Kipchoge, Kipyegon, Cheptegei, Cherono: who are these olympic Kenyan athletes and what do they have in common?

This morning I woke up at 6 am with the only, urgent thought of checking who won the male Marathon at Tokyo 2020. Everyone here expected it to be Kipchoge. the marathon monster. The man who beat the record of the 2 hours for a marathon. The strongest runner of all times.

Also this time, Kipchoge didn't disappoint Kenyans. All Eldoret is full of joy and enthusiasm. Everyone loves Kipchoge as the icon of perseverance, humility, and courage. Unfortunately, Lawrence Cherono followed in the 4th position, after leading the chasing group 1 for the last 10 km.

Also the female marathon has been won by two kenyan ladies: Peres Jepchirchir and Brigid Kosgei.

Some days ago, Faith Kipyegon won the second olympic gold of her carrier in the 1500 m.

For our eyes of "Mzungu", it is little surprise that Kenyans win most of the running competitions, isn't it? 

But being in Kenya taught me a lot about who these athletes really are. Before being Kenyans, all these athletes are KALENJIIN. 

The kalenjiin are one of the 42 tribes of Kenya, which I described here. They are the third largest ethnic group in Kenya and they are mainly located in the Rift valley, which is the geographical region where Eldoret is, and where I am located.

Kalenjiin are one of the nilotic group, they are known to be very tall, and very dark. Kalenjiin love milk, that they ferment into a delicious beverage called mursik. 

In kalenjiin dialect, KIP is the prefix for the boys, CHEP the prefix for the girls. As so, in these months I have often been called "ChepSerena".

In the years, the KIP/CHEP prefixes started being used as family names (the equivalent of our surnames) - this is why there are women like Faith Kipyegon whose surname starts with Kip despite she is a woman - and men like Cherono whose surname starts with Che even if he is a man. If you dig further, though, you will discover that the rule is mostly respected: everyone has a Kalenjiin name, so Faith Kipyegon has a second name: Chepngetich. Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon.

But what we really want to know is: why all the Kenyan Champions are Kalenjiin? why not from the other tribes?

As said before, Kalenjiin are mainly located in the Rift Valley, which is a geographical depression with lots of altiplans at an high altitude. The region where Eldoret is is pretty high - over 2000 m above sea level. In the neighbouring areas there are peaks of 2400 or 2500m, like the famous city of Iten. 

As so, along the decades lots of High Altitude Training Centers started sprouting, calling lots of atlethes from all over the world to train in these favourable geographical conditions: not only the altitude is high and thus causes production of more red blood cells, but also the weather is cool and fresh thsu perfect for training - nothing close to the stereotypical idea of Africa heat.

With time Eldoret got the name of "city of Champions", and Iten the "home of champions": international coaches and sponsors started coming here in search of talented local runners to train. 

This is how they discovered that Kalenjiin were actually very talented people, naturally exposed to high altitude, to hard work and tough lifestyle.

Now Eldoret is partying, once more. The fortress of the Kalenjiin is going crazy - and I with them, in the hope to meet Kipchoge soon - mostly because I discover him to be my neighbour. Should I invite him over for some coffee macchiato with Mursik?


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