Kenyan record-winning distance runners trained by Irish missionary
August 11, 2012 6:57 AM Subscribe
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Team Ireland is celebrating its first gold medal at London 2012, thanks to boxer Katie Taylor, but the Irish also had an unlikely part to play in another, very special Olympic victory on Thursday.
Kenyan middle-distance runner David Rudisha
joins notable alumni
from Saint Patrick's High School
, a 500-student boy's school started by Irish missionaries in 1963, in Iten
, a town in Kenya. Brother Colm O'Connell, though no longer teaching at the school, is still a highly regarded coach in one of the world’s great running capitals
. The school plants a tree in honor of record-making alumni
, though some of the more recent alumni are getting shrubs, to save space.
Brother O'Connell joined the school on a three-year contract, but ended up teaching for over 30 years. When he started at the school, he knew nothing of running, but he took over the young athletics program from Peter Foster
, brother of British athlete turned BBC commentator, Brendan Foster
. O'Connell studied under Foster for a year, and took over without much formal trainings.
“Most of my coaching I learned from the athletes – watching them training, talking to them, seeing what worked – very basic training methods. I also read a few books about coaching and talked to a few fellow coaches who I met at competitions. That was my only experience. It wasn’t until about five years later and I began to learn more technically about the sport.”
From O'Connell's years of leadership, numerous high-altitude training centers have opened up in the area, including a center for women runners
, started by Kenyan-born Dutch runner, Lornah Kiplagat
. These high-altitude centers are not only pulling together Kenyans, but runners from around the world.
Kiplagat also represented Kalenjin people
, the called by some "the running tribe" as the majority of 800 meters to marathon-distance runners from Kenya have been Kalenjin. While Rudisha represented Kenya, he also represented the second Olympian from the Maasai people
, following his father, Daniel Rudisha