Stephen Kiprotich at the London Marathon: I get recognised after the 2012 Olympics but will still go back to being a prison warder

Modest Ugandan returns to London knowing a repeat of last summer’s shock win will be tough

The Olympic marathon, the athletic finale to London’s summer of fun, was expected to be an East African affair. That is how it is and that is how it turned out except the winner came not from the distance powerhouses of Kenya and Ethiopia, instead it was an unheralded Ugandan with a 100-watt smile, Stephen Kiprotich, who produced a rousing acceleration over the closing mile to claim his country’s first gold in 40 years.

Kiprotich had left Kampala unknown to nearly all, apart from the country’s small track and field community, friends and family from Kapchorwa province in the country’s far east and the inmates of the prison where he earned his living as a warder. This time he departed for London as his country’s most famous sportsman.

“I get recognised in my country – everyone knows about my story now,” says the quietly-spoken Kiprotich.  “I’m a famous guy.” A disbelieving smile still accompanies discussions of his new-found fame.

When he arrived back home with London gold hanging around his neck he was greeted by a large crowd and hurried off to breakfast with the president. Uganda had not won an Olympic medal of any colour since 1996 and their only previous gold had come from John Akii-Bua in Munich in 1972.

“Winning the Olympics changed my life in some ways – I am now in the record books as a champion in history,” he says. “Back in my country I have to remain the same as I was before. I haven’t changed as a person.”

Kiprotich is a modest man. He insists once his running career is done he will return to work as a prison warder. “That is my place of work. Running is just a short period of time – after I retire I need to go and work.”

Work for the time being remains running. His win in London came out of the blue. Abel Kirui, the Kenyan silver medallist, said after the race that he had been concentrating on compatriot Wilson Kipsang, the winner of the 2012 London marathon and the third man in the breakaway. “Then I saw Kiprotich go past me like a cheetah,” said Kirui.

Sunday will be a very different race, in part because, apart from the last six miles, the course is different but largely because the field is stronger – there are no nationality restrictions as in the Olympics. This is possibly the best marathon line-up ever assembled and, judged in terms of previous times, Kiprotich will struggle to make the podium. His best is four minutes slower than the two leading Kenyans, Patrick Makau, the world record holder, and Kipsang, and with pace makers ushering the field briskly along it will require the race of Kiprotich’s young life to finish among the first three.

Kiprotich celebrated his 24th birthday yesterday and did so in the knowledge that he is getting quicker – his only outing in 2013 was a half-marathon personal best in Granollers in Spain. “I don’t feel the pressure,” he says of the greater expectation.

Athletic challenges do not appear to faze him. Place them in the context of his story and it should not come as any great surprise. Kiprotich is the youngest of seven children who grew up beneath Mount Eldon on Uganda’s border with Kenya. His father, James, was a subsistence farmer. Life was raw and tough. As a boy Kiprotich fell seriously ill, a debilitating ailment that was never diagnosed despite repeated visits to doctors and hospitals and it was enough to keep him out of school for three years. When he returned he wanted to make up for lost time and stopped running to concentrate on his schooling. But the call of the track won in the end and at 17 he was persuaded to cross the border and train under the direction of Eliud Kipchoge, a former 5,000m world champion, in the Kenyan distance running heartland of Eldoret.

Uganda has no history of distance runners – and limited wider athletic facilities or support – and so Kiprotich still trains almost exclusively in Kenya, returning home for occasional family visits. Initially a distance runner on the track he switched to marathon running two years ago – the Olympics was only his fourth.

London occupies a special place for Kiprotich. He revelled in the support he received from the crowds that lined the Olympic marathon route, but there is another reason why he has been looking forward to coming back.

“Ahh,” he says when I introduce myself. “Robin van Persie.” Kiprotich is an Arsenal fan and, despite Van Persie’s departure, the Dutchman remains his favourite. “There are some players who bring colour when they play,” he says of Van Persie. Kiprotich, it can be said, does likewise for his sport.

“I used to play football. I love doing sport. I wanted to be a gymnast as well but then I found I was OK at running. Running has changed my life.”

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015