KIMETTO AND MEYER PROMOTE PARKRUN IN SOUTH AFRICA
Provided by IAAF
If any local club runners had ambitions of winning the first edition of the Umhlanga parkrun race in South Africa earlier this month, their race day ambitions were no doubt quickly modified once it became apparent the fastest and third fastest marathon runners of all-time, Dennis Kimetto and Wilson Kipsang, were taking part during their recent visit to the country.
In the decade since the first event was staged in Bushy Park, south west London, more than one million runners have been registered with parkrun which holds free weekly 5km events as far afield as Russia, New Zealand, Australia, USA and South Africa, where the concept is starting to be warmly embraced.
"In the last year, parkrun (in South Africa) has really gained momentum. In some areas it certainly has that status of being an institution," said 1992 Olympic Games 10,000m silver medallist Elana Meyer.
The impact of parkrun in getting people around the globe to lace up their trainers is such that it was recently recognised by the IAAF's landmark social awareness programme Athletics for a Better World (ABW) which endorses projects where athletics is used as a vehicle for social good.
"Parkrun is revitalising running in South Africa, especially entry-level, wellness and recreational running," said Meyer, who organises one of the 44 parkrun events in South Africa.
"I started one, Root44 parkrun on a wine farm, and the number of participants is growing week-on-week."
Meyer is optimistic parkrun will continue to expand in South Africa, despite only Great Britain and Australia hosting more events per country.
"I certainly think that it will continue to grow. It still needs to extend to many parts of the country," said Meyer. "I really think that it will enter a whole new dimension when it starts in townships."
Kimetto and Kipsang's surprise appearance was quite a coup for the event, seeing as they've only raced each other twice internationally in the past.
In Umhlanga, Kipsang gained a very small slice of revenge for losing his world record to Kimetto as he crossed the finish line first in 17:45 with Kimetto second in 17:46.
“We were running for fun. It was a fun run and it was amazing how people of South Africa love running and love the champions and the former champions," said Kimetto.
“It was great to be appreciated as a champion and a record holder, and there was no pressure."
Likewise, Meyer said the local runners responded to running alongside two of the greats of long distance running. "It was such an exciting launch with so many local and international stars there. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet these heroes and run with them," she said.
One of the foremost aspects of parkrun is the camaraderie, and the fact they are accessible for runners at any level of fitness.
At present, South Africa is the only country in Africa to stage parkrun events and while Kimetto would welcome them in his homeland of Kenya, he reckons they would be a slightly more competitive affair than the norm.
“I support the idea for Kenya," said Kimetto. "But in Kenya, we love to run to compete!”
Steven Mills for the IAAF