Keino junior drops off the pace after a decade

Updated: October 6, 2005, 9:07 PM ET
Reuters

By Isa Omok

NAIROBI, Oct 7 - Though never as successful as his Olympic champion father, Martin Keino carved out his own place in athletics history as pace-setter to world record breakers.

When Keino retired last month, the party to celebrate his decade of pace-setting was attended by Kenyan athletics celebrities including world marathon record holder Paul Tergat, 2000 Olympics 1,500 metres champion Noah Ngeny and 1997 world 3,000 metres steeplechase champion Wilson Boit Kipketer.

In their native Kenya, Martin Keino commands as much attention and respect as his father Kipchoge Keino, whose successes included two Olympic gold medals for the 1,500 metres in 1968 and 3,000 metres steeplechase in 1972.

"Many people thought I would be like my father, which sometimes put pressure on my performance, but I later accepted that I was my own man," said Martin, whose charm and spontaneous smile bring to mind his father.

"Being the son of the legendary Kip, people expected me to give as much but I realised that this was not possible and I needed to be my own man," said Keino.

Martin, 33, was the only one of Kipchoge's children to attempt to follow in their father's footsteps. His siblings went instead into professions such as medicine, hospitality and administration.

He said the athletics world showed him no favours because of his parentage.

"One has to work hard to succeed. There are no shortcuts. Whether you are the son of Kipchoge Keino you really have to work extra hard because finally you are judged by your own performance," he said.

UNSUNG HEROES

For 10 years, Keino perfected the controversial art of pace-setting.

Often referred to as "king makers", pace-setters are the unsung heroes of athletics. Their role is to take off fast, running alongside elite athletes and pushing for speed before dropping out of the race.

Martin helped some of the world's greatest athletes to set world records. While his father, now president of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya, dominated the middle- and long-distance races in his era, Martin was on top of his own speciality, pace-making.

His clients included Kenya's former multi-record holder Daniel Komen, Ethiopian track 'emperor' Haile Gebrselassie and, most recently, Kenenisa Bekele.

He recalls how, in 1996, he paced Komen to the two-mile world best and helped him to lower it a year later. The time of seven minutes 58.61 seconds, set in Hechtel, Belgium, on Jul. 19, 1997, has yet to be beaten.

He paced Komen to a 5,000 metres world record in Brussels in 1997 before helping Gebrselassie to lower it in the same year.

Last year, he was part of Bekele's pace-setting brigade which helped the Ethiopian to break the 10,000 metres (26:20.31) and 5,000 metres (12:37.35) world records in the Czech Republic and Netherlands respectively.

He was on hand this year to help Bekele lower the 10,000 record to 26:17 in August in Brussels.

ETHICS QUESTIONED

Pace-setting has come under attack with some commentators questioning the ethics of the role sometimes taken by older athletes who want to earn a few more dollars before retiring.

"There is nothing wrong with peers agreeing to pace one another, as long as everyone is trying to win. Paid pace-makers are ruining athletics, because they are effectively being paid to lose," the British Guardian newspaper wrote recently.

"How can this be ethical competition?" it said.

Martin told guests at his 'hanging up the spikes' party that his only disappointment during his career was not having represented his country at an international competition.

Although he regrets having won neither an Olympic nor a world title, he is happy that he was part of world record-breaking achievements in middle- and long-distance races around the world.

Keino, who hung his running spikes and vests on the gate of his house in the leafy Lavington suburb of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to announce his retirement from athletics, has now ventured into sports marketing.

Despite his relative youth, he decided to retire "because a time comes when one has to make a decision to move on".

"I have done the same thing for the past 10 years -- globe-trotting, jet-setting, moving from airports into hotels and the stadium and vice versa. I have followed that routine for the past 10 years. I need to do something different," he said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index