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Kericho athlete on Japanese scholarship soaring high

A 23-year-old upcoming athlete from Kericho County is soaring high in his athletic career after winning a coveted scholarship to study in Japan two years ago.

Victor Kimutai, who in 2021 secured a fully funded sports scholarship at the University of Josai, Japan, owing to his prowess in athletics, is currently in the second year of his undergraduate studies in business management.

The long-distance runner caught the eye of top athletic coaches and managers, during the 2020 Athletics Kenya (AK) Trials, to select candidates for the World Athletics U20 Championships, after winning the 5,000m with a personal best of 13:42 minutes.

In an interview with KNA at Gariete Athletics Training Camp Kericho, Kimutai, who is in the country for his summer vacation, said he is able to focus on both his studies and running career without any difficulties as he has well-adjusted to the new culture, as he pursues his undergraduate studies.

“I thank God for this golden opportunity as I enrolled at the University of Josai, Japan, in September 2021. The private university offered me the scholarship. I am passionate about my running talent. I am in position three in the 5,000m in all the over 600 Japanese universities, but in my university, I am leading in this track discipline.

Kimutai says this year he has won the Kanto Championships both in the 5,000- and 10,000-metre races.

“On arrival in Japan, my problem was change in weather, environment, food and training programme, but after a few months, I adapted and started to improve in my training. This gave me an opportunity to represent my university, with my first race being 5,000 metres, and this changed my life completely in another direction, as I received many opportunities to compete in many races and win honours and medals for my school,” said Kimutai.

The athlete narrates that he emerged winner in the Ekiden Half Marathon Trials 5000m in Japan, which were held in October 2021, with a personal best of 13:38 minutes and in the Ekiden Half Marathon held in December 2021, he won again with a personal best of 13:31 minutes.

Having come from a humble background in a family of six children where school fees and basic needs were a daily struggle, Kimutai disclosed that he will maintain good grades in his studies despite having a high-level athletic workout program and he is confident of winning in all his upcoming races in Japan.

“It is not an easy task to be a student and also an athlete, more so in Japan because there we go by time everything is a matter of time. I have to wake-up very early in the morning, around 4 a.m., and go for my morning training, which is jogging. After that, I come back and take breakfast and prepare for school, which is four kilometres from my dormitory,” he narrates.

“I attend classes from 9.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m., then I go for my next programme, which is mostly speed work. I am learning Japanese but am finding it easy now to understand and use it for my classes at the university. Currently, I am preparing for the first Ekiden 8.1km race, the Ismo Ekiden 12km race and the Hako Ekiden 23.1km race slated for October until December and winning is my target. But in between, I will train in speed work by running in 5,000- and 10,000-metre race competitions,” said Kimutai.

Kimutai commended both his Kericho coach and his new Japanese coaches and manager while advising upcoming athletes to embrace self-discipline, confidence and commitment if they want to clinch medals in their respective championships.

“I really thank Coach Gabriel Kiptanui for being with me for two years from 2019, when I completed my secondary school education, scoring a D+ in my KCSE and I decided to take my running talent seriously and it was my training at Gariete Training Camp that I made my name. He has been so supportive and brought me from nowhere. In Japan, my head coach, Seiji Kushibe, with his assistant, Shingo Igarashi and my manager, Takafumi Nakamura, are training me to be a high-performing athlete and I am grateful for their support and training,” he said.

In an interview with Coach Gabriel Kiptanui, who doubles up as AK First Vice Chairman, Kericho branch, he revealed that the athlete was spotted by AK in 2020 during the pre-trials held at the Nyayo Stadium, Nairobi and due to his outstanding performance, he was offered the scholarship.

Coach Gabriel revealed that Kimutai has the potential to become a top athlete at the international level in the coming years, as he is currently the best upcoming athlete at the training camp at the same time, a role model to budding athletes.

By Sarah Njagi

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