Kenyan Runners Chase A Dream

It's dawn in Kenya. And just like in towns across America, the runners are already out. But they don't jog in Kenya -- they flat-out run. Some are in serious training, others are simply en route to school.

If running could be a national sport, reports CBS News Correspondent John Roberts, then Kenya would be the world capital. It's hugely popular, both to watch and to do. A cross-country meet outside Nairobi, for example, draws talent scouts and coaches -- like Kip Keino.

Keino is more than just a coach, he's a national hero. In 1968, at the Mexico City Olympics, Keino blew away the sports world by beating American Jim Ryun in the 1,500 and winning the gold. Since then, Kenyans have dominated distance running. Keino credits a simple training regime lacking Western distractions.

"There's nothing easy for any athlete to be the best," says Keinp. "To be the best you have to work very hard."

As much as running has become a way of life in Kenya, it has also become a way out for many young people who otherwise would face an uncertain future. Whether it's winning enough money to feed your family for several months form the cash prize of a local race, or the siren song of the big league U.S. and European pro circuits, swiftness brings fame and fortune here like nothing else can.

Dr. Gabriele Rosa, an Italian cardiologist devoted to running, coaches some of the top Kenyans while staying constantly on the lookout for new talent.

"Kenya is now the most important country for runners in the world," he says. And, he adds, it offers the main opportunity in a land where there aren't many opportunities.

In Kenya, world-class athletes have humble beginnings. Keino says, "There's a road, there's a forest. You run to school, you run back home." Does Kenya excel in middle- and long-distance running because it's the cheapest thing to do? "Yes," says Keino, "100 percent yes."

In Kenya, cheap is a requirement. Three-quarters of the population farm for a living. The average annual income is about $340. A beautiful stadium in Nairobi built by the Chinese for the All Africa Games sits empty. Officials fear if the track is used regularly, it will get damaged. And if it's damaged, there's no money to fix it.

Despite these obstacles, since the 1960s, Kenyan runners have managed to win 40 Olympic medals, 13 of them gold.

"We would deliver better athletes if we had the best facilities," says Keino.

How much better they could get is hard to imagine. Fourteen of the top 20 World-class distance runners are Kenyan. But Keino is hoping to expand on that -- by building a school. It will be Kenya's first scholastically based athletic program.

The only thing separating Keino from his vision is what plagues all of Africa -- lack of money. But he is determined to make his vision a reality, so that those who dream of victory may one day achieve it.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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