Find out why more Chinese athletes are travelling to Iten

Home of Champions.

Kenyan athletes arrive for their training camp at Iten, on January 11, 2016, in the Rift Valley, some 329 kms north from the capital, Nairobi. On January 14, 2016, The World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) independent commission will publish the second part of its report into allegations of widespread doping in athletics, centred on Kenya. / AFP / SIMON MAINA (Photo credit should read SIMON MAINA/AFP via Getty Images)

According to information from the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage, an increasing number of Chinese athletes have trained in Iten town since 2018.

Due to their association with Iten, a number of these athletes have competed and won various medals in international athletics events.

The world-famous town, seen by many to be the spiritual home of running, is known to produce some of the world's best sportsmen and sportswomen each year. Iten lies about 353 km from Nairobi, about a seven hours drive.

Veteran coach David Letting explained the increase in Chinese athletes was due to two factors; favourable weather conditions as well as interest in wanting to train alongside Kenyan athletes.

"Between June and September, the athletes come to train in Iten. The climate is extremely cool and favourable. I train an average of 20 Chinese athletes in that period. Many go on to become professionals, while a few just want to keep fit," said Letting in an interview with ChinAfrica.

"Chinese athletes train in Kenya's rift valley to hone their running skills. Kenya is an athletic nation. They want to know our secret [of success], but obviously, they also want to be better [runners]," he added.

Altitude is another reason why Iten produces such extraordinary athletes. Athletes train at 8,000 feet above sea level. The idea is to strengthen circulation by creating more red blood cells to carry more oxygen to muscles.

"Training together with Kenyan athletes is a lifetime experience. They are the world's greatest athletes. I competed with them in the Rio Olympics. I did not win a medal but I am improving with time. I believe I will also rank high [higher] someday," said Zhang Xinyan.

Xinyan is a 27 year old 3000m steeplechase Chinese athlete who has represented her country in the 2015 World Championships in Beijing as well as the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Heritage site

In 2020, Iten, the capital of Elgeyo Marakwet County was awarded a World Athletics Heritage Plaque by World Athletics.

The World Athletics Heritage Plaque is awarded for “an outstanding contribution to the worldwide history and development of the sport of track and field athletics and of out-of-stadia athletics disciplines such as cross country, mountain, road, trail and ultra-running, and race walking,” according to World Athletics.

Iten, the Home of Champions, was awarded the plaque in the category of ‘Landmark’.

“We have unveiled this plaque today because it’s an honour to the whole country and subsequently the entire continent,” said Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed.

“Iten has more champions than any place on the earth and this is beyond any reasonable doubt,” said British High Commissioner Jane Marriott. “That it has been recognised is a great pleasure to all of us who want to be associated to it.”

Brother Colm O’Connell, winner of the 2019 World Athletics Coaching Achievement Award said “As someone whose hands have moulded a good number of these successful athletes, this is the proudest moment in my coaching career here in Iten. I will live to remember this day.”

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