04/21/09 - Runners from Africa once again scored big in this year's Boston Marathon on Monday, April 20. Ethiopia's Deriba Merga won the men's race, and Kenya's Salina Kosgei broke the victory banner for women. The women's contest was the closest women's race in the marathon's 113-year history. Kosgei finished in 2 hours, 32 minutes, 16 seconds—just one second ahead of second-place winner Dire Tune of Ethiopia.
In the men's race, the winner, Ethiopia's Daribe Merga, won with a time of 2 hours, 8 minutes, 42 seconds. Danial Rono of Kenya came in second. American runners earned third place in both races.
East Africa has long supplied many of the world's top long-distance runners. Theories abound about why Ethiopia and Kenya produce so much athletic talent. Kenyans and Ethiopians may have an edge over Western competitors because of the high altitude at which many of them live and train. Those countries' robust running culture and highly intense training regimes may also play a role.
Members of Kenya's highlands-based Kalenjin tribe make up 12 percent of the nation's population but constitute 75 percent of Kenya's elite runners. The winning streak began with Kip Keino, who in 1968 won Olympic gold in the 1,500 meters. Generations of Kalenjins grew up idolizing him and aspiring to distance-running titles.
Running from Poverty
A teenager runs on a field at the SOS Children's Village Nairobi
Youths in Ethiopia and Kenya see distance running as a way out of poverty. Running champions return from overseas marathons with thousands of dollars. Such money makes them rich in their home countries. But domestic competition to make top teams and compete internationally is fierce.
Very few youths in these countries will get to compete, let alone win famous races like the Boston Marathon. For the majority of impoverished children and youths who remain in Ethiopia and Kenya, life can be grim. Fortunately, SOS Children's Villages is there to help.
SOS Children's Villages Lifts Children Out of Poverty
Boys smiling at the SOS Children's Village Mombasa in Kenya
SOS Children's Villages, the world's largest charity devoted to providing loving homes to orphaned and abandoned children, operates six villages in Ethiopia and four villages in Kenya. In addition to raising children in stable homes and communities, SOS runs schools and clinics for vulnerable local populations. SOS also provides emergency relief to families facing drought and famine, and support programs for those with HIV/AIDS.
If you would like to help a child in Ethiopia or Kenya secure a warm home, a full stomach, and a bright future, consider sponsoring an SOS child.