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Running for economic development - Looking into Ethiopian and Kenyan running
Dated: Thursday, August 31, 2017

In the last decades Kenyan and Ethiopian runners have dominated middle and long distance running at Olympics and other global athletics events.Many people have been enquiring as to the secret behind their running successes. How are their successes in running affecting their countries economy? 
Following Kenyan and Ethiopian runners one can note the following: 
Every successful Kenyan and Ethiopian runner comes from poor and rural backgrounds.
Their diets are rich in carbohydrates and low in fat.
They run to escape poverty.
They walk long distances at a very early age.
Hard work and dedication in training are pivotal.
Their focus is sharpened by the success they see around them. 

For children living in poor and rural areas of Kenya and Ethiopia; running, sleeping and eating is better than ploughing the land and looking after livestock.

Early running success in Olympics

In 1960 Abebe Bikila became the first Ethiopian to win an Olympic gold medal when he won a marathon running on foot; again in 1964, but this time, wearing running shoes.

Who can forget the duel between the Ethiopian Derartu Tulu and the South African Elana Meyer during the womens 10000m final in Barcelona Olympics of 1992? The speed of Derartu Tulu was unbelievable, in the last lap giving her the gold medal. Derartu Tulu became the first Ethiopian woman to win an Olympic gold medal.
It was not long after Abebe Bikila’s successes in 1960 and 1964 that the first Kenyans won an Olympic gold medal. In 1968, in Mexico, Neftali Temu won the first Kenyan Olympic gold medal in the 10000m event. In the same year two other Kenyans won gold medals: Amos Biwot in the 3000m steeplechase and Kipchoge Keino in the 1500m events. Interestingly, in the 1968 Olympics, the world witnessed the duel between the Kenyan NeftaliTemu and Ethiopian Mamo Wolde in the 10000m event, with Temu winning in a sprint finish. Could this have marked the beginning of rivalry between the two countries in middle and long distance running? In the 1996 and 2000 Olympics the duel between the Kenyan Paul Tergat and Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie was witnessed in the 10000m event with Haile winning narrowly on both occasions.

The duel between the two countries in middle and long distance running is set to continue for many more years to come.

Economics impact

Success at the Olympic level brings global exposure for these countries. The Olympics is watched by an estimated 3 billion people. If Kenya or Ethiopia wins three gold medals at one Olympic event, their national anthems will be sung three times.Over a billion people around the globe will be watching Kenya’s great David Rudisha breaking the mens 800m world record  and also watching Ethiopia’s great Almaz Ayana breaking the womens 10000m world record.

The world is starting to admire and appreciate the achievements of these nations in athletics. This world admiration attracts tourism and investments by global brands in sport like Nike, Adidas, Puma, etc. Ethiopia’s great distance runner, Haile Gebrselassie, has been supported by Adidas. It was reported that Haile earns about USD150 000 and an additional USD 400000 when he wins a competition. The prize money has enabled him to invest in many businesses in Ethiopia and has created employment, as discussed below.

A small town in Kenya called Iten is where a lot of middle and long distance Olympic champions and world record breakers are nurtured and produced. It is in this small town that, in the early hours of the morning, you will see a group of Kenyan runners, accompanied by their super stars training. The town is surrounded by hills at an altitude 2400m above sea level. High altitude training increases the ability of blood to carry oxygen and builds lung capacity, which is good for distance running. There are no disturbances from traffic and there is year round sunshine. Hence, this town is considered to be a perfect environment for distance training. Iten also attracts non Kenyan runners. 

British distance runners like Mo Farah and Paula Redcliffe have been seen in this town preparing for their major athletics events. In the past, other countries, like China, have come to this town for training camps. Due to its attraction to top international middle and long distance runners, tourism has boosted the economy of Iten. Tourists also come for “Running Safaris”. Accommodation is provided with sports facilities billing at a rate above $50 per night. Iten is also attracting foreign investments. Recently, the London marathon association has expressed a desire to build a synthetic athletics track there.

The success of Kenya in middle and long distance athletic events has opened an opportunity for entrepreneurs. A Kenyan born entrepreneur has teamed up with a United States of America entrepreneur to develop the first Kenyan high performance running shoe called Enda Iten. The development of the running shoe is inspired by Kenyan runners. 

Some of the top Kenyan runners are testing the running shoe and are involved in its development. Other countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, China and Netherlands are supporting the development of the Enda Iten. Once the running shoe is complete, it will be 100% made in Kenya and exported globally. This will boost the country’s economic activity through job creation and tax revenue. 

Many Ethiopian athletics heroes and heroines have invested their hard earned prize money in businesses in Ethiopia. Their investments have created job opportunities for many Ethiopians and are creating tax revenue for the nation. Some Ethiopian born athletes that compete for other countries are coming back to invest in Ethiopia. Maryam Yusuf is an Ethiopian born middle distance runner competing for Bahrain. Maryam has built a hotel at a cost of over $8 million and has employed about 200 people. She is also planning to invest in other sectors such as agriculture and construction in Ethiopia. 

Athletes that have invested their prize money in businesses in Ethiopia are:
Haile Gebrselassie (2xOlympic gold medallist)
Derartu Tulu (2xOlympic gold medallist)
Sileshi Sihine (2xOlympic silver medallist)
Tirunesh Dibaba (2xOlympic gold medallist)
Kenenisa Bekele (3xOlympic gold medallist)

Haile Gebrselassie:
Areas of investment: Real Estate, Import & Export, Hotel, Sport, Agriculture, Education and Automotive.
Estimated capital invested: $40 million
Number of jobs created: Over 1000

Kenenisa Bekele
Areas of investment: Hotel and Sport
Estimated capital invested: $20 million
Number of jobs created: Over 500

Deratu Tulu
Areas of investment: Real Estate
Estimated capital invested: $5million
Number of jobs created: over 100

SileshiSihine and Tirunesh Dibaba
Areas of investment: Real Estate and Hotel
Estimated capital invested: $17 million
Number of jobs created: Over 300

As Ethiopia continues to produce successful middle and long distance runners, more investments in business are expected. 


The lesson we learn from Ethiopian and Kenyan runners is that the hard conditions under which they grow prepares them for a successful career in athletics. Their dominance in middle and long distance events in the last decades indicates that successful athletes are able to inspire the youth. Their success at global athletics events have a positive impact in their economies as they are creating new businesses using their prize money.