Metowo: The Kalenjin Word That Cost Kenyan Athlete Ksh100 Million
Most athletes, particularly Kenyan ones, get into the athletic profession with the objective of making money to support themselves and their loved ones. However, greed for money can sometimes make individuals, not only runners, make costly decisions.
The story of Kenyan 3,000m steeplechase runner, Bernad Barmasai, is an excellent example of how greed can sometimes make people fail to achieve their goals.
It was at the 1999 Weltklasse Golden Meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, that Barmasai uttered a word that denied him the prize money.
According to the IAAF regulations then, any athlete who registered five wins out of the seven Golden League meetings was to be awarded about Ksh118 million (USD1 million). The Kenyan athlete had done all the dirty work, winning four of the Golden League meetings.
However, when winning the prize money appeared to be almost certain for Barmasai, he made a huge blunder.
Barmasai – who was racing alongside his compatriot and friend Christopher Koskei – took control of the race from the early stages. Things seemed to go well for the Keiyo South-born athlete until the final stages of the race when he ran out of gas.
During the final lap of the race, Koskei – who was five years younger – produced a brilliant kick. It is reported that when Koskei was about to overtake Barmasai, the latter whispered a Kalenjin word “Metowo”.
Metowo loosely translates to “leave it to me” in English or “Niachie” in Kiswahili.
After a brief conversation between the two Kenyans, Koskei slowed down allowing the former world record holder to sprint and win the race in 8:05.16. Koskei then gradually increased his pace to finish second in 8:05.43.
The IAAF smelled something fishy about the Kenyan duo, and after a thorough investigation, Barmasai was found guilty of race fixing, and thus was disqualified from winning the prize money.
He returned to Kenya empty handed despite the sacrifice and hard work he had put in training all season.
According to one of the local dailies, Barmasai said that he had the intention of sharing the prize money with Koskei while speaking to international reporters, moments after winning the race.
“Koskei’s last 100 meters was really good. When he tried to pass, I tried to talk to him. He would have won today but because he’s a friend and we have to live together. The jackpot is for me and my friends,” Standard Sports reported.
Barmasai denied the race fixing allegations, blaming joy, lack of sufficient English knowledge and exhaustion for the outcome. He stated that international journalists misquoted him.
Romania’s Gabriela Szabo and Kenyan-born international Wilson Kipketer won the Golden boot jackpot that year in women’s and men’s categories respectively.
Barmasai recently revealed that they are still buddies with Koskei years after retiring from active athletics.