Kenyan distance runners

Andrew Kibet (third from right) represents the Razorbacks at the Florida State Pre-National Invitational cross country meet Oct. 15 in Tallahassee, Florida. Kibet is one of two distance runners from the same hometown and one of four from Kenya who run for the Hogs.

Two runners have taken different roads from the same hometown to end up at the UofA and continue Razorback Athletics’ track record of success among Kenyan distance runners.

Juniors Andrew Kibet and Emmanuel Cheboson both grew up in Eldoret, which is home to nearly 500,000 residents. It is located in the Rift Valley province of Kenya, a region notorious for producing great distance runners. Senior Razorbacks Amon Kemboi and Gilbert Boit are from the regional towns of Kapsabet and Iten, respectively.

“I didn’t know (Cheboson),” Kibet said. “The only person I knew was (Boit). The high school I went to, I think I met him his last year, because he was ahead of me.”

Cheboson is the 2020 Southeastern Conference indoor 5,000-meter champion and earned silver in the 2021 SEC outdoor 5,000-meter race. Kibet earned first-team All-American honors for the indoor distance medley relay and was a second-team All-SEC runner for the cross country team last season.

Both have had their share of successes in Fayetteville, but the pair’s similarities end there.

Kibet graduated from Kitany Secondary School in 2014. In high school, he played volleyball and intended to work on his family's farm once he finished school, he said.

It was not until after high school that he took up running, but it came naturally to Kibet. His father, Benson, was a junior world champion, and his uncles were also successful runners.

Kibet began applying to colleges in 2015, and had little luck. He did not see results until a coach recommended Hutchinson Community College, in Hutchinson, Kansas. Kibet was accepted, launching his collegiate running career.

While at Hutchinson, Kibet collected six National Junior College Athletic Association All-American honors. During his freshman year, he was named the 2018 U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association National Athlete of the Year. He became the first athlete at Hutchinson to win a national cross country title, and he added two indoor track national titles during the 2019-20 season.

When it came time to pick a four-year college, Kibet fielded offers from some of the nation's top programs, including Oregon, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa. Kibet chose the UofA because of its diverse international community and strong academics, he said.

“I wanted a school where I could be better athletically and get a chance with education,” Kibet said. “There was no better school for me than the University of Arkansas.”

Since arriving in Arkansas, Kibet has literally hit the ground running. He garnered first-team All-American honors as well as a silver medal at the 2021 SEC outdoor meet in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in his first year as a Razorback.

Cheboson’s road to Fayetteville had fewer twists and turns. Coaches were checking in on the 2017 graduate of Moiben Educational Centre when he was just a sophomore in high school.

Eventually, Cheboson chose the University of Louisville, where he won four meets in two years. Despite his success, Louisville never felt like a good fit, Cheboson said.

“(I had) no connection at Louisville with my teammates,” Cheboson said. “And my coach was unfriendly.”

Cheboson, like Kibet, cited the international community on campus as a reason for choosing the UofA.

“Having multiple international athletes made me more comfortable,” Cheboson said. “The athletes are much more connected here.”

Both Kibet and Cheboson see themselves back in Kenya after graduation. While Cheboson has his sights set on helping young Kenyan runners get recruited to American schools while aiding with his family’s business, Kibet is content to go back to work on the family farm.

“I want to go back home, man," Kibet said. "That’s where I’m from. I want to go back home.”

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