(L-R) Dominic Kirui, William Sigei and Ismael Kirui stand on the winners' podium after the Senior Mens race 1993 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Amorebieta, Spain. (Getty Images) © Copyright
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A Kenyan XC legend - William Sigei

At the Kenyan track trials for 1992 Barcelona Olympics, a young athlete running barefoot stunned the crowd at the Nyayo National Stadium.

In the 5000m, this "unknown" athlete stuck with John Ngugi, then reigning Olympic champion, throughout the race. Even as Ngugi prepared to take off, the youngster was with him. And at the end, William Sigei won the race. Ngugi’s explanation, that he thought he had lapped the boy, would not wash. A new Kenyan champion was hailed.

William Cheruiyot Sigei

Born: October 11, 1969, Chebeing'o Village, Kapsimotwo, Bomet

So the scene moves to Amorebieta for the 1993 IAAF World Cross Country, and Sigei, who had finished eighth in Boston the previous year, used the same tactic.

Dominic Kirui and Ismael Kirui had set a blistering pace until the 10th kilometre, at which point Sigei caught up with them and cruised to victory. At 23, Sigei looked like a purpose-made successor to Ngugi.

Kenyans filled the first five places on the fast Portuguese parkland course that day, while another emerging talent, Paul Tergat, was 10th.

A year later, in freezing conditions by the River Danube in Budapest, and Sigei retained his title. This time, Wilson Omwoyo, Tergat and James Songok had gone ahead, as Sigei remained behind, with Haile Gebrselassie and Khalid Skah. It was Sigei who came through in the latter stages again to win from Simon Chemoiywo, with the then 20-year-old Gebrselassie third.

Sigei was supreme that year. The following July, in Oslo, he remorselessly lapped the famous Bislett track to add to its impressive collection of World records, covering 10,000 metres in 26:52.23.

But that high-water mark of Sigei's career also marked effectively the end of his great performances. By 1996, a modest 13:31 5000m was his one noteworthy performance, a place in Kenya's teams for that year's World Cross or Olympics beyond this one-time world-beater.

Sigei recalls fondly, but not always totally reliably, his days globe-trotting days as a world-class athlete, hopping from one plane to another. He also recalls Mike Kosgei as a very good coach.

Sigei cannot remember many events that characterised his short, but sensational athletics career, which had at least allowed him the opportunity to win some money which he invested in a commercial building, which he built in Bomet, his hometown in the lower Rift Valley, and which he called, suitably, Oslo.

Anybody looking for him in Bomet or his village in Kapsimotwo, only need ask for "Oslo" and one is led to him.

Sigei’s post-athletics career has fallen prey to overindulgences, which makes an appointment for a serious discussion with him very tricky.

Sigei's is married to Janet and they have three children, 11-year-old twins, Duncan Kipkirui and Gideon Kiprotich, and four-year-old Alfadiers Chepkorir. Janet is a born-again African Gospel Church preacher and the pillar of the family’s survival. She takes care of the family, runs the clothing shop in the Oslo Building and other businesses.

On top of the building is inscribed “El Bethel, Haggai 2: 8-9” meaning House of God. The verse says "All gold and silver belongs to God". Sigei advises the youth that strength and success comes from God. “If they believe in God, they will succeed."

Sigei's family also owns another building in Bomet, which is rented out to a church and a political party, plus a huge building in the outskirts of town, rented to a secondary school, as well as 20 acres of land on which they rear livestock and grow tea.

Omulo Okoth for the IAAF