This is a piece on Susan Sirma, the Kenyan woman who took the 1991 WC bronze in the 3,000m, the first Kenyan woman to win a medal. Special thanks to Justin Lagat.
1991 World Cross Country, (Photo Above) Left to Right: Catherine McKiernan (Ireland, 21:18, 2nd), Susan Sirma (Kenya, 21:40, 9th), Albertina Dias (Portugal, 21:19, 3rd), Lynn Jennings (USA, 21:16, 1st), photo on newhampshirecross.com, photo and copyright by Jeff Johnson
From around 2017, perhaps due to the advancement in social media, the ability to find more information about former world and Olympic champions, and the ability to communicate more easily, there has been a gradual coming together of veteran athletes in Kenya.
I first met Sirma about one year ago through the famous coach Patrick Sang who introduced her to me when I had bumped into them in Eldoret town. I took her number then and she was one of the people I called after the passing on of Ben Jipcho last month, to learn more about the news when they broke. She had only gotten to know Ben Jipcho in the last few years but had kept in contact with him.
“Jipcho was a man who liked so much to connect with others and cherished the moments and the conversations he would have with other veteran runners. He was a great listener and freely shared advice. As veteran athletes, we have lost one of our own who would have helped in advocating for unity and helping the veteran athletes deal together with the challenges they face and to get more recognition in the country,” Sirma said.
“I and some other veterans had been planning on visiting him at his home after learning about his sickness. But, unfortunately, his death came unexpectedly before we could do so,” she sadly said. “Who knows? Perhaps if we had come earlier together as a group of veteran runners to keep checking, visiting on each other, and sharing our problems in life, perhaps some of the misfortunes that befall others would have been postponed, if not avoided.”
Sirma is famous for becoming the first-ever Kenyan woman to win a medal at a world stage having won a bronze medal in 1991 at the world championships in Japan.
Unlike the Kenyan men, it took a while for Kenyan women to dominate the sport of running and Sirma attributes her progress to becoming one of the top runners in the world to her training in Japan just before the world championships. She thinks that the success that we now continue to see happening with the Kenyan women these days is the growing up of the training camps where women get to train together with the men.
“My special medal from Tokyo in 1991 was celebrated a lot, but there was no direct reward that I got when I got back in the country. It was not like it happens these days with the current medalists that are rewarded by the government for winning medals.”
“However, the title did help me secure some appearance money and invitation to many races in Europe where I won some prize money that eventually enabled me to do farming and some businesses after retiring from running,” Sirma said.
Sirma observed that although the athletics body in the country is making some efforts, more should be done to invite and involve veteran athletes in the athletics events around the country.
“Sometimes they only mention these veterans in their events, while it would be great if these veterans were facilitated to come there in person to be seen and appreciated by the younger athletes. They should invite past cross country champions in the national cross country events and former track and field stars in the track and field championships,” Sirma opined.
She also called on the young Kenyan athletes to properly, remain clean, and to avoid being lured into doping. “We were able to run clean in our time and successfully brought glory to our country and also earned a living out of our running,” she said.