ccd421370aa49210VgnVCM100000e56411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2008-Q2'Running brings us together'bcd421370aa49210VgnVCM100000e56411ac____'Running brings us together'Tribal violence has touched many Kenyan racers, and at least two were killed, but they come together with Beijing in mind.Tribal violence has touched many Kenyan racers, and at least two were killed, but they come together with Beijing in mind.<p>ELDORET, KENYA // These days, Edward Mutai is running for Olympic glory. But just a few months ago, he was running for his life.
An Olympic hopeful in the 1,500 metres, Mr Mutai, a Kalenjin, was living in the town of Nakuru when bloody tribal violence broke out in Kenya at the beginning of the year. After Kikuyu mobs attacked other tribes in Nakuru in February, Mr Mutai found it too dangerous to go out on his morning training runs.</p>
<p>While preparing in December for the Beijing Games, he had no choice but to put his training on hold. "It was very hard because I had to stop training," he said. "It has really affected my time."
Mr Mutai fled to Eldoret in western Kenya, where many of the country's top runners train. Perched on the edge of the Rift Valley at 2,500 metres, the region's thin air gives the athletes an advantage when they race at lower elevations.</p>
<p>The 121-member Kenyan Olympic team, which is made up mostly of elite runners, started arriving last week at training centres around the country. But many of the runners have some catching up to do to reach their peak by the start of the Olympics on Aug 8.
Months of ethnic clashes following a disputed election disrupted the training regimens of many of the runners. As angry machete-wielding mobs torched houses and hacked fellow Kenyans to death, some of the athletes found themselves caught up in the violence.</p>
<p>"The athletes know what happened and how it affected them," said Kipchoge Keino, president of Kenya's Olympic committee and an Olympic gold medal-winning runner. "We have to forget what happened and move on with the training."
Long distance runners are as iconic to Kenya as a heard of elephants grazing on the savanna. Since 1964, Kenyan runners have won 61 Olympic medals, 17 of them gold, and have dominated countless world-class marathons.</p>
<p>Western Kenya, home to the Kalenjin tribe, has produced a disproportionate amount of successful runners. Kalenjins, which make up only 10 per cent of Kenya's population, have earned 75 per cent of the country's distance running honours.
Kenyan runners were beginning to prepare for Beijing when the December election threw the country into chaos. When Mwai Kibaki, the president and a Kikuyu, claimed victory in the poll, many Kenyans believed the vote was rigged. His challenger, Raila Odinga, disputed the result.</p>
<p>Two months of violence ensued, with Kikuyu fighting Luo and Kalenjin. In Eldoret, a Kalenjin mob set ablaze a church, killing 30 Kikuyu trapped inside. More than 1,500 people were killed across the country during the clashes.
The running community was not spared the violence. Lucas Sang, a member of the 1988 Olympic 4x400-metre relay team, was killed by a mob. Wesley Ngetich, an elite marathon runner, succumbed to a poisoned arrow.</p>
<p>Another Olympic hopeful, marathoner Luke Kibet, was hit in the head with a rock and was forced to put his training on hold. Now he may not even make the team.
Some of the runners were also implicated in the violence, according to a report by the International Crisis Group, an independent conflict watchdog.
Its February report, titled Kenya in Crisis, said some of the runners used the wealth they amassed from international race winnings and endorsement deals to fund and transport tribal militias.</p>
<p>"Several informed sources suggest these groups now have wealthy athletes as new benefactors," the report said. "The athletes, most of whom have a military background, are reportedly also training and sometimes commanding the raiders."
Mr Keino denied that Kenyan runners had participated in the violence. "We want to know the truth," he said.
"If there is evidence that athletes were involved, let someone bring it to court. Otherwise, we should not damage an athlete's name."</p>
<p>Soloman Bushentich, who won the Amsterdam marathon in 2006, said he demonstrated in the streets of Eldoret with his fellow Kalenjins, but he said the mob forced him to participate.
"When I tried to escape, I couldn't," he said. "Everyone in town knows me. They said they will burn down my house if I don't join them. I had no alternative but to join them."
Kenya's political leaders agreed on a power-sharing government, which ended the violence.</p>
<p>The country is now at peace and many Kenyans, including the top runners, are trying to pick up where they left off.
For Mr Mutai, that means he is at the Chepkoile track in Eldoret every day. On a recent sunny morning, he laced up his orange and white adidas track shoes and sprinted down the straight-away. His taut legs kicked up the red dirt as he ran, like a gazelle, into the turn.
Kenyans from all tribes are here training together, pushing each other to go faster.</p>
<p>With the Olympics a little more than two months away, they have a lot of ground to make up.
"We are Kenyan and we train as one team," Mr Mutai said. "Running brings us together."
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