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The Irish priest coaching Kenyan athletes

Michael J. O'Loughlin - Fri, Aug 10th 2012

Watching the Olympics this week? If you tune into the men’s 800-meter track final on Thursday, pay attention to Kenya’s David  Rudisha, the current world record holder and favorite to win gold. Rudisha’s coach happens to be a Catholic priest originally from Ireland, who’ll be watching his athlete compete from a barstool in Kenya. From Outside magazine:

Meanwhile, should Rudisha win, his longtime coach, the man largely responsible for the Kenyan’s powerful, front-running style, doesn’t even plan to be in the crowd to congratulate him. Indeed, his coach, a 63-year-old Irish priest named Brother Colm O’Connell, probably won’t even be on the same continent. He’ll be 4,000 miles away, sitting on a barstool at the Kerio View Hotel in Iten, Kenya—a village perched on the western escarpment of the Great Rift Valley—watching events unfold on television. “I’m not so attached that I have to go and see them winning races,” said O’Connell of Rudisha and the other athletes he coaches, including Olympic middle-distance hopefuls Augustine Choge and Isaac Songok.

O'Connel’s unlikely rise began 36 years ago, when, he says, he experienced a sort of epiphany. Born in 1949, in rural Cork, Ireland, he joined the priesthood in his early twenties and began work as a geography teacher and part-time coach at the Newbridge School, in County Kildare. In 1976, while standing on the sideline at a Gaelic football match on a miserable, rainy Irish afternoon, he was asked by an older teacher whether he would volunteer to teach abroad, in Kenya. O’Connell took a look at the weather and said yes.

Less than four months later, O’Connell arrived at St. Patrick’s, Iten, a notably successful Patrician Brothers school with a strong reputation for athletics. The next day, he was dragged to a track competition in the nearby town of Eldoret. He’d never seen a track meet before. The man who accompanied him was Peter Foster, a 21-year-old from Newcastle, England, working for Voluntary Service Overseas. Foster was temporarily in charge of track and cross-country at St. Patrick’s, and he’d been looking for someone to coach the team when his stint in Kenya ended. He fixed on the new man.

Read the full article here.

Michael J. O'Loughlin

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