Benjamin Limo: The outsider who saved Kenya in Helsinki

From left: Former World 5,000m champion Benjamin Limo, former world 800m gold medallist Janeth Jepkosgei and Charlie Grice, Britain’s 1,500m Olympic finalist, distribute goodies to children at the Shoe4Africa Children’s Hospital at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret on December 24, 2016. The Christmas donations was from the Shoe4Africa Foundation. FILE PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA |

What you need to know:

  • Limo was born on August 23, 1974 in Chepkong’ony village, Eldoret East district of the former Rift Valley province – now under Uasin Gishu County.
  • Limo, now retired, was among the 15 athletes that started the final in a chilly evening in Helsinki.
  • Just like many other middle and long distance runners, Limo dumped the track for the road races before calling it quits in 2010 after the Los Angeles Marathon where he finished fourth.

August 14, 2005 will be forever remain a special day for Benjamin Limo.

With Kenya staring at an embarrassing end to the 10th World Championships in Athletics in Finland, Limo powered to victory in the 5000m final moments before the closing ceremony - the country’s only gold at the event. Kenya without a gold medal in a World Championships would have been a disaster.

But back at home, his wife, Margaret, had delivered a baby boy – Tony Helsinki Kigen - their fourth child after Marion Jepkemoi (19), Diana Jeruto (17) and Sharon Jerotich (15).

World 5,000m champion in Helsinki, Finland, Benjamin Limo with his wife, Margaret Limo, five-year-old son Helsinki Tony Kigen (second left) and daughter Sharon go through a book at their home in Elgon View Estate, Eldoret, on January 26, 2011. FILE PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Born on August 23, 1974 in Chepkong’ony village, Eldoret East, in the former Rift Valley province – now in what is now Uasin Gishu County - Limo remembers the day with nostalgia.

“I named my last-born son Helsinki because he was born on the day I won the only gold medal for Kenya. It was a memorable race and when I see him, I see success,” he told me on his farm in Eldoret.


Limo, now retired, was among the 15 athletes who started the final on a chilly evening in Helsinki, among them defending champion Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya and Ethiopia’s Sileshi Sihine, who won silver, and Australian Craig Mottram (bronze).

The race, Limo tells me, was one of the toughest he has ever run. According to him, not even the Osaka worlds, where he finished last in 2007 before retiring from the track, comes close to the Helsinki challenge.  

In 2005, during the World Championships, Kenya won seven medals that included Limo's gold (5,000m), two silver (Ezekiel Kemboi 3,000m steeplechase and Catherine Ndereba in marathon) and four bronze through Brimin Kipruto (3,000m steeplechase), William Liampoy (800m), Moses Mosop (10,000m) and Jeruto Kiptum (3,000m steeplechase).

Just like many other middle and long-distance runners, Limo dumped the track for road races before calling it quits in 2010 after the Los Angeles Marathon, where he finished fourth.

Former World 5,000m champion Benjamin Limo celebrates winning a past race. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

But what has the 43-year-old been doing since hanging his spikes?

“I’m a farmer. But I still love athletics,” he tells me.

True to his word, Limo is a permanent fixture at every athletics event around the county.

“I’m involved in most competitions in terms of preparations and scouting for young talent. I normally encourage and give tips to young athletes on how to be successful,” says Limo.


He has mentored many athletes, including Micah Kogo, former World Cross Country champion Joseph Ebuya and his sister Alice Aprot, who is also the Africa 10,000m champion, among others.

Limo was elected as one of the representatives in the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) for the Kenyan athletes, a post he held for two terms from 2007 to 2016.

IAAF Athletes representatives Benjamin Limo (right) Athletics Kenya's vice-president Paul Mutwii and Professional Athletes of Kenya chief Julius Ndegwa (left) addressing reporters on December 23, 2014 at YMCA. FILE PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“I love athletics and I want to be in the committee for the road races and the cross-country events at the IAAF,” added Limo, in reference to the elections that will be held in Qatar in 2019 during the World Championships.

“Athletes are facing a lot of challenges.”

“We have a large number of athletes who have been training for many years without getting opportunities and that should be part of our job.”


The former athlete has also channelled his energies to wheat, maize and dairy farming.

Limo now concentrates on his dairy farming, saying he delivers between 50 and 60 litres of milk per day to the New KCC in Eldoret.

“I have even reduced the acreage under maize and wheat so that I can improve on dairy because it has a ready market.”

On the doping menace that has clouded the country for years, Limo says it’s a practice that should be weeded out especially when the athletes are still young.

He believes that if young athletes run clean and remain disciplined, then they will have many years of success.

“I want to urge the young athletes to focus on their training and always practice clean sport and be disciplined so that they can stay longer.

"Many athletes have been running for a short period and then they disappear, which should not be the case.”