People are often questioning the origin of the success of Iten for athletics. The explanation is indisputably tightly related to the history of the St-Patrick School of Iten, which has played a key role in the development of sports in Elgeyo-Marakwet.
The St. Patrick’s High School Iten is founded in 1961 through a partnership between the Patrician Brothers of Ireland, the Catholic Church, and the Local Leaders led by the late Hon. William Murgor. The school opened its doors to the first class of 30 students in February 1961 and quickly grew to reach four then six classes.
At this time, Iten is composed by few houses only and is not even named Iten while St-Patrick School is a secondary school. In 1973, the school is renamed St-Patrick Boys High School of Iten. The creation of the village takes place in 1978, when the headquarters of the area are relocated from Tambach, down the valley, to Iten.
1960's to 1980's : Development of teams sports and national titles
In the 1960s-80s, Iten St-Patrick School is among the top performing schools of Kenya, especially in the A-level national exams. The school has also great reputation in sports especially in hockey, volleyball, basketball and athletics. The Saints hold the national hockey title in 1985, 1988 and 1990 and it hold severally the title of Basketball champions of the Rift Valley Province. The school is also national volleyball champion for a total of 17 years with 15 years running in a row (1970-1984) !
In athletics, the years 1961 - 1983 are not as fruitful as nowadays. In 22 years, a total of three athletes qualified for the olympic games and Mike Boit over 800m is the only one to get a medal (bronze) in Munich (1972). Some results which are not reflecting the great potential of the athletes of St-Patrick School.
1976 : The arrival of Brother Colm O'Connell in Iten
A great potential that the Board of Management (BOM) of the school gradually takes into account while developing the school's strategy from mid 70's. Brother Colm O’Connell, an Irish missionary installs in Iten in July 1976 and quickly joins the Sports and Health Committee. The 30 years old brother initially traveled to Iten for a period of three years to teach geography and extended his stay up to today.
He never intended to become a running coach when he arrived in the region : "I just happen to be in an area where athletics was the talent" and adds : "I happen to be in a sport which is not very expensive; you don't need anything to be a runner. Even as young kids they run barefoot - you don't even need a pair of shoes." (ABC News, July 2012).
1980's to 2000's : The foundation of today's successes
From 1984, the work lead by Brother O'Connell pays off and several students start performing in athletics at national and international level. The first olympic title is achieved by Peter Rono over 1'500m in Calgary (1988). In 1989, Brother O'Connell creates Iten's first training camp for young runners. A visionary project that consists in the organization of several training camps every year for young talented runners. His continuous work with the school management to promote identification, training and exposure of talent among learners is probably the catalyst that transformed the village into the global track and field hub that shines today.
The success of some athletes combined with the development of the camps lead by O'Connell raises the interest for athletics in the school and further, creating awareness and interest of the communities surrounding Iten. Any kenyan aiming to become a champion has to pass by the St-Patrick School of Iten, specifically in the camps of Brother Colm O'Connell.
From 1990, the school level dropped significantly in terms of Education (narrowly remains among the top 100 secondary schools of the country over 2'200 schools) but achieves amazing results in terms of athletics :
2000 to 2023 : Success are raising interest
The worldwide successes of the kenyan athletes in the 90's raised the international interest for Kenya, in particular for the village of Iten. At the beginning of 2000's, some rare European coaches and athletes travel to Iten to understand what is making kenyan runners so strong. At this time, the only training camp of the village was the one in St-Patrick School and one training camp for foreigners just opened (HATC in 1999).
In the 2000's, the school is under the spotlights with the successes of Wilson Kipketer and later, David Rudisha who sets an amazing World Record in the final of the Olympic Games of London (2012). Throughout the glory of his pupils, Brother Colm O'Connell always kept his mission in mind : "I came to Iten many years ago as a young person to work among youth and that is still my priority" and explain that "it's not going to the Olympics, it's not coaching superstars. If they become a superstar, it's okay. If they don't, not a problem.".
International achievements over the years
Up to 2023, 52 students (37 males and 15 females) took part to the Olympic Games achieving a total of 19 medals (8 Gold, 5 Silver and 6 Bronze). The results are also impressive at the World Championships Senior and Youth with a surreal total of 35 World Champion Titles. A total of 16 World Records (10 Senior, 6 Youth) have been broken, the last one by Rhonex Kipruto over 10 km (26'24) in 2020.
The school pays homage to pupils who come through the system and go on to win a world championships title by planting a tree in their honour. The joke in Iten is that St Patrick's grounds will soon become a forest as future generations etch their name in the school's history.
St-Patrick School Iten Museum : A gem of history
The school includes a museum where some objects that have marked the history of the school are exposed, from the first computers used to the shoes of athletes who have won Olympic titles. A real gem of history to visit when you come to Iten.
The St-Patrick School of Iten today
In 2023, the boys' school accounts more than 1'100 students and 51 teachers split in 20 classrooms. The facilities of the school are standing on 100 acres of land. About 70 acres of this land is used to produce food for the school, including cattle, sheep, pig rearing and assorted crops. This farm allow the school to reduce student fees by reducing meals' costs.
Due to the current growth of Iten and its upgrade to the title of Municipality in 2013, the amount of students is expected to increase in the next years. The Master plan of the institution is planning to improve the current facilities by 2040 by adding several dormitories, an athletic track, a rugby pitch and several tennis and basket ball courts :
St-Patrick School Iten at the top of innovation and contests
St-Patrick School Iten has always been in the fore front of innovations. In 1989, it became the first school in Keiyo and the surrounding districts of the North Rift Region to acquire computers. This achievement made the school to be the first to acquire internet connectivity despite the poor telephone coverage.
The school is also famous for the annual Iten Maths Contest (IMC), a national competition for secondary schools which is set and organized by the school and which was first done in 1975. In 2015, the school increased contests by introducing Iten Chemistry Contest (ICC) that is proving to be very popular with many participating schools.
The role of President Daniel Moi in St-Patrick School's history
The school would probably not look as today without the support of the Former President of the Republic of Kenya, Daniel T. Arap Moi. In 1980, he indeed played an important role for the school in enabling it to expand its land acreage to the current 100 acres.
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