ELDORET Kenyas track stars are running away from tradition and into each others arms, finding marriage to be the best way of espousing sporting careers and A-lister lifestyles.
During the past two decades there have been so many athletes who have said “I do”, as the rate of marriages between the track stars rises in Kenya.
“We tend to live very close knit life as we have less time to socialize outside the sport. But because we compete with women, it becomes conveninent to build relationships with them since we share one thing in common,” said Edwin Kibowen, who is married to fellow marathoner Caroline Chepkwony, and are based in Eldoret.
Edwin and Caroline, who are struggling to break into the top elite in marathon running, are the latest in a line of celebrity marriages.
Olympic womens 800m champion Pamela Jelimo saw it wise to marry her boyfriend/coach to ward off amorous advances from thousands of potential male suitors after winning the one-million dollar Golden League jackpot in 2008.
“Our lives are too dependent on each other and weve decided to take this leap,” Jelimo said following her civil marriage to Peter Murrey.
Julius Sang, a member of Kenyas 4x400m relay gold medal-winning team at the 1972 Munich Olympics started the ball rolling when he married Tecla Chemabwai, the first Kenyan woman to compete in the Olympics, when they were both students in the United States.
Another pioneer husband and wife team were Kipsubai Kosgei, a world cross country champion and Mary Chemweno, a former African 800m record holder, who only accepted to be wed after her husband agreed to let her continue running after their marriage.
Two-time Olympic 5,000m silver medallist Paul Bitok and his wife Pauline Konga went a step further.
They both won silver medals over 5000m at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, with Konga becoming the first ever Kenyan female Olympic medallist.
Former teenage training partners, Ismael Kirui and Rose Cheruiyot married at a colourful ceremony in 1996, a year after completing a unique double at the Belfast international cross country meet.
Now a mother of three, Cheruiyot believes being married to a fellow runner is a big advantage.
“Being a wife to a fellow athlete is very advantageous,” said Cheruiyot, winner of the Amsterdam marathon in 2006.
The 33-year-old attributes her achievement to her husband, who won the world 5,000m title in 1993 and 1995 for her prolonged stay at the top of her international career.
She said Kirui, who has since retired from running, understands her situation, and would do the baby-sitting while she races overseas.
World half marathon champion Mary Keitany also believes her strong bonding with her athlete husband enabled her to make a quick return to training only four months after delivering their son.
“Within one year, I have been able to win three big races overseas including running the second fastest time in the world in the half marathon,”said Keitany, who trains with her husband, Charles Koech in Iten, some 30 kilometres from Eldoret.
Former five-time world cross country champion Paul Tergat said he supported the inter-athlete marriage as a way of breaking down the traditional cultural barriers involving married couples.
“We have seen so many young girls, who were very successful as juniors but were forced to stop running after they got married. The culture dictates that once a woman is married, she has to stay at home and raise the children,” Tergat said.
He gave the case of Chemokil Chilapong, the unheralded woman marathon runner from the remote West Pokot district, who stunned a strong field to win the Nairobi international marathon in 2005.
She quit running after her husband wanted her to stay at home to tender to their family of eight.