Kenyan champs - Jackline Maranga (749) leads Naomi Mugo and Caroline (Omulo Okoth) © Copyright
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A Kenyan XC legend - Jackline Maranga

Jackline Maranga is unusual among the great Kenyan runners because she is one of only a few successful athletes from outside the Kalenjin ethnic groups who have dominated Kenyan running since pre-independence era.

Jackline Bonareri Maranga

Born: December 16, 1977, Nyanturago, Kisii

Maranga is a Kisii, from the western part of Kenya. Kisii, like Kalenjin, is a hilly area. Densely populated, the region's principle crops are tea and maize, just like the Kipsigis and Nandi sections of Kalenjin.

Maranga attended Nyameosocho primary school before proceeding to Kiomiti secondary. There, she met Philip Mosima, who later won a World junior cross country title, and Thomas Osano, another distance runner who excelled.

Maranga made her international athletics debut was 1992 in Seoul, while she was still at primary school, in fact in standard six. But despite being only 14 and with no international experience, at the IAAF World Junior Championships she won the silver medal at 1500m.

Having started so young, she would have two more outings at the World Juniors, though at both she would again win silver medals, in 1994 behind Kutre Dulecha of Ethiopia.

Maranga made her IAAF World Cross Country debut in 1998 at Marrakech, Morocco, where she was fifth in the 4km race. The following year, in the mud of Belfast, she won with some ease.

For Maranga, this was a spell of regular victories on the track and across country: she took the 1500m title at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, and while in 2002 at the Manchester Games she was out of the medals in fourth, she nonetheless proceeded to win in the African Championships in Tunis. As a result, she was selected in the African team for the World Cup in Madrid, where she won a silver.

Maranga had married another athlete, Thomas Nyariki, in 1997 and they have two daughters, Sheila Mokeira (born in 2000) and Eugenia Nyanjama (born in 2005). Nyariki is a quality distance runner himself, having won two bronze medals in 1997, at the IAAF World Cross Country and at 5000m on the track at the IAAF World Championships that summer, and then coming second over 5000 at the 1998 Commonwealth Games.

But times have been hard on Maranga and her husband, who have twice been victims of violent armed robberies. The first hold-up came in 1998, just days before they were due to travel to Malaysia for the Commonwealth Games.

Jackline was getting into her 4-wheel-drive car after a church service when she was ordered to hand over the car keys at the end of the barrel of a gun.

Then, in 2000, husband Thomas's hopes of making the Kenyan Olympic team were blighted by a broken leg.

Worse was to come, with another carjacking incident in 2003, as robbers used their car as a getaway vehicle. This time, Nyariki was shot, and although he narrowly survived death, he lost the sight in one eye as a result of his wounds. It took Nyariki nearly a year to come to terms with his injury, "It changes your life you know," he says. "You need to learn to balance, you need to change your position of running. I can only see what’s on one side.”

"Actually, it then took me almost a year to adjust and then I started training."

Nyariki now regularly performs, with some success, on the American road racing circuit, and last November he placed 13th in the New York City Marathon, running 2:15:58.

Given those sort of adversities for her family, it is perhaps unsurprising that Maranga takes a strict view to the approach of younger Kenyan runners. Discipline among women is not up to the required standards, she says. The high turnover of women athletes is because they end up in marriage with non-athletes.

“In most cases, those married to non-athletes find it hard to balance family obligations with the rigorous athletics demands," Maranga says. "They must lose one, and in most cases it is their athletics career.”

“Those of us who are married to athletes, who understand the demands of running, are the lucky ones,” she says.

She also thinks that athletes should train together as used to happen years ago. "This is why Ethiopians are beating us these days. Training in different camps has badly affected our performance,” she says.

Omulo Okoth for the IAAF