The majority of athletes, and particularly Kenyan ones, enter the field for financial reasons. However, the desire to amass wealth can lead anyone—not only runners—to make poor choices.
Bernad Barmasai, a Kenyan 3,000-meter steeplechase runner, is a tragic example of how greed can lead people astray.
Barmasai's words cost him the prize money at the 1999 Weltklasse Golden Meeting held in Zurich, Switzerland.
In those days, the Ksh118 million prize for a Golden League winner was mandated by the International Association of Athletics Federations (USD1 million). The Kenyan competitor has finished first in four of the league's Golden League contests.
Barmasai seemed to have the prize money in the palm of his hand, but he made a major mistake at the worst possible time.
From the start, Barmasai, who was racing with his countryman and friend Christopher Koskei, took command of the competition. The race was going swimmingly for the Keiyo South native until the last stretch, when he simply ran out of steam.
Even though he was five years older than the other competitors, Koskei unleashed a tremendous surge in the final lap. A Kalenjin phrase, "Metowo," was reportedly murmured by Barmasai as Koskei closed in on him.
Metowo is a Kiswahili word that means "leave it to me" in English.
Koskei slowed down after a brief conversation between the two Kenyans, allowing the former world record holder to sprint to victory in 8:05.16. Then, Koskei picked up the pace and ran a final 8:05.43 to place second.
After a comprehensive investigation, the International Association of Athletics Federations concluded that Barmasai had fixed the race and was therefore unable to collect the prize money.
Despite all of the time, effort, and dedication he put into training this season, he went back to Kenya empty-handed.
Moments after crossing the finish line first, Barmasai reportedly told international reporters that he planned to split the prize money with Koskei.
To quote an observer: "Koskei's final 100 meters were outstanding. I went up to him as he passed and made some small chat. But for the fact that he is a buddy and we have to get along, he would have won today. We're splitting the pot with our buddies,' Standard Sports said.
Barmasai refuted charges that he had fixed the race, saying that his victory was due to weariness, delight, and his inability to speak English well enough. The international press, he said, had misquoted him.
The women's and men's Golden Boot winners that year were Gabriela Szabo of Romania and Wilson Kipketer of Kenya.
After years of retirement from competitive sports, Barmasai has claimed that they are still close friends with Koskei.
We were supposed to split the jackpot money in 1999, but we ended up being great friends regardless. There has been no recent encounter between us (myself and Koskei). I ran into him at the Eldoret City Marathon, and we talked about our previous competitions in the '90s and '00s," Barmasai said.
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