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Loroupe, Tegla

Tegla Loroupe

1973-

Kenyan marathon runner

In 1998 Kenyan runner Tegla Loroupe became the first African woman to win a major marathon when she came in first at the New York City Marathon in 1994. She then set a women's world record on the 26.2-mile marathon course at the 1998 Rotterdam Marathon, a record she broke in 1999 in Berlin, Germany. Loroupe has continued to show herself as one of the world's top female athletes. At four feet 11 inches and 88 pounds, she has also become one of the most recognizable women marathoners to fans of distance running.

A Way to Get Around

Born and raised on a farm in rural Kapenguria, Kenya, near the Ugandan border in 1973, Loroupe first began running because it was the quickest way to get where she wanted to go. She began her day with a six-mile sprint to school, burdened by her heavy backpack, the hills that stood between her and the schoolhouse, and the oxygen-poor air that starved her lungs as she ran in such high elevation. But Loroupe ran, nonetheless, knowing that late students were punished with a beating. Twice weekly after school, she put in another dozen miles while herding cattle for her parents. No matter what the terrain, Laroupe ran barefoot; shoes were a luxury. While most of her friends ran equally as much as Loroupe, school races showed her by age nine that she had a natural talent for running. Excelling at all but the 800-meter sprint indicated that Loroupe was a distance runner; it also indicated a path by which she could avoid the traditional future of a girl of her tribe: marriage, children, and housekeeping. Fortunately for Loroupe her father also saw her potential and he agreed to let her attend a private boarding school and run as long as she kept up her grades.

From the beginning, Loroupe's ambition to be a professional runner came as much from her love of running as it did from her desire to escape the life of most Kenyan women. Her enthusiasm for her sport has been obvious to any who meet her, and her energy and optimism remain contagious. Eschewing rigid training programs and stringent nutrition and sleep schedules, she runs frequently because it is what she wants to do. Working with coach Volker Werner from her training base in Detmold, Germany, four months out of the year, Loroupe developed a flexible schedule that includes runs of between seven and nine miles twice daily along with weekly interval training at the track as a way to build the muscles needed for speed and sprinting. Enjoying covering long distances, Loroupe especially welcomed the weekly long runs required for marathon training, and her enjoyment paid off: in her first high-profile attempt at racing the 10,000 meters (10K) at the 1993 World Track and Field Championships, she finished fourth in a crowded field.

In November of 1994 the 21-year-old Loroupe ran her first major race: the New York City Marathon. Winning the race in 2 hours, 27 minutes and 37 seconds, she became the first African woman to win a major marathon, the youngest winner, and the first black women ever to win in New York. While Loroupe received accolades from the media, her parents back in Kenya were also honored; Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi presented her father and mother with enough livestock to make the family wealthy within the Pokot tribe. Loroupe's success also inspired others in her tribe to begin running, and with her winnings she provided track shoes to promising young female Pokot athletes.

Chronology

1973 Born in rural Kenya
1980 Gets her first pair of running shoes
1993 Finishes 4th in first major 10K run
1994 Wins first major marathon in New York City
1995 Wins 2nd New York City Marathon days after death of sister Albina
1995 Wins bronze medal for 10K at World Track and Field Championships
1998 Sets world record for women's marathon at Rotterdam
1999 Sets new world record for women's marathon at Berlin Marathon
2000 Qualifies to compete in Olympics in 10K and marathon

In early 1995, confident after her performance in New York the previous November, the young Kenyan decided to tackle the most historic marathon of them all: April's Boston Marathon. Loroupe met her match in the challenging and hilly course and came in ninth in a field of women led by German long-distance phenomenon Uta Pippig, who had set the Boston course record of 2:21:45 only the year before. Undaunted by her performance at Boston, she continued racing and won the bronze medal for a 31:17 10K run at the World Track and Field Championships in Goteborg, Sweden.

