COACH Patrick Sang does not have a clear picture of the Eliud Kipchoge he first met at the dirt track in Nandi County.
All he remembers is a 16-year-old who was hungry to learn.
“I didn’t know his name,” he said. “But he kept coming up to me and asking for training programmes.”
Finally Patrick, who had successfully competed in the Olympics and World Championships, asked him: ‘Who are you?’
The young teenager looked at him and replied: ‘I’m Eliud.’
That was 18 years ago.
Today, Eliud is the fastest marathon runner in the world.
“I often ask myself what would have happened if I had said no when he asked for a training programme,” said Patrick who has coached him since 2001.
“What if I had ignored that young man who came to me asking for support? Would history have been different? Would we have seen this phenomenal marathon runner?”
No one will ever know the answer to that.
But what Patrick does know is that Eliud is now the one teaching him.
“In some ways the roles have actually reversed,” he said. “I was a role model to Eliud for many years and played the role of teacher because, for many years, it was possible to teach him something new. But he is now teaching me things and I think we can all learn from him, the way he lives his life and the values he holds.”
In 2001, though, Eliud was just starting out on his incredible journey into the world of athletics – and he needed guidance.
That guidance came from Patrick. In abundance.
“I think if you are endowed with a certain knowledge, in whatever field that is, then you should give it back,” said Patrick. “Running has given me so much. It has given me a quality education and the opportunity to travel the world. So it is very important for me to give back what I have learned to young athletes.”
Patrick said Eliud – despite all the accolades, the money and media attention – had not changed.
“He fundamentally believes you should remain humble and that is certainly not easy,” he said.
“I have seen athletes who have had some success in their careers and who have been influenced in a negative way by the money they have earned. But not Eliud.”