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Throwback: The Kenyan cross-country skier who wowed the crowds in Japan

12 Feb 1998:  Bjoern Daehlie of Norway congratulates Philip Boit of Kenya after Boit finished the mens 10k cross country race at Snow Harp during the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan. Boit was the first Kenyan to compete in the Winter Games. Man

February 12, 1998

Philip Boit could barely have been less likely to grow up to become a Winter Olympian having been born in Eldoret, in the heart of Kenya’s Rift Valley.

Eldoret is known as the “home of champions”, not for snow kings and queens but for middle and long-distance runners.

Boit had aspirations to join his compatriots on the track at the Games. But he came up just short so jumped at the opportunity offered by sportswear giants Nike, who were prepared to fund an African to go to the Olympic Winter Games.

He duly qualified for the Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998 in cross-country skiing and, just two years on from first putting on skis, was understandably some way off the pace of the rest of the field.

The race was won by the legendary Bjorn Dæhlie, a dominant force for years who crossed the line after 27 minutes.

Called to the medal ceremony, Dæhlie refused to go asking – instead for it to be delayed so he could wait at the finish line to congratulate Boit and welcome him home.

“They were shouting ‘Kenya go, Philip go’. It was like winning a medal even though I was last.”

Boit had struggled in wet conditions, making the snow hard to travel over and leading to a litany of falls during the course of his 10-kilometre run.

Dæhlie recalled: “I felt really impressed that he was able to finish the race in these conditions and I wanted to wait to see him over the finish line.”

As Boit turned into the home straight, he was greeted by a cacophony of noise from the enthusiastic Japanese crowds.

The Kenyan remembered: “They were shouting ‘Kenya go, Philip go’. It was like winning a medal even though I was last.”

He crossed the line 20 minutes behind Dæhlie, the pair indelibly linked to the extent Boit would later call one of his children Dæhlie, who is now 19 and has regularly met his namesake.

On his return to Kenya, Boit was mobbed at Nairobi Airport, his response being, “I kept telling them I had come last”.

Boit continued at the highest level until 2011, partly through funding and partly by selling family cattle.

 

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