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Aliphine Tuliamuk still remembers the day she received her first pair of running shoes

Nearly twenty years ago, the future 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials champion was just another promising young runner in the Rift Valley province of her native Kenya. Only 11 years old, she was selected to compete in the state meet in the 10,000m after outracing older girls in the arduous event.

On their way to the competition, her coach—Geoffrey Ptormos, a distant relative of Tuliamuk’s—arranged for Tegla Loroupe to come meet the team. The local Kapenguria legend was training for the 2000 Olympic Games as the favourite for the marathon and the 5000m, and by then had captured two New York City Marathon titles, three World Championship half marathon titles, and was the world record holder in the marathon twice over, with her best effort of 2:20:43 standing until September 2001. 

But Tuliamuk didn’t know any of that quite yet. Instead, it was Loroupe who was quite taken with the young runner’s abilities.

“The athletes I had beaten in the 10,000 were way older than me, so Tegla was very impressed by my performances,” Tuliamuk remembers. “She ended up giving me a pair of shoes and she became my hero instantly.”

Tuliamuk didn’t race in the brand-new flats right away— “no way, I wasn’t used to wearing shoes and racing, I thought they would hold me back” —but she treasured the gift, saving the new shoes for special occasions. 

“It meant the world to me,” she says. “I was barefoot at the time, so to get this really beautiful, clean pair of shoes from her was awesome.”

Modest roots.- Tuliamuk shrugs off her humble upbringing as normal.

She and her 31 siblings, all born to the same father from four different mothers under the culturally accepted practice of polygamy, ran two miles, barefoot, to and from school everyday, as did her friends. Running is so ingrained in everyday life that those with natural abilities in the sport are easily spotted. But of Tuliamuk’s immediate community, she was the only one to pursue competitive running.

Ptormos noticed Tuliamuk’s burgeoning talent and invited her to come live with his family in a neighboring village after the state competition in 2000 so he could coach her. She lived with them on and off for eight years, until she finished high school.

Her best performance during that time came in 2005, when she placed ninth in the World Junior Cross Country Championships as a 15-year-old. The 6km race was held in Saint-Galmier, France, where the beds were the size of three beds back home and the travel van was outfitted with mini TVs. At the race after party, runners danced to music and chowed down on fancy French pastries.

The event opened Tuliamuk’s mind to the vast opportunities that running could afford her.

But as the idea of running professionally and competing in the Olympic Games lodged itself in her brain, Tuliamuk also wanted to succeed in the classroom. Athletics were not a big priority at her high school and by her last year, she had stopped running entirely.

(04/03/2020) Views: 1,275 ⚡AMP
by worl Athletics
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2024 US Olympic Trials Marathon

2024 US Olympic Trials Marathon

Most countries around the world use a selection committee to choose their Olympic Team Members, but not the USA. Prior to 1968, a series of races were used to select the USA Olympic Marathon team, but beginning in 1968 the format was changed to a single race on a single day with the top three finishers selected to be part...

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