Ugandan ''Golden Boy'' Stephen Kiprotich is weary. He has basked in the limelight from the moment he won gold in London. Writer James Bakama had a chance to talk to him
Stephen Kiprotich is the man of the moment. His gold medal at the London Olympics made him an instant hit. But who exactly is Stephen Kiprotich? What were his aspirations before that historic race? How is he handling the celebrity status and what are his future plans? James Bakama squeezed some time off the gold medalist’s hectic schedule and sought some answers . . .
Qn: What does it feel like to be an Olympic champion?
Ans: It is great. I am very happy. I feel very good. All along this is something I just dreamed about. Immediately I completed the marathon, some people came to me and asked me whether I knew what I had just done. I answered that of course I knew. I had won the gold.
But they kept on asking me whether I knew what I done. It is only now that I am realizing that they meant the implication of the gold. When I see these crowds, and the joy of the people I finally realize that I didn’t know the impact the gold medal would have.
But did you expect a gold?
To tell the truth, I didn’t expect it. My dream was a medal of any kind. When we remained three at the front, I realized my dream, was possible.
But with seven kilometers to go, I discovered that I could actually sprint away. I did exactly that. I thought they would also come sprinting but they didn’t. I still couldn’t take any chances so I accelerated to the finish.
Why were you touching your thigh towards the end?
There was pain. It was the impact of running on tarmac for a long distance. It was almost like a muscle pull. But I was determined to finish.
Tell us something about those moments before that historic marathon.
Let me start with the previous day. I intentionally didn’t do any training. There was a lot on my mind. I was all along thinking…what am I going to do for my country?
On competition day, I woke up at 5.30am. I showered then had a cup of tea and bread. When leaving for the starting point almost two hours before flag-off, I left with a bottle of water.
The physio Michael Aleku took me through some stretches and other forms of warm-up plus some massage.
Out of the blue, you are now worth more than a billion shillings. Won’t that distract you?
Money is not a big issue to me. What drives me is winning in athletics. What is important now is a successful athletics career. I just want to win more medals.
I will not rush into spending the money. I will first leave it on the account for future investment. I will only withdraw money for immediate needs like building a house.
Money could also help ease my training. I will also have people to help me manage my money. Godfrey Nuwagaba, my Ugandan manager, is one of these.
What about the celebrity status. Won’t it disrupt your running career?
I am naturally a very simple man. I want to maintain that. It is interesting what this kind of status can do to you. Before the marathon few people seemed to care about me.
Now everyone is suddenly interested in me. I like people. But they should also give me time to live my own life. I also wouldn’t like disruptions in my training.
As Olympic champion you will in future races become everyone’s target. How will you maintain a competitive edge?
That’s very true. I am aware that I am now carrying a very heavy load. Even my supporters are now over confident that I am invincible. My advice is that people should not be over confident.
I can also be beaten. As for my training, I will maintain the same training. But I am also well aware that my status now requires more hard work if I am to remain at the top.
There are people who say that now that you’ve won Olympic gold and also have money, you should go back to school.
I am ready to go back to school if I am offered a scholarship. But before I even think of going back to school, I have siblings whose fees I have to pay.
What is your message to the rest of the team?
I thank them for their support. But I would also like to tell them that everyone has his lucky day. I must say August the 12th 2012 was my day. They should not lose heart.
They should continue training. They should be focused, patient and also have endurance and faith. That is what it takes to get success.
After winning you knelt down and made a sign of the holy cross. Did you pray before the race?
Ans: I am a staunch catholic. I normally pray twice a day. I pray in the morning before and after meals and before sleeping. Of course before the race I prayed.
I remember Uganda Athletics Federation president Domenic Otuchet also praying for me on the eve of the race.
A chat with gold-medalist Kiprotich