Cork Christian Brother's Bid for Gold

A County Cork born Christian Brother is gunning for gold this week as he bids to produce another Olympic Gold medallist.

A small Kenyan village in the Great Rift Valley has become a production line of running talent, thanks to Mallow born Patrician Brother Colm O'Connell who has worked there for the past 36 years. 

Brother O'Connell started Iten's first athletics training camp in 1989 and it has since gone from strength to strength.  66-year-old Br O'Connell is the coach to 800m world record holder David Rudisha and has trained 25 world champions and four Olympic gold medallists during his 36 years in the small village, which lies over 2,400 metres above sea level in Western Kenya's Rift Valley.

Speaking ahead of the Olympic Games in London he said, “When I came here there were no athletes training around the road.  There were no camps.  There were no other coaches.  There was nothing, just a school where I was a teacher and I coached the students.” 

The most recent Olympic champion from Br O'Connell's youth camp is Brimin Kipruto, the Beijing Games winners in the 3,000m steeplechase.  Marathon runner Edna Kiplagat and women's 5,000m and 10,000m world champion Vivian Cheruiyot are favourites to win gold in London.

However a modest Br O'Connell said he never intended to become a running coach when he arrived in the region and that the praise coming his way for Iten's transformation is not deserved. 

“I just happen to be in an area where athletics was the talent.  I happen to be in a sport which is not very expensive; you don't need anything to be a runner.  Even as young kids they run barefoot, you don't even need a pair of shoes.”

Eight students of his coaching school will represent Kenya in the London Games.  However Br O'Connell does not consider himself an athletics expert and added that he refuses to follow textbook rules. 

“It's an attitude, it's an approach, it's the way you deal with an athlete.  It's the environment in which you bring them, that's what is important.  It's not handing them a program or standing on the side with a whistle and a watch.”



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