In the footsteps of Faith Kipeygon? Kenyan teenager sparks national excitement after stunning win while running barefoot

Mercy Chepngeno on her way to winning her race at the Rift Valley School Games. Photo: Alfred Koech/Sports Ministry

ATHLETICS In the footsteps of Faith Kipeygon? Kenyan teenager sparks national excitement after stunning win while running barefoot

Joel Omotto 12:39 - 29.03.2024

The 17-year-old Form One student has drawn the attention of the Sports CS after not letting her basic attire and inability to buy shoes hinder her from running and winning her race.

Mercy Chepngeno was a relatively unknown girl just over a week ago but now, she has become a celebrity somewhat thanks to her heroics at the Rift Valley Regional Games in Nandi.

The 17-year-old Form One student at Lesirwo Secondary School won the girls’ 3,000m steeplechase race while running barefoot to the delight and surprise of those watching.

Chengeno endured the tough marram track at the Eliud Kipchoge Stadium in Kapsabet, jumping the barriers with ease, as she moved from sixth, to third positions in the early stages of the race before storming to victory.

Her diminutive size, basic attire and the fact that she was running barefoot endeared her to the fans, echoing the humble beginnings of multiple Olympics and world 1,500m champion Faith Kipyegon, who also earned global acclaim after running without shoes to win the world cross country title in Punta Umbria, Spain in 2011.

Mercy Chepngeno held aloft by fans after winning her race barefoot. Photo: Alfred Koech X.

Chepngeno’s resilience made her an instant hit with fans who were thrilled by her performance and pulled resources together to help purchase new apparel and fund her upkeep as she prepares for the national championships.

Area leaders also promised to come to her aid in a bid to support the talented teenager and further support arrived on Friday when she was visited by Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba.

Namwamba donated Ksh100,000 and kits to aid the education and training of Chepngeno while promising to ensure she is enrolled into into a specialised programmes at the Kenya Academy of Sports.

“Additionally, CS Ababu kitted three of her fellow students, who competed alongside her and contributed Ksh100,000 to aid their educational pursuits,” the Ministry of Sports posted on X.

“The CS outlined plans to establish a training camp in the region and integrate Chepngeno and other promising athletes into specialised programmes at the Kenya Academy of Sports, citing it as a strategic approach to revitalising Kenya's steeplechase prowess.”

Sports CS Ababu Namwamba donates kits to upcoming athletes at Lesirwo Secondary School. Photo: Sports Ministry

Former world 800m champion Janeth Jepkosgei, who is now an athletics coach, was among those who witnessed Chengeno burst onto the scene which could see her get an opportunity at one of the country’s renown training camps.

There are also calls for her to get mentorship from Kipyegon, whose journey into a global superstar, mirrors hers.

Whichever route she chooses, Kenya seems to have unearthed another athletics gem and there is hope that her talent will be harnessed fully for her to win medals for the country in the near future.

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