NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 5 – Tributes continued to pour for Major Paul Koech, the 1998 IAAF World Half Marathon titleholder who succumbed to illness in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Koech was arguably known for his titanic battles with contemporary and fellow Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) distance running legend- Paul Tergat- who is now the president of the National Olympic Committee-Kenya (NOCK).
Speaking on Wednesday morning, the devastated Tergat paid an emotional homage to the man who ranked as his biggest domestic rivals in their heyday from the mid to the late 90s.
Koech often had the measure of the five-time IAAF World Cross Country Champion on home soil but come at the global showpiece, Tergat would reign supreme with the silver medal the 49 year-old won at the 1998 edition in Marrakech, Morocco, the closest he came to upset his fellow soldier.
“To me, we have lost a hero, not only to the sports fraternity but the whole nation and more importantly, to all commissioned officers of the KDF,” the grief-stricken Tergat said on Wednesday morning.
The NOCK boss was speaking from Mombasa a day after the annual Sports Personality of the Year (SOYA) Awards Patron signed a deal with the County Government to host this year’s edition of the Oscars of Kenyan sports in the coastal city.
Struggling to keep his emotions in check, the two-time Olympic 10,000m silver winner told how he had not yet contacted the family of the deceased to pay his respects out of disbelief.
“It was a total shock, shock, shock, its beyond belief he is no longer with us. This was a very good friend of mine and not only did we represent the country together but he believed entirely on national duty.
-Serving with honour
“I have not even had time to call the family because I’m still in shock. I have not had the courage to call the wife; I have to come and meet her personally when I get to the city (Nairobi).
“This guy was a close friend and we shared a lot of things together,” Tergat who won two IAAF World Half titles in 1999 and 2000 following in the footsteps of his peer added.
“We have travelled together, we believed in sports together. It is a big loss to this nation and me. He never held back anything for this country until he retired
“He was still serving the nation with honour in KDF; you cannot find many people in this country doing the same. He believed in this nation, I’m telling you, this is what I know,” the heartbroken Tergat eulogised.
World governing body, the IAAF was among those who paid their respects to the fallen distance running icon whose immense contribution to the sport was overshadowed by the fierce in competition with Tergat.
“The IAAF is deeply saddened to hear that Kenya’s 1998 world half marathon champion Paul Koech died on Tuesday (4) after a short illness at the age of 49,” the federation posted on their website.
Local affiliate, Athletics Kenya (AK) also sent their condolences.
“With regret and sorrow in Athletics Kenya we have learnt of the sudden demise of Major Paul Koech a co-opted member in Athletics Kenya Executive Committee.
“Paul was a great track, cross country and road racing athlete of all times. A dedicated team player in Kenya’s National and World Cross Country together with World Half Marathon for many years where he won year in year out.
“Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and to the entire Athletics fraternity,” AK said in a brief statement.
Born in 1969 in the Burnt Forest area of Rift Valley province, Koech’s first taste of athletics came in the sprint events during his time at school.
He later spent time at the Armed Forces Training College, by which time he was showing promise as a distance runner.
He started racing internationally in 1995 but his big breakthrough came in 1996. He finished fourth at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships earlier that year and went on to finish sixth in the 10,000m at the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
He started 1997 by winning the hotly contested Kenyan Cross-Country Championships – the first of three successive victories – and he added another domestic title to his collection later that year when winning the national 10,000m crown.
Koech went on to finish fourth in the 10,000m at the 1997 World Championships in Athens where his niece, Sally Barsosio, struck gold in the women’s event.
–Courtesy SportPesa News