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He’s been dubbed the “greatest marathoner of the modern era.” In an exclusive DW interview, Kipchoge invites us to his farm in Kenya, where he speaks about mental health and how he stays positive even in trying times.
For the past 18 years, Kenyan long-distance runner, Eliud Kipchoge has been entertaining lovers of athletics in his home country, across Africa and around the world.
Kipchoge won marathon gold at the 2016 and 2020 Olympics and set the world marathon record with a time of 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon.
His run broke the previous world record by 1 minute and 18 seconds. Kipchoge is also the first human in history to break the two-hour barrier at an astonishing average pace of 1 kilometer in 2 minutes, 50 seconds.
These achievements did not come by chance, Kipchoge told DW in an exclusive interview from his farm in Kenya.
Surrounded by good people
He spoke about the love and support he has received from the team around him all these years.
“Oh I’m surrounded by my coach, Patrick Sang. I’m getting all the values, I’m getting what’s needed from him, as far as living is concerned,” he told DW’s Edith Kimani.
But Kipchoge said at the center of his exploits in the sport is “trusting myself, treating myself as the best one, living an honest life,” as he acknowledges his coach for instilling in him such values while growing up.
Kipchoge won his first individual world championship title in 2003 when he emerged victorious in the junior race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships and set a world junior record over 5,000 meters on the track.
He started chalking up success at an early stage and continues to enjoy that even deep into his career.
For Kipchoge, holding on to his integrity and giving his best at all times has paid off.
“The value actually of integrity. In sports, what I mean with integrity is courage to go to the next mile,” Kiphoge told DW.
“Courage to face anything in your life. The value of the family, the value of self-discipline, the value of consistency. I can’t live without those values, that is not Eliud.”
Dealing with mental health issues
Last year, three great Kenyan athletes died — including the record-breaking distance runner Agnes Tirop, who was found dead with stab wounds to her stomach in a suspected homicide.
There are several successful athletes who continue to struggle with mental health conditions including depression.
Kipchoge is concerned about this situation and the impact it is having on Kenyan athletes.
“I think the mental stress with sports men and women actually is increasing and it’s unfortunate,” he lamented. “But it’s a result of living or being surrounded by negative people.”
The sporting legend revealed that he is able to deal with such issues in a better way due to the people who surround him.
“I’ve been surrounded for the last 18 years with positive people, both in sport and outside the sport. I think I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve been actually following the right values and having a value actually myself, which I can’t live without. I have things so that I can die with those things,” he said.
But Kipchoge said athletes would have to find a way of controlling their emotions and live a balanced life.
“I understand life. You know in this world you need to understand life. And if anything comes my way, in a negative way, you need to understand. Because they say, where there is life, then there is a challenge,” he said.
Kipchoge is just the third marathoner to win back-to-back gold medals at the Olympics after Abebe Bikila (1960 and 1964) and East Germany’s Waldemar Cierpinski (1976 and 1980).
He now has four Olympic medals to his name — he won silver in the 5,000-meter event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and bronze in the same event at the 2004 Games in Athens.
Even at the age of 37, Kipchoge has revealed his dream is to win all six Abbott World Marathon Majors. He has won the London Marathon a record four times.
All these successes and many more came alongside some challenges, he said and that includes getting injured and losing some races — but quitting is not an option he said.
“Those are all of the challenges. If you don’t have the basic training today, then tomorrow is [another] day. But it’s good to have the worst in training that day, but finish the training,” Kipchoge said.
Kipchoge is not quitting running any time soon but he is willing to inspire younger professionals to get to the top in their careers.
For him, such professionals should be willing to make sacrifices and show that they are “really professional.”
He considers a professional athlete to be somebody prepared to “build your career, you work and respect your ethics of your professionalism. So it’s somebody who actually values the next person, it’s easy to manage, it’s easy to instil anything and instil in a positive way.”
Making Kenya ‘a running country’
Kipchoge also loves his country and wants to do more to improve the state of athletics in Kenya.
He told DW that he is still hungry to perform and has a vision of making Kenya “a running country.”
Kipchoge revealed plans to “inspire the next generation.”
“If you say yes in your heart and mind, and say it in your mouth, then you can perform. It’s not only about sports, it’s about any profession,” he said.
“We need people to actually respect their professions. We need people to invest in themselves and invest in their families, their friends, their neighbors. That’s what’s on my bucket list at least,” he added.
Edited by: Keith Walker