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Titus Ekiru: How star from Turkana ran away, literally, from poverty

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ELIAS MAKORI

By ELIAS MAKORI
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When he steps onto the starting line of the Honolulu Marathon in the scenic Hawaiian State capital on Sunday, Titus Ekiru will be making yet another major step towards greatness.

With Eliud Kipchoge and Geoffrey Kamworor having hogged the limelight with distance running records in recent weeks, Ekiru is hot on their heels.

But his story is quite different from that of Kipchoge and Kamworor, who both honed their skills on the global track and in cross country running before hitting the gold-paved roads.

A late bloomer, Ekiru, 27, went straight to the roads to literally run away from financial challenges in his family that saw him fail to go past primary school at Kosirai, Nandi County.

He had just done a few local 5,000 metres races in Nandi where he grew up after his family relocated from their home in Lodwar, Turkana County.

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“I’d started running in school, but when life took a turn for the worse, I stopped schooling and looked for casual jobs to help make ends meet. I didn’t manage to finish my primary school education,” Kenya’s next big thing in marathon running narrates in an interview at the scenic Outrigger Reef on the Beach Hotel on Friday.

“But when my sister made a breakthrough in running, travelling abroad for races, I was encouraged to take up athletics more seriously, and that’s how I started training in 2009,” he narrates.

Titus Ekiru (squatting, second from right)
Titus Ekiru (squatting, second from right) poses for a group photo with the elite athletes ahead of the Honolulu Marathon on December 8, 2019 in Hawaii, USA. Ekiru is the race’s defending champion. PHOTO | ELIAS MAKORI |

Urged on by his sister Margaret Akai – who won, among others, the 2012 Shanghai (two hours, 24 minutes and 17 seconds) and 2013 Daegu (2:23:28) marathons – Ekiru has since won four big marathons, in the process setting four course records on his travels in both full and half marathons.

Focused on making a living from athletics, Ekiru joined the Rosa Associati camp in Kaptagat at the end of 2013.

“But then I got injured. But this didn’t discourage me at all, as when I looked back at our poor family set-up, I gathered determination to make the breakthrough.”

His father, Nangiro Longole Kameto, was a casual labourer who struggled to feed his wife Mary and seven children – three boys and four girls.

“My dad focused on at least helping my elder sister (Margaret) complete her education, and when she started running, I was motivated to soldier on.

“I said since I was running as a child, athletics is something that I can make a living from, and that’s how I started focusing seriously in running.”

His first trip abroad was in 2014 to Milan where he picked up an injury.

“I spent 2014 to 2016 treating the injury while in camp after which I decided to dive straight into the full marathon.”

Ekiru’s reasoning was that rather than waste time trying out different distances, it was prudent to dive right in and focus on the 42 kilometres to earn a decent living and help his family.

Honolulu Marathon defending champion Titus
Honolulu Marathon defending champion Titus Ekiru (left) poses for a photograph with the writer at Hawaii’s Outrigger on the Beach Hotel ahead of thw Honolulu Marathon on December 8, 2019. PHOTO | ELIAS MAKORI |

His first marathon was in Casablanca, Morocco, running 2:15:43 for second place in 2016, a time he improved by exactly eight minutes in winning the Seville Marathon the following year.

Also in 2017, Ekiru made his Honolulu Marathon debut, finishing fourth (2:12:19).

“After Seville, I was actually scheduled to run in Milan, but while in Milan, I picked up a fracture while jogging so I didn’t race.

“I was treated at the camp back home and after recovering I ran in last year’s San Diego Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon, winning in 61:02.”

In August last year, Ekiru won the Mexico City Marathon (2:10:38) before pacing Britain’s Mo Farah to victory at the Chicago Marathon in October.

And then he travelled to the middle of the Pacific Ocean again in December, winning the Honolulu Marathon in 2:09:01, threatening compatriot Lawrence Cherono’s course record of 2:08:27 set in 2017.

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Race winner Titus Ekiru (right) with
Race winner Titus Ekiru (right) with second-placed Vincent Yator (left) and third-placed Reuben Kerio after the 2018 Honolulu Marathon. PHOTO | ELIAS MAKORI/ | NATION

This season has been a fantastic one for Ekiru, who ran personal best times in both the half and full marathons.

