Foreign runners wary of possible Kenyan election violence

Wed Feb 20, 2013 9:30am EST
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By Drazen Jorgic

ITEN, Kenya (Reuters) - Foreign middle and long-distance athletes worried about potential violence during elections next month in Kenya are shunning high-altitude training in the country's Iten village.

Britain's world women's marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe and double Olympic champion Mo Farah are among the elite runners who have pounded the dirt tracks criss-crossing the lush green hillsides perched some 2,400 meters above sea level.

However, fears of a repeat of the bloody unrest that followed the last presidential election in 2007 and forced the evacuation of some foreign athletes is scaring international runners away.

"They won't confirm (hotel bookings). They are saying 'we would like to come but we will wait and see'," said Wilson Kipsang, Olympic bronze medalist and 2012 London Marathon winner, who also owns the newly-opened Keellu hotel in Iten.

Hotel owners say the number of elite athletes booked in for March are down by around half compared with 2012 when runners from Britain, the United States and Scandinavia descended on Iten in the runup to the London Olympics.

"Foreign clubs are often sending us e-mails inquiring about elections and safety," said Simoens Peter, who runs Iten's popular Kerio View hotel.

Peter said elite athletes from Belgium, Sweden and Norway were among those who have reserved a space at the hotel but were unwilling to pay the customary 50 percent deposit.

"We have no other choice but to accept it," Peter said. "We just had a German running club cancel. They have one group here now and another was due to come in March but they pulled out."   Continued...

Britain's Paula Radcliff reacts after finishing third in the 38th Berlin Marathon in Berlin, September 25, 2011. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch