Olympic legend and Laureus Academy Member Michael Johnson in conversation with New Laureus Ambassado
Michael Johnson: Congratulations Eliud, on becoming a Laureus Ambassador. Can you tell us why you are happy to take on this role and join the Laureus Family?
Eliud Kipchoge: It is an honour that I am a Laureus Ambassador. My dream is to make this world a running world and I really think that running can help so many people, by becoming a Laureus Ambassador I think I will be able spread this message.
Michael: Laureus works around the world to help disadvantaged young people. Is this important for you?
Eliud: Yes. Actually I want to encourage young people to chase their dreams and show them a strong heart and a good mind can help achieve whatever they want. Whatever their background, everybody should have a chance.
Michael: Those are great sentiments which everyone would admire. I have been a member of the Laureus Family for 20 years and since we began we have helped to improve the lives of six million young people. It was all started by Nelson Mandela who made the speech ‘Sport has the power to change the world’. Can you tell us why you believe in the power of sport? And why Nelson Mandela was such a great man?
Eliud: Nelson Mandela inspires me. This quote hangs on a poster by my bed in Kaptagat, as a motivation and as a reminder for me. Actually when I see that poster, I remember that running is also about inspiring others and encouraging people to believe that nothing is impossible. Sport can join people together, it is something that connects the world, and also makes us equal.
Michael: Laureus now supports more than 200 sports programmes for young people around the world. The first was MYSA (Mathare Youth Sports Association) in Kenya, your home country. A programme that Laureus still supports. I visited Mathare many years ago and found it very emotional. It’s in one of the largest slums in Nairobi in which HIV/AIDS and other diseases are widespread. MYSA uses football as a tool to encourage co-operation and raise self-esteem in the young people there. They organise matches in leagues for thousands. The teams also get extra points for cleaning up their communities. What do you know about MYSA?
Eliud: It is such a great project. I think it is an example how sport has the power to change the world. I hope I can visit the project one day. I’d tell the young people that they are not limited. That’s the only way they can venture in any kind of sport and they can actually live their lives and live positively in this world.
Michael: I remember when I went there, I visited one of the neighbourhoods where the living conditions were unbelievable. I couldn’t imagine living in those types of conditions, but I was toured around by a young man who was the director of the project there. It was very surprising to me as we were walking around that he pointed out where he used to live and he explained not only had he lived there he had been a part of the programme. So these kids can see that rather than someone who’s come from the outside to direct this project, this is a person who’s exactly like them, who grew up exactly where they grew up in the same conditions and saw the same things that they saw every day. That is a true role model for these kids.
Eliud: I would love to visit MYSA, I have not been there yet, but I would like to. I think that a programme like that is an inspiration and somewhere we should try and repeat around Kenya, Africa, and the world.
Michael: Well, I’m sure Laureus can arrange a visit for you in the future. As a Laureus Ambassador do you see that you have an important role to help young people in Kenya and around the world?
Eliud: I think together we can make this world a beautiful world. I hope that I can inspire young people to run. I am aware that I now have a huge responsibility to do this and it is something that I will work very hard to achieve.
Michael: Now that the world has suffered the COVID-19 pandemic, how important is it for organisations like Laureus to bring people together to fight the virus together?
Eliud: We should fight as one and beat COVID-19 together. An organisation as strong and inspirational as Laureus has an important role to play in fighting the virus, we have a responsibility.
Michael: Two years ago today, on September 16, you broke the world marathon record by 78 seconds. What was your target before the race? Did you know before the race that the time was possible?
Eliud: My preparation was really good. My body was in a good shape and I was feeling great and comfortable before the race started. I trusted in the plan and in the team. We had a specific time for the pacers, that plan worked perfectly.
Michael: With the Olympics being postponed for a year, how did you cope without being able to run in Tokyo?
Eliud: Of course I was really looking forward to running in Tokyo at the Olympics. Unfortunately COVID-19 changed the world and health and safety is the first priority. I am really looking forward to running next year.
Michael: You will be 36 then. Will you still run in Tokyo?
Eliud: It will be an honour to be there next year, I am fit and will do everything I can to make the Kenyan team and represent my country.