May 23, 2016 / 2:02 PM / 3 years ago

Training for Olympic glory in a Kenyan town

ITEN, Kenya (Reuters) - In Kenya’s western town of Iten, known as the “Home of Champions” for drawing runners to train from around the world, athletes rise to pound the track and dirt roads at dawn.

Athletes run through a tea plantation during a national half marathon in the Nandi Hills, near the town of Eldoret in western Kenya, March 20, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

Kenyan athletics stars such as marathon world record holder Dennis Kimetto and Olympic 800 meter champion David Rudisha have slogged through their race preparations here, as well as Britain’s double Olympic and world champion Mo Farah and a host of others.

At 2,400 meters (7,900 feet), the altitude makes Iten an ideal location for established middle- and long-distance racers to build their endurance and stamina.

The town also draws less experienced athletes aspiring for glory in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August, and disabled sportsmen and women aiming to compete in the Paralympics.

“I hope to be able to participate in the Rio Olympics this year,” said Thomas Pkemei, a 27-year-old runner in one Iten camp who is getting ready for Kenya’s qualifying contests next month.

“The biggest obstacle is to keep on working to improve your ability and to overcome your injuries when they do happen,” said Pkemei, Kenyan champion for the 5,000 meters in 2007.

To see a Reuters Wider Image photo essay on Iten, click:

Some athletes choose to make the town their full-time residence, like Egla Musop Jebichii, 28, a partially blind runner who will join the Kenyan team in the Paralympics. She lives with her husband and five-year-old son.

She previously ran in London’s 2012 Paralympics.

Others start small businesses to support themselves. Johana Kariankei lives in a training camp and sells souvenirs to foreign athletes there.

When not at his stall, he takes to the green open fields and dirt tracks around Iten to run. But better facilities would help, he said.

“We need good tracks to train in. This is the responsibility of the government to provide.”

Reporting by Siegfried Modola; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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