Taxation can impoverish as well as replenish, overturn empires or elevate kings. It is getting the balance right that counts.   Last Wednesday 400+ members of Kenya’s running nobility gathered in Eldoret, the center of Kenyan running in the North Rift Valley, to unite in opposition to an imposition, an imposition of a direct tax on their athletic earnings.

In one voice the athletes said, nay! we already pay indirect tax via the local levies on holdings, businesses, and the like.  (Athletes are the Republicans in this scenario, the trickle down, job-creators.)  On the other side sits the Kenyan Revenue Authority (KRA) which says the law is simple, all Kenya citizens must pay (30%) tax on all earnings.

But as always in Kenya, there is the law and then there is the policy.  For years Kenyan athletes have been seen as ambassadors for their country, elevating its world standing by their superb racing exploits. What’s more, their income was considered an engine of commerce as they poured their earnings back into their local economies.   And since those businesses and investments were always subjected to taxation, the athletes say the imposition of a direct tax on earnings would not only stifle future economic development, it would double tax them as their earnings are already taxed in the countries in which they race.

But there’s more to it than that.  Just 50 years free from British colonial rule, Kenya remains a young nation, and the ties that bind a nation together are not as developed as one might assume. What further underlies the athletes’ opposition to the new policy is the duplicity they see as coming from the government.

Kenyan Parliamentarians are among the highest paid in the world in a nation whose citizens earn an average $1800 per year.  Last summer the MPs succumbed to public pressure and agreed to drop their salaries by nearly 40%, but from $120,000 a year to $75,000!  Then they voted themselves exempt from paying any tax!  That’s good work if you can get it.

The argument from the KRA vantage point says that the policy of not directly taxing the athletes’ income was initiated decades ago when there was just a trickle of men running overseas. Today, that trickle has become a torrent, and the time for such a lenient tax policy has long since passed, and the athletes must now be treated like any other citizen.  Thus, what we see is one side looking to overturn tradition, while the other wants to maintain its legacy. Continue reading


Brendan Reilly with Diane Nukuri-Johnson

Brendan Reilly with Bix 7 contender Diane Nukuri-Johnson (courtesy Daily Camera)

Davenport, Iowa – The 39th Quad City Times Bix 7 Road Race goes off tomorrow, one of the summer’s top races on the U.S. road tour.  Preparing for KWQC-TVs live broadcast (coverage begins at 7 a.m. central time, the race starts at 8 a.m.), I called agent Brendan Reilly (Boulder Wave, Inc.) for an update on his athlete Diane Nukuri-Johnson, winner of the Bay to Breakers 12K in San Francisco and one of the favorites in the Bix7 women’s race.  Soon, however, our talk turned to this week’s news that Athletics Kenya has once again taken a hard line with its athletes in preparation for the upcoming IAAF World Championships in Moscow where Reilly’s client Edna Kiplagat of Kenya will be defending her 2011 world title in the women’s marathon.

As has been reported, Kenyan athletes originally scheduled to compete in today and tomorrow’s Diamond League meeting in London have been withheld by order of their federation  — “London is too close to Moscow and this may burn out our athletes,” Athletics Kenya president Isaiah Kiplagat told Reuters.

This decision comes in the wake of Kenya’s poor showing at last year’s London Olympic Games — they aimed for 12 gold medals, but returned home with only two – David Rudisha in the 800m, and Ezikiel Kemboi in the 3000m steeplechase.  AK came away feeling their athletes had over-raced ahead of time.  Immediately following the Games the federation decreed that any Kenyan marathoner eligible for a position on the 2016 Rio Olympic Marathon squad will not be allowed to participate in a spring marathon before the Rio Games.  These decisions have not been well received within the agent fraternity, and Brendan Reilly, for one, feels his profession is getting something of a bum rap.  Continue reading


Wesley Korir’s Winning Smile

The 116th Boston Marathon stands as one the warmest in the event’s illustrious history.  Dire warnings were posted on the BAA website offering entrants the opportunity to by-pass the expected broiler without having to re-qualify for 2013 (Boston is the only major marathon that requires entrants to qualify by age-graded time standards).

