In the long and short distance track races, there is a runner whose job isn’t to finish the race. His job is to lead and ensure athletes run at an acceptable speed, and time, if they are to break a record.
This athlete is a called a pacesetter, or a ‘rabbit.’ Martin Keino (son of two-time Olympic Gold winner Kipchoge Keino) was a professional ‘rabbit’ for over 10 years helping various marathoners achieve seven world records during his career. He paced for renowned athletes like Kenenisa Bekele, Daniel Komen and Haile Gebrselassie.
Now he runs a small sports marketing firm that does sports event management, sports personality management and marketing, sports PR and Tourism, rights and endorsement management and lifestyle management. On top of that, he hosts a television show, writes a weekly sports column and sits at the head of the table of the Youth Fund. In short? A man burning the candle from both ends.
I know you are your own man, but you realise you’re still Kipchoge Keino’s son, and as such, I have to drag the mzee’s name into this interview, is that cool?
(Laughs) Oh no, that’s cool. I expected it anyway.
I’m sure doors have opened for you by the mere mention of your dad’s name, but have some doors also slammed in your face because of his name?
I wouldn’t say doors have been slammed on that account, however, the downside of being my dad’s son is that people expected more from me, they expected me to succeed as he did. So there was always pressure to live up to his name. But he always told me to take things at my own pace.
Did having his last name compel you to go into athletics?
Well, I think my decision was more of a product of my childhood and socialisation. There was a lot of sports influences around me growing up, so running came naturally, I guess. But also back to that question, when I went to the US to school, I was expected to win races given my nationality, tribe and last name, the pressure to win races was more there.
What’s the best piece of advice your dad has ever given you?
Wow, they are numerous! (Thinks). I guess it’s to “be who you are, and do the best you can in whatever you decide to do.”
OK, one last daddy question, I promise. How dissimilar are you from your dad?
(Laughs then thinks hard) That’s a tough question. (More thinking) I don’t know, really. (Thinks) Hmmm. I guess he’s sterner than I am. I’m more laidback.
Why do our athletes insist on speaking English during after-race interviews when they obviously struggle with it? Why can’t they just speak in Kalenjin, or whatever, and let the organisers get someone to translate what the champ is saying?
(Laughs hard) You’re right and this is something I have suggested in numerous seminars. Other guys - Russians, Ethiopians, Ukrainians, and Chinese - speak their language during interviews and this is something that our athletes should adopt too. I always say it brings out more from the interview when they speak the language they are comfortable in. It’s hard enough handling a microphone in your face when you’re fluent in English.
You just turned 40 and you don’t look it. Genes or you just avoid sodas?
(Laughs) Being competitively involved in sports in my earlier years helped me live healthy in terms of diet and exercise. But also now, I cycle for like 35km every two days, avoid sugars and go easy on the starch.
You worked as a Rabbit, helping guys break world records then stood in the shadows as they bathed in the limelight, were you jealous of these guys and was that patriotism or was that you doing a job?
(Chuckles) It was fine with me, it really was. I knew I wasn’t the star of the moment, my job was clear; to help set the pace and beat the times and I wasn’t distracted by the need to be famous. I had a job to do and I was only too happy to do it. But being a Rabbit was quite lucrative because I was paid as the silver holder was paid, on top of that, I would get bonuses. Also Komen and Gebrselassie would each give me $10,000 (Sh850,000) as a thank you. Great guys those.
What do you miss most about those days of hopping from plane to hotel to stadium?
I miss the camaraderie on the circuit. There was also a lot of travelling, I visited all the continents in the world, met tonnes of people and made lots of friends, did some shopping. And the money wasn’t bad for races that would only last between three and 12 minutes.
You have two sons. How are you raising them different from how you were raised?
My two boys are the most precious things; Kilel is five and Kigen is turning 10 tomorrow. I’m raising them as my friends. I’m close to them, we hang out and we talk. My dad was the strict disciplinarian type, who you sort of feared and didn’t want to upset. Thing is, I was in boarding school since class one and the only time I would see my dad was during holidays, but with my sons, we are always together, that’s the difference.
Kigen and Kilel, I just realised that if you get one more son and name him Kip you will have a Ku Klux Klan (KKK)in your house.
(Laughs hard) No, we don’t want that now, do we?
Certainly not. You are 40, have you hit mid-life crisis? I think I hit mine at 36. But it wasn’t anything crazy like running off with a very young girl (laughs). I think for me, it was the realisation that I’m not young anymore. But I think I’m at a better place now; I’m more confident and my purpose in life is clearer. Also, now I don’t care too much what people think of me. I have also learnt to separate the chaff from the wheat.