By Alison Wildey
LONDON, April 17 (Reuters) – Stephen Kiprotich, who overcame childhood illness and the might of the Kenyans on his way to winning marathon gold at the London Olympics, now seeks to inspire young athletes in his native Uganda.
Kiprotich takes on the Kenyans again in Sunday’s London Marathon and he wants to use his new-found fame to improve facilities for young athletes at home.
“In the future I need to look for good facilities so the young, upcoming athletes don’t travel long distances like I used to,” Kiprotich, who moved to Eldoret in Kenya when he was 17, told Reuters.
“So many people ask why I train in Kenya. I train in Kenya because of the facilities. We don’t have good facilities in Uganda.
“So for the future, we shall have good training facilities in Uganda so the young ones train there and also people from Kenya and all over the world can come,” added the 24-year-old.
As a youngster, marathon running seemed an unlikely prospect for Kiprotich who missed three years of school due to illness.
“The illness was on-off. Sometimes I’d become ill for three or four months then I’d rest and get better. But I’m happy that I gained back my health.
“The doctors would treat me with medicine and later, in 2001, they told me that it was ulcers but I wondered why I got ulcers,” said the quietly spoken Ugandan.
“When I gained back my health and joined school I started training. It was something I wanted to do because I love sports.”
Asked when he realised he had a talent for running, Kiprotich, who also enjoyed playing soccer, answered: “In 2009 when I was training with strong athletes and I could beat them.
“That showed me that although I was still young, maybe in the future I could do this.”
At the London Games, Kiprotich pulled away from Kenyan favourites Wilson Kipsang and twice world champion Abel Kirui in the latter part of the race to become only Uganda’s second Olympic gold medallist, 40 years after John Akii-Bua.
Kiprotich, who was given a hero’s welcome on his return to Kampala, is confident Uganda will not have to wait so long for the next champion to come along.
“They won’t have to wait because so many people now are inspired,” he said, his face lighting up with a gap-toothed smile.
“I inspire so many young athletes. So people now are training. To me the 40 years is impossible.
It is because of his Olympic victory that Kiprotich will be facing the likes of defending champion Kipsang and Kenyan world record holder Patrick Makau at the London Marathon this weekend.
“My life has changed in several ways. Being invited to come and run in the London Marathon that’s one of the things that’s changed my life.
“I’m now a famous person in Uganda and UK and all over the world. I’m enjoying it,” he said.
His best time of two hours seven minutes 20 seconds, set in Enschede in 2011. is several minutes slower than his rivals but having already got the better of them once, Kiprotich was undeterred.
“This Sunday, my focus is to run a fantastic race, running with the top athletes in the whole world is my memory… and for me I’m very happy.”