Kenyan Runners Find Place on US Olympic Team
Three Kenya-born long-distance runners will be competing at the Rio Olympics this August for Team USA.
Paul Chelimo, Shadrack Kipchirchir and Leonard Korir will be wearing the USA uniform in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Because they are soldiers in the U.S. Army, the runners were able to apply for and receive U.S. citizenship without waiting the usual three or five years.
All of the runners competed at the recent Olympic Trials in the state of Oregon. They made the team by finishing in the top three in their events.Chelimo will compete in the 5-kilometer race in Rio de Janeiro. Kipchirchir and Korir will run in the 10-kilometer race.
The Kenya-born athletes had attended universities in the U.S. and were members of their school's track and field teams.
Kipchirchir went to Oklahoma State University. Korir went to Iona College outside of New York City. Chelimo went to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
When it came time to decide what they would do after school, enlisting in the U.S. Army seemed like a good idea.
Dan Browne is a former Olympic athlete. He coaches the runners in the Army's World Class Athlete Program. Browne said top athletes who are looking to stay in the U.S. enlist in the military because they can become citizens sooner.
Korir said people in Kenya love to run. So it made sense that he and his countrymen would try to continue their careers.
"In Kenya, running is like soccer in Brazil," he said.
Chelimo, 25, joined the Army in 2014. He is a water treatment specialist. Korir will turn 30 later this year. He is a motor transport operator. Kipchirchir is 27. He is a financial management technician.
Browne says the athletes can be paid, perform their military duties and also prepare for major competitions like the Olympics.
All of the athletes in the program are great ambassadors for the Army, Browne said. "They represent sacrifice, determination, loyalty, commitment - all of our ethos."
Some members of the international track and field community are concerned about how easy it is for athletes to change countries.
Sebastian Coe, a famous British runner, is the president of the organization that governs international track and field. He and other track and field leaders will meet during the Rio Games to discuss whether it is too easy for athletes to change their citizenship.
The Kenyan-American runners believe they have worked hard to represent the U.S. After he qualified for the Olympics, Kipchirchir said he still performed duties like other soldiers in the U.S. Army.
Kipchirchir and some of the other runners live in Beaverton, Oregon. Beaverton is home to the athletic company Nike. They will often train with athletes who are paid to represent Nike.
"Their job is just running," Kipchirchir said. "They concentrate on just running."
But Kipchirchir says he is a soldier, first.
In all, there will be 10 athletes at the Rio Games who are serving in the Army. Another runner, a race walker, four shooters and a modern pentathlon competitor will join the three runners from Kenya for the games.
I'm Dan Friedell.