He came close to representing Kenya twice at the Olympics but, as fate would have it, he never achieved that dream.
While preparing to undertake a Masters Degree at Iowa University, Barnaba Korir and his training partner Peter Rono from Mount St. Mary’s College, Emmitsburg, Maryland (USA), got to travel to Denmark in 1988 for an IAAF race in Aarhus.
In one of the races, Korir lost the 1,500m race to Rono in a photo-finish as they prepared for the 1988 Seoul Olympics trials. While Rono headed to Eldoret to acclimatise, Korir went back to Iowa and only came to Kenya three days before the trials.
The results were not good as Korir finished fifth in the trials with the weather taking a toll on him. Rono prevailed, and he subsequently won gold in 1,500m at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.
Another opportunity presented itself to Korir when he ran one of the fastest times in the world in 5,000m, clocking 13:25.00 in Belgium.
Korir had high hopes of making it to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. This time round he came to Kenya early. But four days before the trials, Korir suffered a hamstring injury while going through sprints at the Kipchoge Keino Stadium in Eldoret and he missed the trials.
That did not break his spirit.
He has no regrets for not donning the national colours.
He kept his passion for the sport and drive to help others achieve in athletics.
It’s no wonder that Barnaba Korir was last month inducted into the Iowa State University Athletics Hall of Fame, not only for his achievements at the institution but also for his service in the sport.
“It could have been better if I got to represent the country but I look at it differently because every person has got a role in life, “said Korir.
“It doesn’t mean that you can’t contribute to the sport and for me I get more satisfaction from supporting others who have done so well.”
Korir said that one can win all the medals in this world but sometimes it amounts to nothing if people do not appreciate you beyond the track.
Before one is considered or inducted into the Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame, one goes through a rigorous process that takes years.
One’s integrity and exceptional contribution cuts across in academics as well as sports. The person is monitored outside Iowa State with their contributions to the well-being of the society counting immensely. In this case, Korir stood out for having been appointed the Chef de Mission for Team Kenya to the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Korir also managed Team Kenya for the 2018 World Indoor Championships, the 2013 World Under-18 and the 2016 World Under-20 Championships, respectively. Korir is also Athletics Kenya’s executive committee member as well as AK’s Nairobi Region chairman.
He has supported over 300 Kenyans by securing scholarships to study and compete abroad especially the United States. They include the 2018 Paris Marathon champion Betsy Saina, Aliphine Chepkerker Tuliamuk, Larry Bor and Edward Kemboi, among others.
Korir, who graduated with a Degree and a Masters in Finance from Iowa University, has assisted many training camps and schools in Nandi with athletics equipment and educational materials.
That aside, Korir was a dominant figure both in track and cross country races where he set records that still stand up to date from 1985 to 1988 at Iowa University when he was studying. Korir is the six-time Big Eight champion, having won the 10,000m, 5,000m, One Mile, Cross Country, Distance Medley relay and 4 x1,600m races between 1987 and 1988.
He is also a three-time all-America 5,000m and cross country champion, titles he held between 1987 and 1988. He also won three titles during the 1988 Big Eight Indoor Championships where he was declared the Most Valuable Athlete that year. “The Big Eight victories in 10,000m and 5,000m in 1988 was special for me since Iowa couldn’t have won the overall title if I had not doubled,” said Korir, who was declared the best athlete in the USA that year.
“Being inducted was an amazing experience as I was taken for television, radio and newspaper interviews,” said Korir, who was accompanied by his wife Dr Agnes Jemutai, a lecturer at Daystar University. “I got to know that I was under the radar for five years before I could be considered for induction.”
All the six top achievers were inducted at a special ceremony at the Sukup End Zone Club in Ames on September 20 before being honoured at halftime of Iowa State Cyclones verses Louisiana-Monroe American Football match the following day. The 60,000 arena that was full to capacity cheered as every inductee was called to the field.
“Hard work, patience and perseverance is what it takes. If makes a great difference when someone has confidence in you,” said Korir. “I remember there was a time when my coach was asked why he picked me in some races, his response was that he was sure I would win and I never disappointed.”
