Kenyan record-winning distance runners trained by Irish missionary
August 11, 2012 6:57 AM   Subscribe

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.
posted by filthy light thief (7 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
"The school plants a tree in honor of record-making alumni, though some of the more recent alumni are getting shrubs, to save space."

That is one of the best underhanded brags I've ever seen.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:08 AM on August 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

My twitter feed has been going insane about #TeamKenya and of course @RudishaDavid
posted by infini at 7:17 AM on August 11, 2012

That is one of the best underhanded brags I've ever seen.

The ritual [of planting trees] was modified some years ago when the groundsman complained that the school were being turned into a forest, and now the achievements of its world-beating alumni are marked by rather more modest shrubs.

Considering the list of names of Olympians and that there are marathon runners and other distance runners not included on that list, there are a lot of memorial trees on the grounds. I couldn't find a better picture of the grounds at large, as I'd like to see the forest of placards.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:02 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

From the 70s through the 90s a lot of top Irish runners attended US universities on running scholarships, people like Eamon Coughlan, Sonia O'Sullivan and John Treacy. Running was a hugely popular sport in Ireland with pretty much all kids belonging to local running clubs from an early age and participating in Community Games. I know a lot of people who went on to run professionally for a short period, although none who became a super star. Sport, especially running because it was cheap, was definitely seen as a reasonable way to pay for a college education for people who might have had a hard time paying for it otherwise. Kind of an interestingly karmic story this.
posted by fshgrl at 7:14 PM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

There was a good programme on the bbc about Brother Colm and the school, sadly not available on iPlayer anymore.
posted by pixie at 1:50 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ugandan marathon winner Stephen Kiprotich was trained in the Kenyan running system

Its only a snippet since there is a paywall but love the headline and the irony.
posted by infini at 8:05 AM on August 12, 2012

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