With temperatures soaring to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the road surface, two-time L.A. Marathon champion and 2011 Chicago runner up Wesley Korir bided his time, watching as fellow countryman Matthew Kisorio (recently suspended for a steroid doping violation) Levy Matebo and defending champion Geoffrey Mutai opened up a sizable lead through the mid-section miles of the historic route.  Mutai was running in his first hot weather marathon, and discovering it was not his cup of tea.   At 18 miles he pulled off by the side of the road, felled by the sweltering conditions.  At 21 miles atop Heartbreak Hill Matebo broke free of Kisorio. Wesley Korir was in sixth place more than a minute behind.

“I had to be careful,” Wesley told me the following day at the annual day-after press conference at the Copley Plaza Hotel, “because with crowds I really get motivated. So I had to stay in the moment and be smart.  I kept telling myself, “be smart.  Be smart.”

Gradually, like a long-line fisherman, Korir reeled in the fading leaders, finally passing Matebo on Beacon Street before entering Kenmore Square with one mile to go.

“When I passed him I knew he was struggling,” Wesley recalled. “I said, ‘I’ve got this’. Then all of a sudden I began cramping up really bad, and I had to slow down, because I knew if I continued pushing I wouldn’t finish the race.”

Nobody was immune to the conditions that April day.  But this is where Wesley Korir began to separate himself from the everyday champions of the sport.  In his moment of crisis, with victory at history’s oldest marathon at stake, he stopped thinking like an athlete.

“As I was running, I knew my family was first, and my running was second. I didn’t want to do anything crazy to hurt myself, because I know my family depends on me. I know they love me, and want to see me back home safe.”

Another kilometer down the course as the route dipped below Mass Ave at the Tommy Leonard Bridge adjacent to the old Eliot Lounge, Wesley was able to get away from Matebo. But…

“I won the race not because of my ability to run, but because of my ability to process things. I thank God for bringing me to America to go to college.  I won because of my intelligence rather than my physical abilities.  I had to be conservative.  I had to take care of my body. I didn’t want to end up in the hospital, and maybe ruin my life forever.  But things like this you only get with education.  You don’t only think of winning. You think of the big picture of your life.”

It is this quality of perspective, of prioritizing, of seeing beyond the moment to the larger picture that has led Wesley Korir into the hearts of marathon fans world-wide, and made him an easy rooting favorite – along with American Dathan Ritzenhein – for Sunday’s marathon in Chicago.

“I’m still growing as a marathoner,” Wesley says.  “I couldn’t believe I won the Boston Marathon.  It’s nice to win L.A., but to win the Boston Marathon is like winning the Olympics and the World Championships all of them together.”

Believing the Boston Win

Squatting on his haunches having just crossed the finish line on Boylston Street, Korir’s expression was one of wonder and disbelief.

“I asked the volunteer ten times to pinch me.  Did I really just win the Boston Marathon?”

Yes, Wesley, you did, following in the footsteps of many fellow Kenyans. But maybe none more so than the original Kenyan champion at Boston, Ibrahim Hussein (1988, 1991-`92).  I say this because you, like Hussein, came into your pro running career as a college graduate, having taken a biology degree at the University of Louisville in 2008.

A generation ago college was the path almost all Kenyan runners took to the U.S.  Men like Ibrahim Hussein, Mike Musyoki, Henry Rono, and Joe Nzau arrived on scholarship.  But as the 1990s dawned, money in the sport opened, then grew.  Slowly, then decidedly, young Kenyan runners and greedy agents began to eschew long-term goals, and instead struck early and often.  Without any standards to hit, or obligations required to earn professional status, Kenyan athletes flooded the American road circuit, hitting as many races as possible, even at the expense of their own best interests.

“I was talking to the Athletics Kenya chairman (Isaiah Kiplagat), who was here (Boston),” explained Wesley.  “I told him, ‘we need to encourage athletes in Kenya to go to school’.  You don’t have a lifetime to run (competitively), but you do have a lifetime to use knowledge. I think most runners who are struggling financially in Kenya, who cannot do something with their life, struggle because they don’t have that knowledge. And that’s when people take advantage of them.”