He started off with brilliant pacemaking duties for the Lake Biwa Marathon in March where Morocco’s Salah-Eddine Bounasr won in 2:07:52.

The following month, he returned to Milan, winning the Milan Marathon in 2:04:46, his personal best over the distance and a course record.

Then in August, he won Kenya gold in the half marathon (61:42) at the African Games in Rabat before clocking a PB over the 21-kilometre distance (61:42) in October at the Lisbon Half Marathon.

He defends his Honolulu Marathon title Sunday with four course records under his belt – one in the half marathon in Lisbon and three in the marathon in Mexico, Seville and Milan.

Having come close to a fifth CR in Honolulu last year, despite the extremely windy conditions, Ekiru – who loves to attack from the front with his fluid, long and elegant strides – could most likely challenge Cherono’s mark today, given the experience he has gained over the last 12 months.

“I picked Honolulu because I told my manager I didn’t want to get into a very fast race at this point of my career,” the calculated Ekiru explains.

“I wanted a race that I can win in 2:08 or 2:09 so that I keep my reserves for the future.”

He will, finally, graduate to the rich World Marathon Majors circuit next year, the Tokyo Marathon on March 1 in his cross hairs.

Then he will hope for selection to Kenya’s team to the Tokyo Olympics, where the marathon races will actually be run in Sapporo City in the island of Hokkaido.

A calculated plan indeed for the meticulous man who even attempted eking out a career in football, turning out as a no-nonsense central defender for amateur club Kosirai FC in Nandi County as he juggled between sports and odd jobs to put bread on family’s table.

“If, by the will of God, I get selected for the Olympics, then it would be my next big race after the Tokyo Marathon,” he anticipates.

In fact, he was hopeful of a place in Kenya’s team to the World Championships in Doha last October but was overlooked by selectors.

But if there’s anyone who has the possibility of running Kipchoge close, then it’s Ekiru.

“I actually prepared a lot in anticipation of the Doha championships, but they told me to go for the African Games wait.

“After I won the African Games title, I went back into training for Doha, but when I wasn’t selected, then I shifted my plans to this race in Honolulu.”

On Tokyo’s course next March, Ekiru will be looking to improve his PB and keep knocking on selectors’ doors.

With a fledgling career slowly rising to a crescendo, Ekiru, who dropped out of primary school due to poverty has managed to turn things around, and his wife Daisy Cherotich, also a runner, and one-year-old son Rian Kiptum, now celebrate decent lives.

Ekiru currently trains under coach Lawrence Saina in Kapsabet at the Stanley Biwott camp, his training partners including Biwott himself, a former champion at the Paris and New York marathons.

Others in the group include two-time Tokyo winner Dickson Chumba, Rotterdam course record holder Marius Kipserem and Reuben Kipyego, the pacemaker who famously won Friday’s Abu Dhabi Marathon.

Ekiru has enormous respect for Kipchoge, and, just like the world record holder, maintains discipline is important in a running career, urging athletes to resist the temptation of using banned performance-enhancing substances.

So what would happen should he be selected to the Olympic team?

“I know mzee (Kipchoge) will be there, but it all’s God’s plan. Eliud is experienced and we are just coming up,” he sums it up in typically modest fashion.

But he has already joined the league of 1988 Olympic 800 metres champion Paul Ereng, 2010 Commonwealth Games marathon gold medallist John Kelai and Wilson Erupe, who has clocked six sub-2:09 times in the marathon, as one of Turkana’s finest sporting exports.

Most certainly, an Olympic gold will see him head and shoulders above the rest and make him Turkana’s most successful athlete.

But he has the small matter of Eliud Kipchoge to deal with. Anyway, Sunday’s Honolulu Marathon is in immediate focus.

And with the weather predicted to be better than last year, I see another course record added onto the 27-year-old’s CV when the race starts off along the Ala Moana Boulevard, snaking through Waikiki, Diamond Head, Kahala onto the finish at Kapiolani Park.

The race starts at 5am, local time, which will be 6pm Kenyan time as the Honolulu clock is a massive 13 hours behind Nairobi time.

