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Paul Tergat: A heros return home after his triumph at the real,- BERLIN MARATHON

Tergat was clothed in an animal skin by the tribe elder

2003-11-04

Paul Tergat was the five-time world champion in cross country, 2-time world champion in the half marathon, he won four silver medals at the world championships and Olympic Games, held the 10,000m world record between 1997 and 1998 and the world record in the half marathon since 1998, but only after his fabulous world record at the real,- BERLIN MARATHON did he become a national hero in Kenya.

Kenya’s newspapers hardly took notice of Tergat’s trip to Berlin. When the reports of his world record finally made the rounds, the joy and celebrations were then even more exuberant. And when the hero from Berlin arrived at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi that Wednesday morning, hundreds of people were there waiting for him. Relatives and neighbours travelled all night by bus to his birthplace, Riwo. The celebrations were unbelievable. It was the biggest reception for a Kenyan athlete since Kenya’s independence 40 years ago.

The Minister of Sport, Balala, led the congratulations in the overfilled VIP room and promised the new world record holder that “an important street” in Nairobi would soon be renamed “Paul Tergat Street“. In front of the airport, Tergat was decorated with the insignia of a “warrior“ by traditional dancers, and he received a calabash filled with Mursiik“ (sour milk) from his mother, as tradition demands. Then everyone moved into a nearby hall, where one speech followed the other—Kenyans like to talk! Sammy Korir and Titus Munji, who took second and third place in Berlin, were always at Tergat’s side. (“I have so much to thank these two for, they are part of the success.“)

That afternoon, the family gathered together at the Tergat house to watch the ARD marathon video. “What did they say now?“ Tergat constantly wanted to know. He watched the TV screen spellbound and then said: “I had everything under control the whole time—except for in front of the Brandenburg Gate.“ And then his tired eyes lit up: “Finally I did it!“ The next morning, his alarm clock ripped him out of his dreams at 6 a.m. Flight to Eldoret, convoy into the city, reception with the mayor, entry in the golden book. Afterwards they continued with about 40 vehicles down blocked off streets Sammy Korir’s town of birth. The dollar-millionaire Tergat received traditional gifts: a calabash in his hand and two or three wool blankets over his shoulders.

After these two exhausting days (Tergat: “It takes a lot to break a world record, but what came afterwards was ever harder.“), the new marathon hero took a week off before he started on the last rounds: a victory parade in an open land cruiser from his second residence Kabarak near Nakuruto to Riwo in the Baringo district, about 3 hours away. The celebration took place at the “Riwo Primary School“, where 20 years ago Paul Tergat himself sat on school bench. School children and groups of women sang and danced, there were many speeches, and then the highlight followed. Tergat was dressed in an animal skin by the tribe elder and was named “Tugen Elder“. That means that when there are problems in the future in the Tugen community, to which his birthplace Riwo belongs, the marathon king will be called for advice.

Jürg Wirz, Nairobi


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