Norah Jeruto moved to Kazakhstan and became a citizen five years ago, aged 22. Up until that moment, she was one of Kenya’s most promising talents and had set the track ablaze since making her international debut as a 15-year old.
At the just concluded World Championships in Oregon, USA she made history by winning the 3000m steeplechase – Kazakhstan’s first gold medal in the history of the Championships.
The win entitles her to $250,000 (Ksh29.6 Million) in reward money from the Central Asian country. For comparison, Kenya rewards Gold-winning athletes with Ksh1 million. Kazakhstan is one of numerous countries in the world with athlete reward schemes intended to incentivize athletes representing the country in addition to boosting their sports sectors’ profiles.
“It has been a journey of hard work and Jeruto winning a gold medal the first one in history for Kazakhstan is something I’m proud of,” Jeruto’s coath, Kenneth Rotich, stated after the World Championships victory. He coaches Jeruto among other athletes mostly in Iten, Kenya.
Jeruto made her international debut at the 2011 African Cross Country Championships, where she placed sixth in the junior race completing a Kenyan sweep of the top-six places. She’d go on to thrive in the steeplechase event, and won the gold later that year at the 2011 Commonwealth Youth Games.
She made a major mark after winning steeplechase gold at the African Championships in 2016. Jeruto set a Championship record in the process.
In 2017, she moved to Kazakhstan and became a member of Altay Athletics Club – which describes itself as ‘Kazakhstan’s first track and field club’.
Known for their athletic prowess, Kenyans have for many years been lured to represent other countries. Support for athletes switching allegiance to these countries may also include opportunities for education and employment in addition to bonuses, performance-based rewards and immigration privileges.
Many other Kenyan-born athletes represented other countries at the World Championships. They include Belgium’s Isaac Kimeli (10,000m) as well as USA’s Jonah Koech (800m), Elkanah Kibet (marathon) and Hillary Bor. Kazakhstan’s Caroline Chepkoech Kipkirui finished seventh in the 10,000m.
Even in the race won by Jeruto, Kenyan-born Bahraini athlete Winfred Yavi Mutile finished fourth. The athletes also receive better care compared to their Team Kenya counterparts, as was evidenced by Kenya’s 2018 World Under-20 champion Celliphine Chespol lacking a physiotherapist in Oregon and having to use Jeruto’s ahead of the steeplechase in Oregon. Chespol finished 13th.
“I developed some pain in one of my knees but sadly there was no physio for me when I got to the warm up area. But I thank God I made it to the finish albeit empty handed…During the warm up session I almost gave up but luckily Jeruto’s (Norah) physio came to my rescue and sprayed my knee,” she narrated.