In November of 1995 she returned to New York and repeated her previous performance, clocking a winning time in her 26.2-mile tour through the city's five boroughs. Loroupe's win was particularly inspiring considering the personal tragedy she was coping with: she ran the marathon only 14 days after the untimely death of her older and much-loved sister, Albina. Shortly after crossing the finish line, Loroupe collapsed to the ground, sobbing.

Her winning performance in New York in 1995 qualified Loroupe for the 1996 Olympic Games to be held in Atlanta, Georgia, the following year. Placing in the top three during the Olympic trials, she qualified for the team but placed a disappointing sixth in the 10K, her time only 31:23. Unruffled by her performance, Loroupe had another go at the Boston Marathon in April of 1996, this time finishing in second place behind Belgian runner L. Siegers. She returned to New York for her third attempt at the November marathon, confident that her training would propel her to a third win in 1996.

With two appearances in the Big Apple behind her, Loroupe was by now a favorite of New York crowds, and she showed her fans a confident start at the gun. However, she soon slowed, hampered by pain that was later diagnosed as the result of stress fractures in her spine. Finishing a lackluster seventh with 2:32:07, Loroupe followed her physician's orders and stopped running and donned a back brace for three weeks, curing the fractures but interrupting her rigorous training regime.

During 1997 her racing was sporadic: that April she took first place in the women's division at the Rotterdam, Netherlands Marathon, but placed seventh in New York seven months later and put in a sluggish 2:30:26 in the Osaka, Japan marathon in January of 1998. Fortunately, things turned around later that year. In the fall of 1998 she came in third in New York only months after setting a new world record of 2:20:47 for the women's marathon at Rotterdam; she went on to break her record by four seconds in Berlin, Germany the following September. As Laroupe told Peter Gambaccini of Runner's World, her ultimate goal was to break the magic time of 2:20. "I have the courage to go for it," she said. "In the beginning of my career, I didn't have the confidence that I could run so fast. But last year, when I ran 2:22:07 at Rotterdam, I thought it was possible"

Loroupe's 10K-win during Kenya's National Track and Field Championships in 2000 qualified her for that year's Summer Games, scheduled for Sydney, Australia. She ran in both the 10K and the marathon at the Olympics, placing 13th in the marathon and fifth in the shorter run. Far less disappointing to the runner was her first-place victory at the London Marathon the same year. In 2002 she competed in the all-women Avon Running Championship circuit, taking fourth place in the 10K race with a finishing time of 33:55.

Continuing to make her home in Detmold, Germany, where she trains, Loroupe returns often to Kenya, visiting family and friends in her village and spending time with young people interested in running. Her sport has provided her with an income that has made her one of the highest-paid women in her country, and she owns homes in the towns of Nakuru and Kapsait. However, much of her new-found wealth has found its way back to the region were she first trained, taking the form of boarding school tuition, medical care and supplies, food, and clothing for friends, neighbors, family, and others living there who are in need.

Awards and Accomplishments

1994 Becomes first African woman to win the New York City Marathon.
1995 First woman finisher at New York City Marathon.
1995 Places third in women's 10K at World Track and Field Championships.
1996 Places second among women at Boston Marathon.
1997 First woman finisher at Rotterdam Marathon.
1998 Places first in women's 10K at Goodwill Games.
1998 Clocks world best time of 2:20:47 as first woman at Rotterdam Marathon.
1999 First woman finisher at Rotterdam Marathon.
1999 Places third in women's 10K at World Track and Field Championships.
1999 Beats 13-year record to clock world's best time of 2:20:43 as first woman at Berlin Marathon.
1999 First woman finisher at World Half-Marathon Championships.
2000 First woman finisher at London Marathon.
2000 First woman finisher at Rome Marathon.
2000 Places first in women's 10K at Kenyan National Track and Field Championships.
2000 Golden Shoe Award from Association of International Marathons and Road Races

Recognizing her position as a role model for women runners around the world, Loroupe is quick to explain where her motivation comes from. "I don't run for myself, I run for others," she once told an interviewer for Runner's World Daily online. Among those "others" are those women who, unlike Loroupe, have been unable to break with tradition and follow their dreams. "When I ran in school, the men in my tribe said, 'Tegla, you're wasting your time,'" she once explained to Olympics.com. "They didn't want me to do sports. But God has given me a plan. Man cannot close my door."

