Escape from a life of squalor is what inspired Makau, who blew away Ethiopia’s running legend, Haile Gebreselassie’s 2:03:59 world record in men marathon running with his 2:03:38 winning performance in Berlin on Sunday, to start running.
“I wanted to do anything in athletics that would help me out of poverty,” he said in 2007.
“I grew up under a lot of hardship and was only interested in getting a better life. When I started out on the road and saw how much money it brought, I decided to go on. My earnings from athletics have helped my father’s family and improved our lives,” he added at the time.
That was shortly before the soft spoken runner prepared to don the Kenyan jersey for the first time in his life having been a surprise selection for the World Half Marathon Championships (then World Road Running Championships) in Udine, Italy.
Makau did not shame the shirt as he fought bravely, losing the top medal to Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese.
A string of winning performances in the half and full marathons elevated him from your ordinary-run-of-the-mill youth from Ukambani to one of the Kenya’s members of the millionaires’ club.
However, cognisant of his roots, Makau has taken measures to ensure that a number of youth from his Manyanzwani village, Tala Division, Kangundo District in Eastern Province are actively engaged in gainful employment courtesy of his deep pockets.
Makau’s manager, Zane Branson (he ditched former handler, Ian Landbrooke over payment issues), estimates that Kenyans scoop some 50 percent of athlete prize earnings from the world’s marathons and that much of it is returned into helping people back home.
Makau’s success has consequently boosted a whole community. “At the moment, there are about 60 young people working in my estate with many more getting opportunities whenever activities peak,” he told Capital Sport.
His economic interests include real estate, masonry and farming. He is erecting a number of commercial buildings in Machakos and native Tala besides engaging in coffee and maize cultivation in addition to cutting bricks for sale in Nairobi.
Makau is also into dairy farming with his product once again earmarked for the capital.
He started earning good money during the second half of 2007, under the management of Posso Sports, and his winnings, signing fees and Adidas endorsement deal net him well into six figures.
“It’s not money stuffed into a Swiss bank account, its money that’s working for the community,” Branson said.
“I grew up under a lot of hardship and was only interested in getting a better life,” said Makau, whose wife Cathreen works in the military. They have a daughter, Christine.
Makau’s income has largely gone to support his and his wife’s extended families. He built a house for his parents and bought plots of land for other family members.
As marathon world record holder Gebrselassie, the man he knocked off his perch has shown, it is possible to combine training and business and Makau’s first substantial business investment was a 10-unit apartment complex in Nairobi.
Furthermore, together with two athletes who inspired him on his way up, Jimmy Muindi and Patrick Ivuti, Makau is involved in a training camp in Kangundo, a neighbouring village of Tala, for developing distance runners.
But his biggest acclaim is the fact he managed to achieve two monumental milestones in perfect weather in Berlin. First, he broke Gebrsellasie, no mean feat since the diminutive Ethiopian had remained the single biggest barrier for many accomplished Kenyan runners.
Moses Tanui and Paul Tergat are some of the illustrious runners who were denied their crowning moments at World Championships and Olympics in the 1990s and early 2000 by the man simply known as ‘The Emperor’.
Then Makau went ahead and did what hundreds of his compatriots had tried with failure, taking away the last bastion of ‘The Emperor’s’ majesty- the world marathon record he snatched from his archrival Tergat in 2007 before improving it a year later at the same Berlin race.
Reported IAAF, “Such was the damage done behind him when Makau streaked away after 27 kilometres, that one of the pacemakers, also a Kenyan, Stephen Chemlany hung in and finished second, in 2:07:55; with another Kenyan, Edwin Kimaiyo third in 2:09:50 at this IAAF Gold Label Road Race.”
“Gebrselassie, who stopped in discomfort when Makau surged away, recommenced and briefly reclaimed second place, but eventually dropped out at the 35 kilometre point.”
“It is one of my tactics. I did some zig-zags, to confuse him. I had a lot of energy, and wanted to tire him. He was trying to use me, to maintain the pace, and I wanted to run alone, either behind him or to the side, so I did a zig-zag to one side and he followed, I did it to the other side, and the next time, I couldn’t see him,” Makau told the IAAF.
He added: “This (World record) is very special for the Kenyans, especially beating the Ethiopians. Everyone in Kenya will be happy for me. My manager is getting a lot of calls from Kenya, and I hear there were lots of people watching TV in bars, and breaking bottles when they saw the World record.”
He is right. Kenyans have been waiting for the moment for so long and that it was Makau, a runner who is not only talented in his own right but also a symbol of a community not known for its deep running roots.