The Humble Irish Monk Who Put Kenya On Top

  • By Duncan Larkin
  • Published Jan. 25, 2012
  • Updated Jan. 25, 2012 at 12:24 PM UTC
Brother Colm O'Connell is still coaching young Kenyans after 35 years. Photo: The Independent.

When he arrived to the East African country in 1976 he knew nothing about running.

He’s 63 years old and doesn’t really look like a runner, but that doesn’t matter, because Brother Colm O’Connell is one of the most successful running coaches in the world. When he came to Kenya in 1976, he was a just a geography teacher at St. Patrick’s school.

“I arrived in July 1976, the same week the Montreal Olympics opened,” O’Connell recalls. “There was a teacher here from Gateshead – Pete Foster, brother to Brendan. We listened on Pete’s beaten-up old radio to the BBC commentary of Brendan running in the 10,000 meters.”

O’Connell admits it was Foster who got him involved in running. “He was here for another year and he wanted me to take over when he left. That’s how I became a coach. I came here on a three-year contract and 35 years later I’m still here.”

O’Connell’s first Olympic gold champion was Peter Rono who won the 1500m final in Seoul in 1988.

“I’ve always concentrated on the development of young athletes,” O’Connell says. “That’s where the Kenyan supply line comes from. I’ve not really moved up the line and ignored the youngsters.”

For More: The Independent


Duncan Larkin

Duncan Larkin

Duncan Larkin is the news editor at and a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first running book, RUN SIMPLE, was released last July.

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