Sudden fame and instant riches can become their own curse, as evidenced by the tragic death of 2008 Olympic Marathon (and 2X Chicago) champion Sammy Wanjiru last May.

Wanjiru Wins in Chicago 2010

“He was a very good friend of mine,” said Korir.  “The reason I won Boston is because in Chicago when I ran with Sammy he told me, “Wesley, you run like a champion. And I tell you the truth, you will be a champion one day’.  That motivated me to work so hard, and I wanted to win Chicago last year for him. I didn’t (he finished second to Moses Mosop). But when I came to Boston I told coach (Ron Mann, University of Louisville), ‘I have unfinished business’.

“Sammy was a great guy.  But why was he unable to manage his life? Why did these things happen to him?  Because he didn’t get an education.  That’s why other people were leading his life, not him.  And that’s what my education gives me, the understanding to know what comes first.”

Wesley points to Sally Kipyego, nine-time NCAA champion out of Texas Tech who has a nursing degree as well as a silver medal from the 2011 World Championships at 10,000-meters, as his female role-model counterpart.

“Sally and I are perfect examples of what needs to be done in Kenya. First you need to go to school. You can still run after that.  I don’t think all I’ve done in the four years that I have been a professional runner I would have done if I went pro immediately.”

Then Wesley brought general theory back into everyday practice.

“I have a young brother (John Kipkosgei).  He is 13 years old, and very fast.  Last year (2011) he was about to make the Kenyan Junior team, but I told him and my mom, ‘no running until he finishes school’.  He has the talent. There’s no doubt about that. But get an education first. I even told his teachers, ‘no running.  Let him do the exercises, but no competitive running until he finishes school’.”

The Korir’s:  McKayLA, Tara & Wesley

These days Wesley, wife Tarah, and their two-year-old daughter McKayLa (named by combining Tarah’s maiden name with LA, site of Wesley’s first two marathon wins) split their time between homes in Kentucky, where he and wife Tara met, her parent’s home in Kitchener, Ontario, and Kenya.

Wesley is one of nine siblings who hail from Biribiriet, a small village in the Central Highlands of western Kenya where life offers no guarantees.  One of his other brothers died several years ago of a poisonous snake-bite when there was no medical clinic near enough to save him.

Today, Wesley’s Kenyan Kids Foundation supports youngsters in their educational goals, while a new medical clinic in his home village, built with the support of friend Ryan Hall’s STEPS Foundation and set up by the University of Louisville Medical School, has brought something approaching hope, if not a guarantee, to Biribiriet. At the same time it has elevated Korir beyond the valued, but narrow, scope of world-class distance runner, and shown him the road ahead beyond his competitive years.

As he told Phil Hersh: “When you would help the children, you would see their families smile. I told my wife, ”This is what I want to do the rest of my life, to make people smile.’ ”

I have often said that every sport must be fortunate in the people who become their champions.  Sport, after all, is a meritocracy.  But if there is anyone in the 40,000+ field for the Chicago Marathon who would no more with the 2012 title than Wesley Korir, I really don’t know who that might be.



Like the other great running writers of his era, men like the late Joe Concannon of the Boston Globe and Neil Amdur, former sports editor of the New York Times, Phil Hersh of the Chicago Tribune is a master of the long-form profile, once a staple in the newspaper business.  With a gemologist’s eye for detail these writers have a way of weaving a tapestry in words that captures something beyond the facts to reveal the essential nature of their subjects.  Hersh The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Hersch penned an in-depth profile this week on Kenya’s Wesley Korir as a lead-in to Sunday’s 2012 Chicago Marathon.


Nairobi, Kenya-The announcement naming 2011 London Marathon champion Emmanuel Mutai to replace 2011 Chicago Marathon champion Moses Mosop (tendon injury) on the 2012 Kenyan Olympic Marathon team by Athletics Kenya president Isaiah Kiplagat at a press conference on Tuesday has opened a controversy. During the press conference, Mr. Kiplagat asserted that the reason neither 2011 Boston and New York City Marathon champion Geoffrey Mutai or 2011 Berlin Marathon champion Patrick Makau were considered as replacements was because neither of their agents had submitted training and fitness reports following their drop outs at the Boston and London Marathons.

