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Analysis of the Kenyan Distance-Running Phenomenon

Ross Tucker, Vincent O. Onywera, and Jordan Santos-Concejero


To investigate the ethnicity of Kenya’s most successful international runners, tracking their evolution over the period of their international emergence and current dominance.


The authors analyzed male track distance events from 800m upwards from all the major global athletics championships from 1964 to 2013, and the annual Top-25 world marathon performances since 1990.


The percentage of top-25 marathon performances and medals won by Kenyan and Kalenjin runners have increased over time with Nandi subtribe outperforming the rest of the world outside Africa (r > .70, large effect). However, Europe, North America, Oceania, Asia, and South America decreased over time in top marathon performances and track medals won (r > .70, large effect). The tribe and subtribe distribution was different in the marathon than in the track: Maasais were more likely to feature in medals won in shorter track events than in the top 25 of the world marathon rankings (risk ratio [RR] = 9.67, very large effect). This was also the case for Marakwets (RR = 6.44, very large effect) and Pokots (RR = 4.83, large effect). On the other hand, Keiyos, Kikuyus, Kipsigis, Sabaots, and Tugens were more likely to succeed in the marathon than in shorter track events (RR > 2.0, moderate effect).


These data emphasize that the previously documented emergence of African distance runners is primarily a Kenyan phenomenon, driven by the Kalenjin tribe and in particular the Nandi subtribe. This supports the complex interaction between genotype, phenotype, and socioeconomic factors driving the remarkable dominance of Kenyan distance runners.

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Optimizing Human Performance—A Brief History of Macro and Micro Perspectives

Mark S. Dyreson

, endurance running remained a crucial component of their cattle-herding traditions, particularly for men. Ethnographers and historians have chronicled the “running cultures” of the Kalenjin, Maasai, and other Nilotic groups. They have also noted that Nilotic peoples rank among the tallest modern populations

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Characteristics and Challenges of Open-Water Swimming Performance: A Review

Roberto Baldassarre, Marco Bonifazi, Paola Zamparo, and Maria Francesca Piacentini

.7 (61.6 ± 13.4) M 5.2 ± 0.7 (68.0 ± 6.7) Zamparo et al 35 Kalenjin marathon runners M 3.83 ± 0.36 (64.9 ± 5.8) Tam et al 43 Portuguese and French marathon runners W (61.2 ± 4.8) M (79.6 ± 6.2) Billat et al 44 Professional cyclists W 3.6 ± 0.2 (61.4 ± 3.4) M 5.21 ± 0.23 (74.8 ± 3.6) Decroix et al, 45 De

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Engaging Multiple Medical Epistemologies: Medical Professionals’ Distance Running Advice and Treatment

Jennifer L. Walton-Fisette and Theresa A. Walton-Fisette

fever’: Understanding runner identities in Shanghai through turning point narratives . Leisure Studies, 37 ( 2 ), 211 – 222 . doi:10.1080/02614367.2017.1324513 10.1080/02614367.2017.1324513 Rotich , W. ( 2016 ). Because we are us: Stereotype, cultural and athletic identity in Kenya’s Kalenjin

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Contemporary Nutrition Strategies to Optimize Performance in Distance Runners and Race Walkers

Louise M. Burke, Asker E. Jeukendrup, Andrew M. Jones, and Martin Mooses

.L. , Van Hall , G. , & Hambraeus , L. ( 2002 ). Food and macronutrient intake of male adolescent Kalenjin runners in Kenya . The British Journal of Nutrition, 88 ( 6 ), 711 – 717 . PubMed ID: 12493093 doi:10.1079/BJN2002728 10.1079/BJN2002728 Cohen , B.S. , Nelson , A.G. , Prevost , M

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Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport in Male Athletes: A Commentary on Its Presentation Among Selected Groups of Male Athletes

Louise M. Burke, Graeme L. Close, Bronwen Lundy, Martin Mooses, James P. Morton, and Adam S. Tenforde

professional cyclists . International Journal of Sports Medicine, 31 ( 7 ), 511 – 515 . PubMed ID: 20432201 doi:10.1055/s-0029-1243616 Christensen , D.L. , Van Hall , G. , & Hambraeus , L. ( 2002 ). Food and macronutrient intake of male adolescent Kalenjin runners in Kenya . The British Journal of