It’s a measure of just how many Kenyans are training away by themselves in solitary hope of an opportunity for glory, and how difficult it is to keep track of them, that when Paul Lekuraa won the Alpha Bank Athens Classic Marathon on Sunday morning (9), there was much confusion about his provenance.
There are three Kenyans with a similar name on various record lists, but Lekuraa himself was adamant. He was/is 35, not 25, and no, he hadn’t run 2:11:00 in Venice two years ago, he’s never been to Italy, but yes, he had run just one marathon before, but it was in France, and it was 2:18 or so, “I was just jogging,” he explained. Finally, after 24 hours, the mystery was cleared up.
Lekuraa provided the clue. “I lived in France for a time, in Caen,” he told us on Sunday evening, massaging his haunches. “My hips are stiff, that’s the only problem I have”. A quick trawl of the records revealed a misspelled Lekuraa had run a 13:49.60 5000m in Quimper, Brittany in 1997, and on subsequent visits to north western France, had run 62:42 and 63:09 for the half marathon. And, finally, the concluding proof, 2:18:59 for eighth place in the Marathon de Reims, on 17 October 2004. “That’s me,” said the man in question.
According to Lekura himself, he had problems with two managers, in France and Germany. “They took money from me” he reports. And indeed, several ‘managers’ in Europe have been fined, and even imprisoned for housing groups of African athletes in squalid conditions, and taking the proceeds of their heavy racing programme.
Lekuraa isn’t saying things were that bad for him, but bad enough to send him back home discouraged. “But,” he says, “I know they say the Masai normally don’t run, or don’t want to run. But I want to run. I want to provide for my children”. He and his wife, Rose have four children, aged from 12 to four.
By this time, Lekuraa, who is a Samburu, a sub-division of the Masai, had moved to Nairobi, and four months ago, he came to the attention of former World record holder, Paul Tergat. The five-time World cross country champ took Lekuraa into his camp in the Ngong Hills, a few kilometres outside Nairobi, and the location incidentally of Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa writings.
Lekuraa is complimentary to his mentor, to a fault. “Paul Tergat is a very kind man, a patient man, he cares for his athletes. He doesn’t care what tribe you come from. He’s trained me, and he’s always straight.”
It was Tergat who contacted Zane Branson, the European/African agent for Posso International, in order to get Lekuraa into a race. Branson fixed up Athens, and sent his assistant, Marko Vasic to take care of Lekuraa. Vasic was horrified to see that Lekuraa was planning to run the Athens race in five-year-old shoes that were split at the sides. Vasic took a 140 euro ($180) cab ride to collect new shoes for Lekuraa. “Imagine,” said Branson on Monday, just before meeting up with Lekuraa in Zürich, to head for Nairobi, “Imagine that sprint finish that won him the race. With his feet bursting out of his shoes, he wouldn’t have had a chance.”
Now, Lekuraa is determined to take his own chances. “Before, I was not so serious,” he says. “But my career is almost over. So I have to make my time, and make my name.”
Well, inscribing his name on the trophy for the Athens Classic Marathon, run from Marathon to Athens, on the course which gave the race its name, is a good way to start that process.
Pat Butcher for the IAAF