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Europe beckons for South African rugby after Kiwi snub

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jul 20World Cup-winning Springbok Schalk Brits believes the future of South African rugby lies in Europe after New Zealand said there was no room for sides from the republic in Super Rugby.

“All of this jet lag and flying across different time zones just does not work,” said the hooker who retired after the triumphant 2019 World Cup campaign.

“We have got so many South Africans playing in Europe and it would be awesome to see them in action here for European clubs.”

With New Zealand favouring a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition, South Africa Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux will address the media Tuesday about the way forward.

There has been no rugby in South Africa since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, which claimed 5,033 lives by late Sunday, the most in an African country.

Here, AFP Sport looks at the possibilities for the world champions Springboks and Super Rugby teams the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers.

Rugby Championship

There has been speculation that the six-round annual tournament will be cut to four matches with New Zealand and Australia playing in South Africa only every second year.

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That would be a huge blow for SA Rugby coffers as the century-old rivalry with the All Blacks makes them a huge drawcard.

South Africa might consider abandoning the Championship and pursuing a suggestion by former All Blacks Justin Marshall and Jeff Wilson for three-Test tours between the great rivals.

“British and Irish Lions tours are so successful because we look forward to them,” noted another ex-All Black, John Kirwan. The same could be said of an All Blacks-Springboks series.

‘Seven Nations’

Should South African franchises move north, would the Springboks follow suit and apply to join England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales in a ‘Seven Nations’ championship?

Having the world champions on board would surely excite the organisers and costs would be greatly reduced if the Springboks played their three away matches on consecutive weekends.

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England, Ireland, France and Wales, in particular, would bring freshness for rugby followers, who have not rushed to the turnstiles for Championship visits by Australia and Argentina.

Ask the SA Rugby treasurer for his ‘dream’ line-up and he would surely say a multi-Test tour by the All Blacks and participation in the ‘Seven Nations’.

Super Rugby

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Although not official yet, the reality is that New Zealand want to play some Australian sides and the Pacific Islands in a new competition while excluding South Africa and Argentina.

The original version, a Super 10 between 1993 and 1995, was a superb competition, but constant tinkering and expansion has led to waning interest in a difficult-to-follow event.

Even those supporting the Golden Lions of South Africa could not have derived too much satisfaction from a 94-7 thrashing of Japanese visitors the Sunwolves three years ago.

South Africa sides often battled with time differences in Australasia — New Zealand is 11 hours ahead of the republic — and were weary after four-match tours.

‘Pro16’

Pro14 chief executive Martin Anayi says he would welcome Super Rugby ‘rejects’ the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers into an expanded edition.

“The tournament works well but could be even better if we added some South African teams,” he said, referring to a competition that also includes Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh teams.

But there may be no room for the two current South African Pro14 participants, the Cheetahs and Kings, who have experienced very different fortunes.

While the Cheetahs have been competitive, the Kings won just four of 55 matches in three seasons with some of the losing margins embarrassing.

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Currie Cup

The domestic competition has survived constant format changes to remain the vital ‘nursery’ from which Springboks emerge.

First staged in 1892, it was the bedrock of South African rugby until the dawn of professionalism after the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

As Test and Super Rugby fixtures took up an increasing amount of the season, the Currie Cup often battled for calendar space.

But it survived and this year could feature the four Super Rugby sides plus the Cheetahs, Kings, Griquas and Pumas, if play is possible amid the coronavirus.

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Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19

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Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19

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Kenya’s coronavirus cases rise to 13,771 after 418 more infections

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By NATION REPORTER

Kenya on Monday reported 418 more Covid-19 infections, raising the country’s tally to 13,771 since the virus was first confirmed on March 13.

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Health Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Rashid Aman also reported four more deaths, raising the toll to 238. He rectified an earlier report about 19 deaths in a single day, which would have been the highest number ever recorded in Kenya.

The 418 new patients were found following the testing of 2,474 samples in the last 24 hours.

Four hundred and eight of them were Kenyans and 10 foreigners while male patients numbered 263 and female patients 155.

Dr Aman also announced that 494 patients had been discharged, raising the country’s total number of recoveries to 5,616.

Of the recovered patients, 465 were under home care and the rest in hospitals.

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