Justin Lagat did this piece on Ben Jipcho’s death and the challenges that Kenyan Olympic medalists see in their later years…
Once you win medals for the country and celebrations are over, you may be on your own. This is the harsh reality that hit most of the Kenyan veteran runners as Ben Jipcho was laid to rest at his home village of Kasawai, in Trans Nzoia County this Friday the 31st of July after passing on 24th of July at a hospital in Eldoret, due to a long illness.
After flying the Kenyan flag high and delivering different Olympic, All-Africa Games, and Commonwealth medals for the country in the late 1960s to early 1970s, Jipcho retired from running and little is mentioned of his life after that. It was only until his demise that his name and the great contributions he had made to the Kenyan legacy in running came up again. If there is one thing that the Kenyan is known for, it is definitely for its runners and Jipcho was part of the pioneer runners that started the trend.
However, some of his fellow veteran athletes who were close to him during his last days in the hospital, and tried to assist with the little they had, as his family struggled to meet the growing hospital bills, shared their concerns about such a big star that had brought much glory to the Kenyan nation having to struggle on his own to access medication.
Of late, there has been a move by the Kenyan government to pay some cash money to the Olympic and world medalists when they return from their competitions. The amount for a gold medal is KES 1 million ($10,000). Although a welcomed move, this is less than one month’s salary for some of the civil servants in the country. A one month’s salary is definitely not enough to meet all the needs of an Olympic athlete, given that it takes four years before another Olympic year and it is not easy to repeat a win.
There is currently no pension, nor medical cover to take care of the veteran athletes in Kenya.
“We need a structured way to help veteran runners, and not the simple hand-outs during some of the events,” Francis Bowen who is part of the veteran runners in the country told RunBlogRun. Often, some old veteran runners are only invited to participate in the competitions and only given a few shillings after their images are taken.
“We are seeing the need for veteran athletes to come together, to advice and to support each other,” says Susan Sirma who is the first-ever black African woman to win a medal in a world athletics event in 1991.