I arrived in Nairobi on Wednesday night, and spoke directly with Makau’s agent Zane Branson.

“When the announcement was made on Monday that a replacement would be named on Tuesday, Makau was expecting good news,” said Branson.  “But what Mr. Kiplagat said on Tuesday is simply not true. After London (where Makau dropped out), I came straight to the hotel from the finish.  At 4:30 p.m. I was in Makau’s room. We received a call, and it was AK treasurer, Mr. Kinyua, Mr. Kiplagat’s brother-in-law. He came up.  I explained to him the situation why Patrick dropped out. Then I left them together. He knew.  I also spoke with Ibrahim Hussein, AK assistant secretary, there and Mr. Okeyo, too (AK general secretary).”

“I am defending my client, not because he wasn’t named to the team but because Kiplagat made knowingly false statements yesterday (Tuesday) in his press conference. Patrick remains firm around three around pivot points: Continue reading


     Well, the word has come down from on high, and a little earlier than expected at that.  Originally scheduled to be announced April 30th, today at a packed news conference in Naiobi, Athletics Kenya named their highly anticipated Olympic Marathon squads.

Men: Wilson Kipsang, Abel Kirui, Moses Mosop

Women: Mary Keitany, Edna Kiplagat, Priscah Jeptoo

“We have selected the athletes based on their individual performances after the major Marathon races they have participated in this season with a lot of emphasis on experience,” AK President Isaiah Kiplagat told the gathering.

The women’s selection held no surprises, top three at London, all of whom have performed well in recent performances before that, including reigning World Champion Edna Kiplagat and silver medalist Priscah Jeptoo. Two-time London champion Mary Keitany is, of course, the lioness herself.

The only other candidate with claim might have been Boston champ Sharon Cherop, the bronze medal winner in Daegu. But even her own team knew her Olympic chance came and went in Dubai in January where, though she ran a PR 2:22:39, it only harvested seventh place.  Regardless of her win in Boston, AK was not going to put someone on the team whose third marathon of the year would be the Olympic Marathon.

Men’s team was always the more intriguing selection.  But of the six provisional picks, only Wilson Kipsang performed at his best this spring, winning London handily.

M. Mosop 2:05:02 – 3rd, Rotterdam
G. Mutai DNF, Boston
W.Kipsang 2:04:44 – 1st, London
A. Kirui 2:07:56 – 6th, London
E. Mutai 2:08:01 – 7th, London
P. Makau DNF, London
Continue reading


     The Athletics Kenya decision to stage their Olympic 10,000 meter selection in Eugene, Oregon at this June’s Prefontaine Classic has come in for some harsh criticism back home. Perhaps to tamp down some of that criticism and ameliorate disappointed fans, Athletics Kenya chairman Isaiah Kiplagat has made a Solomon-esque decision. Today, he informed the agents who represent the 10,000-meter Olympic “A” standard qualified Kenyan men that they “must participate in the mini trials to be held in Nairobi on 17 April 2012 without exception.”

This message arrived out of the blue, leading to speculation that the addition of a “mini trials” comes in response to the backlash from the Kenya media and the National Olympic Committee.  The Kenyan Ministry of Sport had also made condemning comments about the AK’s handling of the Olympic selection process.

Regardless, it’s hard to argue with the logic of staging the 10,000m trials in Eugene. And it wouldn’t be the first time a Kenyan Trials selection was held outside the country, either as the 1992 Kenyan Olympic marathon team was selected out of the Boston Marathon.

But for the 10,000 meters, the atmosphere in Eugene at Hayward Field will be electric.  What’s more, the race will be conducted at sea-level, thereby mirroring the conditions the team will find in London at the Games.  As such, the need to experience and practice the kind of final lap sprint – that Kenyans are not well known for – and which could mean the difference between a medal and disappointment, is much more likely to come to pass in Eugene than at altitude in Nairobi.

Also, with a pre-selection race and a following Trials competition, the odds are greater that an experienced team will emerge, rather than include a one-trick pony who may rise in a single selection race at altitude, but then bomb out in London.  In any case, the intrigue continues, which will only build more attention for both races.