The dust had barely settled on the drama where a woman claimed to have been a lover of celebrated athlete Nicholas Bett who passed on last month, when the Asbel Kiprop fiasco hit the headlines.
A video showing three-time 1,500m world champion Kiprop in a liplock with his former pacemaker’s wife, Nancy Cherotich, went viral and both Kiprop’s and Nancy’s marriages were reported to be on the rocks soon after.
“If it weren’t for baseball, I’d be in either the penitentiary or the cemetery,” once said legendary American baseball player Babe Ruth. Sports, crime, sex and money have long been intertwined.
During an interview with PD Wikendi, Bahrain’s 300m steeplechase record holder Tareq Mubarak Taher, formerly known as Denis Kipkurui Sang, spoke about what goes on behind the scenes.
“Sometimes when we go to these international events, some athletes fly out their clandes and sneak out of their hotels to privates rooms for a good time with the girls, without the knowledge of their coaches and athletics officials,” reveals Tareq, who is in the country for training.
“In this athletics business, fame and success lasts for a second. You can be a shooting star, and the next minute, you are deep down in the trenches struggling to survive,” he adds.
Born in Kenya, Tareq became a Bahrain citizen on January 1, 2005. He won the 2,000m steeplechase at the World Youth Championships in 2005, and reached the final in the 3,000m steeplechase at the Senior World Youth Championships a few weeks later.
The following year, he scooped a steeplechase gold medal at the Asian Games, silver at the World Junior Championships and was chosen to represent Asia at the World Cup.
Doubts were raised in 2005 about his age and even his true identity. Bahrain documents had claimed that Tareq was born Dennis Sang on December 1, 1989, but Athletics Kenya disputed this and claimed the athlete was in fact Dennis Kipkurui Keter, and was born in 1984.
After investigations by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the organisation decided that Tareq had falsified his birth certificate, and in reality, he had been born on December 1, 1986, three years earlier than he had claimed.
He has since cleared the allegations and now holds dual citizenship. Taher set a national steeplechase record in 2007, and again reached the final of the World Championships. He placed eleventh in the 2008 Olympic games and fourth in the World Athletics final later that year.
“I have struggled so much to be allowed back to Kenya since I left for Bahrain, but finally, I have sorted out all the issues with the Immigration department and now I have been allowed to have dual citizenship,” he says.
SCRAMBLE FOR ATHLETES
As he puts it, some runners believe they perform well when they are accompanied by their lovers to championships. Motivated by opportunities to travel abroad among other factors, girls scramble to bag an athlete. However, this idea is contrary to what has been accepted for centuries.
From the traditional African culture where men avoided contact with women before going to war, to ancient Greek tradition, as well as modern sports world cups and races, there has been a longstanding belief by some athletes and coaches that engaging in sexual activities before competitions may be unfavourable to performance. But is there any legitimacy in this?
“Sex or no sex before events is just a myth. I don’t think there is any truth in it, though different athletes have different views. I personally don’t engage in sex when I’m about to go for a race,” Tareq shares.
Ancient Greeks and traditional Chinese medicine proposed that semen contains a cerebrospinal substance or ‘divine energy’, and in 1st Century AD, Greek physician Dr Aretaeus said a man’s strength could be improved by the retention of semen.
Though there’s little scientific research on the effects of sex on athletic performance, it still remains a widely held belief. During the 1998 World Cup, the then English Coach, Glenn Hoddle, famously forbade his players from engaging in sexual intercourse for the month-long event. That withstanding, the English put up a poor show.
“For women, I wouldn’t encourage them to engage in sexual activities when they are about to participate in a race. It might not be a good idea at all,” says long distance runner Vivian Cheruiyot, who specialises in track and cross-country running.
Aside from beliefs, is there anything specific that lends our athletes to women, to an extent some have ended up with their careers shattered? “The issue about women and athletes seems to be on the rise. I blame athletes’ level of education. Most of us are unable to balance fame, money and women,” says Ferguson Rotich, a middle-distance runner who competes in 800m races.
One of the recent casualties of the ‘women issue’ is the late 400m hurdles world champion Nicholas Bett, who died on August 8 in a road accident in Nandi county.
Soon after the accident, there was drama after a woman, identifying herself as Brenda Bett and claiming to be the champion’s wife, appeared in media complaining that Bett’s family did not recognise her, and had blocked her from participating in his burial plans.
According to Brenda, she was the police officer’s wife and they met in 2016 at her father’s funeral, before moving in together the same year in December, and the two have a daughter named Kylie.
The mother of one revealed that she had been staying with the 26-year-old athlete until his untimely death, and they were planning to formalise their marriage soon. At his funeral, Gladys Bett was recognised as his wife, alongside their two children Nicole Chepkoech (aged eight) and Nerius Chepchirchir (aged three).
Days later, three-time world 1,500m champion Asbel Kiprop became the talk of town for all the wrong reasons. He first ‘broke the Internet’ five years ago after he was accused of impregnating a 16-year-old 2007 IAAF 1,500m World Youth Athletic Championship gold medalist Sammary Cherotich. Fast forward to 2018, and he was caught up in another public scandal that played out on social media.
