Lucy Kabuu was on top of the world after making a winning return to athletics by leading Kenyan compatriots to a clean sweep at the Milano Marathon in Italy last April.
In Kabuu’s race were defending champions Sheila Chepkoech and Vivian Kiplagat. That joy did not last.
The marathoner has since been suspended after testing positive for a banned performance enhancing substance. She is also fighting in court to retain the proceeds of the achievement.
Kabuu blames her husband Jeremiah Maina from whom she has separated. The two are fighting in an Eldoret court over the sharing of multimillion-shilling family property.
Although the properties are registered jointly, Kabuu says she single-handedly acquired them.
Maina wants the court to give orders for a 50-50 sharing plan because the assets were acquired while they were married.
According to Kabuu, they were not married but only cohabited. The relationship produced a daughter.
Maina told the court he financially contributed to the acquisition of their assets in several towns in the country. But Kabuu said she only allowed Maina to oversee the development of the properties.
“Maina and I purchased some of the property in both our names when I was in the country but the rest was registered in his name due to my absence,” Kabuu said in affidavits.
“He took advantage of my absence to enrich himself by withdrawing large sums of money and transferring it to himself under the guise of purchasing and developing the properties.”
The case is one of tens in Eldoret courts in which former athletes are battling to retain their properties.
Only a few are public because many female athletes prefer to suffer quietly. They are ashamed of being exposed for having dated “woman eaters.”
Most of the former athletes rose to international fame and earned much money after winning races.
But they are living in regret after losing much of their earnings, often to men who befriended them to share their fortune.
Veteran athlete Moses Tanui is among those leading sensitisation campaigns to keep upcoming athletes away from preying men.
Tanui said victims have tales of bitterness after falling in love and trusting “gold diggers” with their wealth.
Tens of female athletes have ended up losing land, vehicles, houses and other assets to estranged husbands.
The majority are quietly fighting in courts in Eldoret, Kitale, Iten, Nakuru and other areas in a bid to recover their property.
Tanui said the men are also to blame for banned athletes because they encouraged them to engage in doping. “The more the athletes win, the sweeter for the gold diggers,”Tanui said.
A female athlete who feared coming out in public to speak about her tribulations, told the Star that she was fleeced and left poor by a gold digger.
“I fell in love with a man whom I met while in training and went ahead to trust him so much that I even sent him to buy land for me in Kapsabet. I later discovered that he conned me and registered the property in his name,” she said.
A similar case was reported in Kitale, where another athlete asked her boyfriend to buy her two parcels of land. “The plots were going for Sh1 million each but the man asked for more than Sh4 million,” the former athlete said. She sought anonymity.
A source familiar with the transaction said the boyfriend convinced her that the figure was meant to shield her from paying hefty tax.
“This is one of the many cases where female athletes have been fleeced by men they were in love with,” the source said.
The Star has established that at least 16 top female runners have lost money and assets worth millions of shillings to gold diggers.
An Eldoret-based athlete who befriended a lawyer at the peak of her carrier five years ago said she gave the man Sh26 million to buy some property in town.
When she demanded to see purchase documents, the man refused saying they were safe somewhere.
“I did a follow-up and discovered that all the property was registered in his name,” the athlete said.
Tanui said they want to help young athletes to invest wisely.
“Many of our athletes easily lose whatever money or assets they make. They require proper guidance and training so that they are not easily misled,” Tanui said.
Janet Chebet, who works at a training camp for athletes near Eldoret, says she has seen more than 20 female athletes stalked by gold diggers who pretend to be lovers.
“Such men pretend to be so good, escorting the female athletes during training and being around always to build confidence and trust. But one can clearly sense they are mere gold diggers,” Chebet said.
She said the men are cunning and often develop relationships that end up in marriage or cohabitation.
They ensure the athletes rely on them for virtually everything including advice. “Many of the athletes rise to fame directly from the villages without proper exposure and because of illiteracy or ignorance, they are easily misled,” Chebet said.