Korir noted that teamwork was everything at Iowa. “When running we carried the aspirations of others. We did it for others and not for ourselves.”
Korir, who returned to Kenya and got employed at Kenyatta National Hospital from 1997-2012, serving in the internal audit department before being promoted to Chief Administrative Officer, said he still has a lot to offer to athletics.
“When I look at a country like USA that has thrived in sports owing to sound management, it drives me to push further for improved facilities in the country like the stadiums and other basic facilities,” he said.
“There is no consistency in the way we manage sports in the country. We seriously need to establish systems where our youth will thrive in sports. It’s a high time that public universities offered sports scholarships and not private universities alone.”
Korir advised athletes to also invest heavily in their education, adding that it will help them make better and informed decisions, to avoid falling prey to rogue managers.
“Education should come first, second and third and nothing should substitute that, and sports only comes in as a means to an end. We should use sports to achieve other goals,” said Korir, adding that young Kenyan athletes make money from athletics but don’t know how to manage it.
“They think splashing it on good cars, clothing and houses is a big achievement while overlooking education,” he said.
‘RARELY UNDERSTAND THE SPORT’
Korir said that while athletics has changed over the years, many Kenyans rarely understand the sport.
“Many focus on the end product without knowing the athletes’ input before they win medals and major races. Most athletes sacrifice a lot by selling their land, livestock and other things just to buy training equipment,” said Korir, adding that pressure from the society, tough life and get-rich-quick mentality have pushed athletes to the limit hence the rise of doping cases.
“That is why we really need to know the genesis of doping and not looking for solutions at the end of the rope,” said Korir.
He thanked his wife for her unwavering support. They met in 1975 while in high school, and the couple has four children.
“Basic tenets of a community is a family and I am lucky to get a partner and children who have stood with me all the time,” said Korir.
Korir took up field events like pole vault and jumps while in primary school and at Kapsabet High School where he cleared in 1981. He would only take up track when he joined Uasin Gishu High School in Form Five in 1982.
A nice tracksuit and a pair of running shoes from his elder brother steeplechaser Amos Kipchirchir is what enticed Korir to start competing in the 800m and 1,500m races. Kipchirchir cleared his Form Four at Kapsabet Boys in 1975 before moving to the USA on scholarship.
“Amos had arrived from Brisbane where he had represented Kenya in steeplechase at the Commonwealth Games. He left me his running shoes and tracksuit and it felt nice. I was encouraged to move to track,” said Korir.
He competed in cross country during the First Term Games at Moi Girls in Eldoret where he finished third in a race that had Kipkoech Cheruiyot and Charles Cheruiyot.
The performance caught the eye of the legendary Kipchoge Keino who put him on his pick-up for his maiden 800m race at the Afraha Stadium in Nakuru. He clocked 1:49 but failed to proceed to the nationals in Thika.
The following year in 1983, Korir received a scholarship from Iowa State University and he in 1984 right on time for the Indoor season where he met the likes of Richard Keitany and long jump athlete Moses Kiyai.
“I wasn’t that good in athletics, but they assumed I would do well like my brother Amos,” said Korir.
Korir graduated in 1989, a year before he started to compete in Europe, finishing second at Campaccio-International Cross Country besides winning the Boyano International race.
He was among the first athletes to join Gabrielle Rosa when he started an athletics camp in Italy in 1990 where Korir drew the likes of Moses Tanui, Andrew Masai, Paul Tergat and the 1987 World 10,000m champion the late Paul Kipkoech.
Before leaving Kenyatta National Hospital in 2012, Korir was already engaged in athletics administration where he managed athletes for Gianni Demadonna from 2002 to 2008. He was elected Athletics Kenya Nairobi Region chairman in 2008 before joining AK executive in 2013 up to date.
Korir’s firstborn son Frankline, 26, is an aeronautical engineer with KLM Airlines while his daughter Diana, 23, has just finished her Law Degree at Strathmore University and is heading to Leeds University for further studies. His other son Demadonna, 18, is at Daystar University while his other daughter Joy, 14, is a Form One student at Riara School.
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