Over the course of his remarkable life, Paul Tergat has covered some pretty tough miles. One of those came at the end of the 2003 Berlin Marathon, where the Kenyan distance star fought off a challenge from countryman and training partner Sammy Korir and won the race by one second. Tergat crossed the finish line in 2:04:55, breaking the world marathon record by 43 seconds and becoming the first man in history to run 26.2 miles in under 2:05.
That final mile was perhaps no rougher than the three miles Tergat would log every school morning of his early childhood in Kenya’s Rift Valley, when he was one of 17 children in a family that often went hungry. Things changed in 1977, when the U.N. World Food Programme began providing meals in the area.
In 2004, the U.N. named him a World Food Programme Ambassador Against Hunger, and he’s continued to work for that cause. “For a small amount of money,” Tergat told members of the U.S. Congress in 2013, “many countries can give their children a chance to fill their potential in life.”
A Lifetime of Achievements
Tergat’s early running successes were in cross country. He won the 1992 Kenyan Cross Country Championships and went on to win five consecutive IAAF World Cross Country Championships titles from 1995 to 1999.
In 1996, he made his Olympic debut, finishing second to friend and rival Haile Gebrselassie in the 10,000 meters. The two dueled it out for the gold medal again in 2000, and once more, Gebrselassie came out on top, this time besting Tergat by a mere nine-tenths of a second.
Tergat also notched second-place finishes in his first three marathons—London in 2001 and 2002, and Chicago in 2001. His triumph in Berlin in 2003 marked his first 26.2-mile win, and after the race, he called the marathon “a matter of experience.”
Other significant victories include World Half Marathon titles in 1999 and 2000, and a thrilling victory at the 2005 New York City Marathon, where he outkicked South Africa’s Hendrick Ramaala by mere inches.
In 2010, Tergat won NYRR’s Abebe Bikila Award, given annually to athletes who’ve made spectacular contributions to the sport distance running. “Paul is richly deserving of this honor in recognition of his great career as a champion on the race course as well as all of his humanitarian efforts off the course,” said then-NYRR president and CEO Mary Wittenberg.
By then, Tergat had effectively retired from competition, yet he continued with the humanitarian work that drives him to this day. He remains a living legend and beloved public figure.
Career Highlights: Road
|1999||IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships||1:01:50|
|2000||IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships||1:03:47|
|2004||Athens Olympic Marathon||2:14:45|
|2009||Lake Biwa Marathon||2:10:22|