FURTHER INFORMATION

Periodicals

Daily Telegraph, April 21, 2001.

Detroit Free Press, February 27, 1999.

Essence, September, 1999.

New York Times, November 13, 1995; October 30, 1996; November 3, 1998; June 11, 2000; August 13, 2000.

Runner's World, February, 1996; July, 1998; December, 2000.

Sports Illustrated, November 2, 1998.

Other

Olympics.com, http://www.olympics.com (September 18, 2000).

Runner's World Daily, http://www.runnersworld.com/dailynew/archive/1998/July/980717.html (October 6, 2000).

Yukonweb, http://www.yukonweb.com/community/athletics/ (January 15, 2003).

Sketch by Pamela L. Shelton

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Loroupe, Tegla

Tegla Loroupe

1973–

Athlete

Tegla Loroupe of Kenya emerged as one of the world's top long-distance runners in 1994 when she became the first African woman ever to win the New York City Marathon. She went on to shatter the women's world record for the 26-mile run a few years later in another marathon, but was sidelined by illness at the 2000 Olympics and then by a persistent back injury. A celebrity in her homeland, the diminutive Loroupe has become a peace activist and United Nations goodwill ambassador.

Loroupe was born in the maize field where her mother was working on a May day in 1973 near Kapsait, a village in northwestern Kenya. During Loroupe's childhood, homes in Kapsait had no electricity or running water, and any trips elsewhere were usually undertaken on foot, as they had been for centuries. Loroupe's family belonged to the Pokot ethnic group, and worked as cattle herders and farmers like many of the western branch of the Pokot. The group also practiced polygamy; her mother was the first of her father's four wives, and Loroupe one of his 24 children. Such a lifestyle meant that Pokot women were expected to spend their lives close to home: first as a caretaker for their younger siblings, and later as wives and mothers themselves. Loroupe started bearing these burdens at three years old, when she was given responsibility for her looking after her aunt's children. "It is difficult for me to believe how strong I am," Loroupe told New York Times writer Jere Longman many years later. "I worked so hard when I was young. Running is just a minor thing to me, compared with what I was doing with my family. I carried a lot of water and firewood. I had a lot of strain on my shoulders."

Ordered to Compete for School

Loroupe's stubborn streak and independence was evident at an early age, and her family nicknamed her Chametia, or "one who never gets annoyed." She entered school with her brothers over her father objections, and usually ran the ten-kilometer distance every morning in bare feet. She had to run because there were so many chores to complete before she could leave for school, and teachers were permitted to beat a student for being late. The terrain Loroupe crossed to reach school was quite challenging: the northwestern part of Kenya where she lived was hilly, and at an elevation of 9,000 feet, which meant that oxygen was scarcer and the heart and lungs had to work harder. "You cry at first," Loroupe recalled about the trek in an interview with Merrell Noden in Sports Illustrated. "After a time, you get used to it."

At the age of nine, Loroupe became the surprise winner of three races in her school's annual sports day. She continued to race and often beat the fastest of the local boys, but her father thought that athletic pursuits were inappropriate for a female. He offered her a deal: she would be allowed to enroll in a boarding school if she agreed to stop running for good. She complied, but then another student at her new school told the teachers that Loroupe was a talented athlete, and they, too, came to her with an offer: either she would run in competitions for the school, or she could circle the dirt track on her knees. She chose to compete, and eventually emerged as the Kenyan national high-school champion.

After completing a college-level accounting course, Loroupe worked for the Kenyan postal service as an auditor, and her employer eventually became her sponsor. Hoping to run professionally, she had a difficult time finding a top-notch coach in Kenya who would agree to train a woman, and the national athletic federation was also indifferent to her talent. In the early 1990s she decided to move to Germany, where she first joined a community of fellow Africans who were training with a German coach. There, she had to train by herself, and was expected to cook and clean for the men. In time she found a more sympathetic coach, Volker Wagner, and his German training site would eventually take on several more top-notch women runners from Africa.

