Bert Rosenthal (AP)
19 September 2000 - For years, Kenyan men have ruled the roads, winning races throughout the world, including the Boston Marathon the last 10 times.Kenyan women, meanwhile, have been discouraged from becoming runners, something Lornah Kiplagat wants to change.
To that end, Kiplagat, 26, has spent an estimated $200,000 of her own money to build a training camp just for Kenyan women. The camp opened in April and is home to 16 inexperienced runners between the ages of 18 and 22, and nine elite runners, including highly ranked Hellen Kimaiyo-Kipkoskei.
``When I talked about starting the camp, a lot of athletes told me I couldn't combine running at a high level and run the camp,'' Kiplagat said. ``Most of them were laughing, saying I would forget about my running.''
Just the exact opposite happened.
``The moment I started thinking about the camp, I started running PRs (personal records),'' she said.
Kiplagat's brainstorm was hatched last year, and the high-altitude camp in Iten took only about six months to construct.
Since the start of the year, she has won 11 of her 16 races, including her last eight, and set personal-bests of 39 minutes, 52 seconds, for 10 kilometres July 4 at the Peachtree race in Atlanta, and 1:06:56 for the half-marathon at The Hague, Netherlands, on March 25.
Her other key PRs are 15:17 for 5K on June 13, 1999, at Bern, Switzerland, and 2:25:29 for the marathon Oct. 17, 1999, at Amsterdam.
Kiplagat, who has set eight course records this year and is ranked the No. 1 women's road racer in the world, will try to continue her winning streak and lower her marathon best Sunday in the Chicago Marathon.
She ran Chicago once before, finishing 10th in 1997 while bothered by bronchitis.
``I have bad memories of Chicago,'' she said. ``I hope to do something good this time so I can forget about that race.''
Although she has been very successful, Kiplagat has not yet reached the status of Tegla Loroupe, the world best performance holder in the marathon and Kenya's most acclaimed women's athlete. She wants to make certain that Kenyan women have the same opportunities she and Loroupe have had so they can be competitive.
``The reason for starting the camp was because girls have had difficulty breaking through,'' Kiplagat said. ``They have to do jobs at home. The men have many more opportunities. They don't have to cook or do all those other things. It's very tough for a woman to have a successful career.
``I struggled when I was young and that's why I wanted to support them.''
Kiplagat doesn't like to discuss the amount of money she has invested.
``People would think I'm crazy, but I like to do it for the goodness of the women,'' she said. ``Let's just say it's been a big investment.''
The results have been encouraging.
One woman, Christine Chepkonga, 20, already has run four races in Europe and won them all. In one race, at Duesseldorf, Germany, she broke Kiplagat's 10K course record by five seconds with a time of 32:35. Two weeks later, Chepkonga ran 32:20.
``It took me four years to run such a time,'' Kiplagat said.
Another woman, Jane Chepkogei, who is competing in this week's World Junior Championships at Santiago, Chile, ran 8:45 for 3000 metres at the Kenyan trials, the best time in the country this year.
Kiplagat, who lives in Alkmaar, The Netherlands, about a 20-minute drive north of Amsterdam, with her agent, manager and husband Pieter Langerhorst, makes many visits to the 40-bed camp, which is run by her older sister, Monica.
``All rooms are equipped with telephones, showers, toilets and electricity, which is very rare in Kenya,'' Kiplagat said.
She eventually plans to add computers, another rarity in the country.
``If they're not successful at running, they'll learn something extra,'' Kiplagat said.