record holder for the water and barrier race.
It is still in clear whether the change in nationality brought good tidings to Shaheen’s life with the deal remaining undisclosed. What is in the public domain is that Shaheen has battled various lawsuits including child upkeep and a USD220,000 debt he allegedly owed a pacesetter.
On the flip side, some Kenyan athletes’ patriotism saw them decline lucrative deals to still represent their motherland.
The decorated retired athlete was known for his brilliance in the 3000m steeplechase. Kemboi is a four time world and double olympic champion whose prowess saw the sweet tunes of the Kenyan anthem played on the global stage.
However, all this would have changed had Kemboi accepted deals that came in during his maiden days of the career. Without mentioning particular countries, Kemboi says he received lucrative deals from Asian and European nations between 2002 and 2003.
“There were several approaches by individuals representing the interests of Asian and Western countries who made several visits to the country and wanted to offer huge money to athletes including myself to represent their nations,” he told a local news outlet.
In his own words, Kemboi would have landed a monetary fortune had he accepted the deals. However, his conscience was clear on why he wanted to represent Kenya.
“There is something called patriotism. After being approached, several Kenyan athletes went to Bahrain and Qatar, but I decided to remain in Kenya and continue representing my country,” he says.
Tanui’s name is in the history books as the first individual to run the half marathon in less than an hour. Currently, he is a City Marathon race director in Kenya and is a two time Boston Marathon winner.
According to him, he was previously offered a big money bargain in order to switch allegiance to Italy. But he declined because it would portray him as a man who betrayed his country.
“I had been offered Italian residency but I declined because during my days, patriotism was key. The rewards by the foreign country were huge, but running for your country comes with a sense of pride.”
Julius Yego is a self made Javelin star who defied all odds and became a force to reckon with in the discipline. According to various reports, Qatar was poised to lure Yego with a cool USD10 million reward just after he won gold in Beijing World Championships.
But Yego stood firm and set records straight even before a formal deal was tabled. He said not even the lucrative offer could make him change his nationality.
“Even if they had formalised the offer, I would not have represented another country in any event because I am a police officer who loves his country and would do everything to lift its flag high,” he says.