Won New York City Marathon

Loroupe had won distance races even as a 14-year-old, and began training to compete in marathons. She entered the New York City Marathon in 1994 for the first time, and sailed across the finish line as the first woman finisher that year and the first African woman ever to come in first. Her rewards included $37,500, a new Mercedes, and immense fame back in Kenya. The money made her immensely wealthy by the standards of the average Kenyan, and certainly more so for a woman. She purchased a farm near her family, but violent crime had increased in the area and she was occasionally threatened, prompting her return to Germany on a more permanent basis.

In 1995 Loroupe again won the women's title in the New York City Marathon, despite having suffered a personal tragedy less than a month before when her sister Albina had died of uncontrolled internal bleeding; the nearest hospital was simply too far to get to in time. Loroupe, however, remained focused and continued her winning streak for the next five years. She won the Rotterdam Marathon in the Netherlands three times, and in her second victory in that event she set the new women's world record with a time of 2:20:47. Her 1998 win shattered the previous women's world record for the marathon by an astonishing 19 seconds, and also became the first Kenyan of either gender to set a new world record in the event. She went on to win the 10,000-meter in the Goodwill Games that same year, and set another world record for a one-hour run with a distance of 11 miles and 696 yards.

In the 1999 Berlin Marathon, Loroupe broke her own previous world record by four seconds. During the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, her chance to win a gold medal was stymied by a case of food poisoning; she completed the marathon anyway and finished in thirteenth place. In 2000, she won both the London and Rome marathons, but began to suffer from back troubles that forced her to cut back on her training. Once she returned to competition, she was unable to regain her dominance in the sport.

Established Foundation to Aid Kenyans

Loroupe decided to spend more time in Kenya and work toward solving some of the problems plaguing the country. In the area where she grew up, cattle poaching had long been a common occurrence, but some thieves now brandished automatic weapons. Concerned about the rise of violence in her native Kenya—as well as the larger continent's longstanding troubles—in 2003 she established the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation. It funds conflict-resolution programs and sponsors "Peace Through Sports" marathons, which are relays in which teams of government leaders, officials, diplomats, and ordinary citizens run through troubled areas of Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan. Loroupe also established a school and orphanage in Kapenguria, where she had attended boarding school. In 2006, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan named her one of several new United Nations Ambassadors of Sport.

Loroupe has remarked in interviews that her father's attitudes eventually changed with the times, and he showed pride in her achievements. "He said it was better that I was very hardheaded," she reported to Longman, the New York Times sportswriter, in 1998. "He could have spoiled my talent. Now he's glad I didn't listen to him."

At a Glance …

Born on May 9, 1973, in Kapsait, Kenya; daughter of Loroupe Losiwa and Mary Lotuma.

Career: Set Kenyan national records in the 3000-meter, 5000-meter and 10,000-meter; won bronze medal at the 1993 World Half-Marathon Championships; women's first-place finisher in the New York City Marathon, 1994, 1995, in the 1997, 1998 and 1999 Rotterdam Marathons; also won the women's title in the Berlin Marathon, 1999 and London and Rome marathons of 2000. Established the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation, 2003.

Addresses: Office—Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation, P.O. Box 67754-00200, Nairobi, Kenya. Web—www.teglaloroupepeacefoundation.org.

Sources

Periodicals

Essence, September 1999, p. 78.

New York Times, October 27, 1998, p. G1; August 13, 2000, p. B1; November 18, 2006, p. A4.

Runner's World, July 1998, p. 76.

Sports Illustrated, November 2, 1998, p. R12.

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Rodgers, Bill

Bill Rodgers, 1947–, American distance runner, b. Hartford, Conn. He helped to popularize distance running in the U.S. He won the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon four times each between 1975 and 1980.

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