Paul Tergat was ecstatic to be back in Stellenbosch after 26 years, as he has nostalgic memories of winning the 1996 IAAF World Cross-Country Championship.
After easily claiming victory at the 12.15-kilometre distance within 12 seconds, at the Coetzenburg circuit and finishing in the Danie Craven Stadium. Paul says he wasn’t confident that he would win, in fact up until the very last minute of the race. He refers to winning in South Africa as “like winning at home”.
He recalls a restless evening after winning, “I got to shake the hand of former President Nelson Mandela and that was really great for me, it meant more to me than even the medal. It was something that I took home and became a memory for me.”
Paul Tergat went on to win five consecutive Cross Country Championships titles from 1995 to 1999. During that year Tergat made his Olympic debut in Atlanta at the 1996 summer games, rewarded with a silver medal for finishing second in the 10,000 meters, as his nemesis, Haile Gebrselassie took first place.
Another riveting victory for the Kenyan long-distance star was at the 2005 New York City Marathon, where he swept our very own South African, Hendrick Ramaala. “It just shows the competitiveness and the strong mental toughness of a sportsman, and I believe that is what sports gives us today.”
A quarter century later, Paul returned to the grounds where he won his second cross country world title in Stellenbosch. He reflects on the time where South Africa was transitioning out of the apartheid era and into a new democracy.
“In terms of the course, we came in uncertain, but we were excited that South Africa become part of the international community finally and were able to host events.”
The country had only been in a new democracy for 2 years and was subsequently allowed to participate in international sporting events and to host prestigious international sporting events.
Paul expressed how excited he is to be back in Stellenbosch, not as an athlete but as a businessman in the sports industry. “It is very refreshing…I actually cannot remember well how it was when I was here in 1996, but now I can go around and visit around.”
Not only did he come to visit around, but he came to investigate future opportunities to collaborate and exchange knowledge with Maties and to establish some talented sportspersons.
Paul, now 52, sits on the boards of various educational establishments in Kenya, where he also helps organize sporting events through a sports marketing and PR company he runs, known as Fine Touch Communications.
He is a businessman, a humanitarian that serves his country, a living legend, and one of the greatest long-distance runners of all time.