Kiprop was seemingly on a downward spiral since three months ago, when IAAF said it had found an energy-enhancing drug in his urine sample, but he vehemently denied using the banned substance.
Just as the doping issue appeared to be fading away, a video clip of him kissing and caressing a woman in his car went viral. The woman in question is his friend’s wife Nancy Rotich, who is also a nominated member of county assembly.
In the clip, which was shared widely on social platforms, the woman’s blouse is unbuttoned and vernacular music, to which Nancy gyrates, is playing in the background. The clip ends with the two kissing.
Nancy, wife to Andrew Chepsiya, Kiprop’s former training partner and pacemaker, is said to have attempted suicide after Kiprop allegedly leaked the incriminating video. Apparently, she swallowed a pesticide at her house in Kuinet, Eldoret, a few hours after the video was posted online.
In what sounds like a storyline straight out of a soap opera, Kiprop, who has been in the past accused of abuse by his wife Sammary including brandishing a pistol at her, is said to have called Nancy’s husband moments before releasing the clip, and confessed to having an affair with his wife since 2016.
Sources close to both Kiprop and Chepsiya indicate that the athlete was on a doping woes revenge mission against his friend and pacemaker, whom he accused of setting him up in the doping matter. Neither of them were reachable for comment by the time of going to press.
“I don’t want to comment much about Kiprop and his doping allegations, all I know is that the procedure for testing is not a simple one. It has no guesswork. Honestly, I don’t think he might succeed to challenge the results,” comments Tareq.
Apart from doping, the trend of Kenyan athletes running amok after international success remains rampant.
Given the millions earned from racing, and coming from fairly rural environments that most of these athletes reside in, it’s the classic setting that breeds infidelity and distrust, which often leads to domestic violence.
The 2012 Olympic gold medalist Ezekiel Kemboi won the medal while out on bail for allegedly stabbing a woman who turned down his sexual advances. The charges were dropped in October 2012 after the woman abruptly recanted. Two years later, Kemboi hit the headlines yet again following a brawl at a Nairobi hotel with another woman over child support of a two-year-old.
There’s also the late Samuel Wanjiru, whose story is that of grass to grace, followed by the sharp knife of a short life. He was brought up by a single mother, Hannah Wanjiru, and started running at eight years before dropping out of school aged 12 due to lack of school fees.
He moved to Japan where he focused on long-distance running and at 18 years, he broke the world record in half-marathon. He went on to bag various medals and awards, including the 42km marathon Olympic gold in Beijing, China and AMS World Athlete of the Year award, both in 2008. With more money came more problems. In 2010, the 23-year-old was arrested on charges of illegally possessing a firearm, an AK-47 rifle, and threatening to kill his wife.
The following year, his wife Teresa Njeri reportedly returned home one evening to find him with another woman in their bedroom, and what transpired leading to his death is still a matter of inquest. Wanjiru was said to have then fallen from the balcony and died from internal injuries.
There were questions as to whether it was suicide, murder or an accident. Like most track stars, Wanjiru was reported to have had several women in his life, notably Mary Wacera and Judy Wambui.
“We athletes are going through a lot. We’ve lost many upcoming athletes more so in Eldoret due to drugs and depression,” reveals Tareq.
Female athletes too have had their fair share of marital drama following huge wins, often resulting in divorce, separation or court tussles. Case in point is middle-distance runner Pamela Jelimo, the 2008 Olympic 800m champion and Golden League jackpot winner of Sh86.8 million, who took her husband Peter Kiprotich to court over a Massey Ferguson tractor and other property disputes.
Jelimo, nicknamed Kapsabet Express after the 2008 Olympics win at 18, became the first Kenyan woman to win a Golden League Jackpot.
She went on to win several other medals in international competitions, before her performance slumped from 2009 as the relationship with her now ex-husband slowly became sour.
It was a similar scenario for double world champion Vivian Cheruiyot’s husband and trainer Moses Kiplagat, who was entangled in a court battle with his ex-wife Caroline Chepkorir, a former long-distance runner herself.
Kiplagat had been sued by his wife of 12 years for reportedly neglecting parental responsibility of their three children. Chepkorir also wanted part of the property she claimed they obtained together reallocated to her, such as rental houses in Eldoret town.
The 2014 World Junior Championships gold medalist Margaret Nyairera earlier in the year hit gossip blogs following an alleged love triangle, where a businessman identified as Steve Chemogos claimed that the 22-year-old 800m sprinter had snatched his girlfriend Wangechi Mwangi from him. Chemogos argued that Nyairera was using her financial muscle to elbow him out the relationship with Wangechi.
Other athletes whose marriages have hit rock bottom are those of two-time Boston Marathon winner Rita Jeptoo who broke ties with former 800m runner Noah Businei and two-time Berlin Marathon winner Florence Kiplagat who parted ways with former Chicago Marathon winner Moses Mosop.
There is also Kenya’s first gold medalist at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Lydia Cheromei who broke up with her athlete husband Hosea Kogo, as well as former Olympic 1,500m champion Nancy Jebet who ditched her ex-lover marathoner Kenneth Cheruiyot.