KENYA: Big-hearted Farah turns provider to local rivals

New Eastleigh Primary School head teacher Abubaker Tiemeri displays one of the running jerseys
New Eastleigh Primary School head teacher Abubaker Tiemeri displays one of the running jerseys

Mohammed Shidiye can hardly be described as an athletics fan. No, you wouldn’t find him feverishly discussing Olympic medallist Thomas Longosiwa’s split times in the 5,000 metres during a national championship at the Nyayo National Stadium.

I even doubt he can come close to guessing who holds the world record in the men’s 10,000m, or even who won the gold medal in the men’s 1,500m at the London Olympics.

But next Sunday, the amiable Lagdera MP will most certainly be in front of a television screen closely following the London Marathon, not so much to see if the lead elite group runs inside world record pace, but to follow the exploits of Somali-born British runner Mohammed “Mo” Farah.

Olympic and World track champion Mo Farah is in the final stages of an intense, four-month training in the Elgeyo Marakwet County capital of Iten ahead of his debut at the London Marathon on April 13.

His will be the most the eagerly-awaited debut in the marathon as Great Britain look for their first winner of the country’s flagship race in two decades, the last triumph having come through Eammon Martin’s two hours, 10 minutes and 50 seconds’ run in 1993.

London Marathon race director Hugh Brasher has splashed out a tidy sum in “appearance fee” – the money traditionally offered to attract elite athletes to compete in a race – for Farah to show up in London.

Conservatively-speaking, Farah’s London Marathon appearance fee is said to be in the region of Sh10 million, although such figures are kept strictly confidential between athlete, his manager and the race director. But the more cash it is, the merrier for Shidiye, hence the Lagdera MP’s sudden interest in athletics.

Through his race earnings, Farah is currently involved in several development projects in Kenya as a way of giving back to a country that has hosted him and helped catapult him to fame, glory and money.

Through his Mo Farah Foundation, the Somali-born superstar is digging water wells and supplying sports equipment to marginalised communities especially in north eastern Kenya, his latest philanthropic gesture benefitting Shidiye’s Lagdera Constituency.

Ironically, there was disquiet when Farah first landed in Kenya from his detractors, including elite runners, some Athletics Kenya executives and top sports ministry officials, whispering and wondering loudly “why Farah should be allowed to train in Kenya and beat us.”

Farah’s latest gesture came two weeks ago when, through Mo Farah Foundation Kenya representative Abdi Ahmed Abdullahi, he donated about Sh300,000 towards the digging of a water well at Medina Primary School in Benane Division of Eldere Location in Lagdera Constituency.

The donation was handed over to area chief Aden Abdi Beshane by Shidiye, and most certainly the two leaders and their constituents will be on the edge of their seats when Farah speeds over Tower Bridge, past the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace, round the final bend onto the London Marathon’s finish line at The Mall next Sunday.

“The community identified the need for a water well for the primary school as it is expensive to ferry water using donkey carts,” said Abdullahi.

“Farah’s gesture is invaluable to the people of this area and only when you see what they go through to get their daily water supply is when you will appreciate what Farah is doing for them. He’s God-sent!”

And just last week, the Mo Farah Foundation, which was registered in Kenya last year, also distributed sports equipment, including professional sports socks and wristbands, to the New Eastleigh Primary School in Nairobi.

“Mo has assisted the community, especially the poor and needy who cannot even afford socks,” said Ubah Ibrahim, a liaison officer with the Mo Farah Foundation’s Nairobi office.

Ibrahim told Saturday Nation that they plan to move into bigger offices either in the CBD or Nairobi’s Westlands area to step up charity work being done under the foundation’s “Mo Farah Dig-a-well Project” banner.

“The Kenyan people have been very good to me and they always make me feel welcome here so the least I could do is to give something back,” Farah, double gold medallist in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at the London 2012 Olympics – which he dedicated to his twin daughters Aisha and Amani, said at Lornah Kiplagat’s globally acclaimed High Altitude Training Centre in Iten.

“I grew up watching children suffering and that’s why I thought I must do something which I’m doing through my foundation to make lives better for the people, especially children.”

“Mo” has blended in very well with the locals of his adopted home and can be seen in the Iten market buying roasted maize on a break from training or engaging locals in athletics banter.

The Iten Club has even added a item on its menu called “Mo Omelette”, basically chapati wrapped around a Spanish omelette, Farah’s favourite.

Local runners have also benefitted immensely from Farah’s presence in Kenya as he periodically contracts some to act as his training partners on his long runs across the scenic Elgeyo Marakwet County.

Farah was joined last week on the final leg of his training in Iten by his globally-acclaimed personal coach, Cuba-born American Alberto Salazar, the current IAAF World Coach of the Year.

It is Salazar’s second time in Kenya, the only other time the American Hall of Famer was in the country being 30 years ago when he trained in Nyahururu with Kenyan legend Peter Koech, the 1988 Olympics steeplechase silver medallist and the first man to hold an electronically timed world record in the steeple (8:05.35).

Together with Salazar and Farah at my lunch interview was Neil Black, UK Athletics’ performance director who has taken a personal interest in Iten as a training location for Britain’s upcoming distance runners.

“Iten is a great location and that’s the reason why I keep coming back,” quips Black who took over the top British track and field job from the no-nonsense Dutchman, Charles van Commenee, who fell on his own sword, resigning from the top job after Great Britain won six medals, short of his projected eight, a move unthinkable in Kenya’s athletics management.

Farah’s charitable operations are headquartered in London but the track star’s philanthropic work has also heavily impacted on his home nation of Somalia.

Source: Daily Nation

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