Like many children, Louroupe grew up in her home, the highland region of Pokot in western Kenya. In her family there were 24 siblings and rarely enough food for all of them, field work and fast barefoot sprints while herding cattle were her childhood routine. Nevertheless, she experienced a spectacular running career: from 1998 to 2001 she held the marathon world record. She is still the world record holder over 20, 25 and 30 km and triple world champion in the half marathon.
She was also the first woman from Africa to win the New York City Marathon. She has also won marathons in London, Rotterdam, Hong Kong, Berlin and Rome. Today she is committed to peace in her homeland. In an interview with ISPO.com she talks about sport and peace, the "Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation", the Peace Races and the Refugee Team of the Olympic Games 2020, which will accompany her to Tokyo as "Chef de Mission".
ISPO.com: Peace through sports is your mission. What special power do they see in sports?
Tegla Loroupe: Sports are boundless. At sporting events people open up. This is a unique thing! Sports connect people worldwide: regardless of race, religion, tribes or gender. To experience the power with which sports can create peace...is indescribable.
In 2003, you established the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation (TLPF). What exactly does the foundation do and what are its current projects?
The foundation aims at a peaceful and just world, in which sports are a unifying factor. It aims to provide a livelihood for people affected by conflicts and civil wars. Our goal: a peaceful coexistence of warring communities in Northern Kenya, Southern Sudan, Northeastern Uganda, Ethiopia and other volatile areas of the African region.
Within the TLPF, we rely on three pillars: First, peacebuilding and conflict mitigation through projects such as the Tegla Loroupe Peace Race or the rehabilitation program for reformed warriors, young fighters who have laid down their weapons. Secondly, to education for peace in our Education and Peace Centre for orphans and vulnerable girls. And at the Tegla Loroupe Sports and Training Centre, the third pillar, we support talented refugees. Competitive sport and appropriate support for the best are the top priority.
Your School of Peace, founded in 2012, offers children access to sports in addition to protection and education. How is the school structured, what are the necessary steps?
The "Tegla Loroupe Education and Peace" School (TLE&PC) opened in January 2012 in Siyoi - Kapenguria, West Pokot. We currently have 460 students - we are still in the process of building up. The aim is to use the capacity of 1000 pupils in the boarding school. The children should live in a loving environment where they learn to accept each other: with mutual respect, understanding and "sportsmanship". The curriculum includes peace education in addition to the classical subjects.
Education is essential for progress. Nelson Mandela once said: "Education is the best tool that can be used to change the world." In the long term, the centre is also intended to become a training centre for talented young people who want to pursue a career in professional sport. In this way, sports can and should also become an economic way out for some privileged children - with far-reaching positive consequences for their lives, their families and the region.
Another sporty component of the TLPF: The „Peace Race“, a 10-kilometer distance run, which has been held annually in Kenya since 2001. Not only elite long-distance runners are invited, but also warriors of rival African tribes. How can we imagine the races?
Let me tell you how it happened: In 2003, I was invited as a guest runner to a peace race in Bali, Indonesia. At that time there was political unrest in the country. The government wanted to use the run to restore confidence in the country and its people. I was seized by the emerging positive dynamics during the run, the energy and the joy of the people: Muslims, Buddhists, Christians - all got along with each other. I decided to organize a Peace Race for my home region Pokot, Kenya.
The first Tegla Loroupe Peace Race took place in Kapenguria, Pokot in autumn 2003. In my country, livestock farming is the livelihood of many African tribes. But animals, pasture land, water and alternative perspectives are scarce. The result: armed herders, cattle robbery and fierce fighting among the tribes of the region. I saw sport as a peacemaking and economic perspective.
The atmosphere that arose during the race was similar to that in Indonesia: warriors of hostile tribes ran together, began to cheer for each other - and to embrace at the finish. People who until then had only met on battlefields talked to each other and learned to appreciate each other.
What changes did the Peace Races bring about in the region?
Within three years there were almost no more deaths in the region around Kapenguria. We were able to help two of Kenya's most wanted warriors, whose rivalries had claimed many victims, lay down their weapons. The warrior "Matanda" not only participated in our rehabilitation program, he is now its chairman.
Over the years, tribal interaction has improved: negative attitudes, stereotypes and tensions have been reduced; platforms for advocacy and voluntary surrender of firearms have been established. At the same time, the race highlighted sports as a unifying and vital perspective factor.
The IOC has again appointed you as "Chef de Mission" of the refugee team for the Olympic Games 2020 in Tokyo - after Rio 2016. Tell us about it.
The initiative of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to create an Olympic refugee team for Tokyo 2020 fills me with joy.
In 2016, I already had the great honour of serving the Olympic refugee team as "Chef de Mission". This was the first time ever that a Refugee Team participated in the Olympic Games. I led the team of 10 athletes who competed in these games as a beacon of hope for displaced people worldwide. Their stories show the extent of global problems that force people to flee their homes. But they also show what people can achieve when they are given the chance.
As "Chef de Mission" 2020 I will ensure that the qualified athletes compete successfully and as a team - side by side with the 206 competing nations. The (prospective) Olympians come from Afghanistan, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Southern Sudan, Sudan and Syria. The UNHCR has confirmed refugee status for everyone. They compete in eight sports: Athletics, badminton, boxing, judo, karate, swimming, taekwondo and weightlifting.
How will the athletes prepare for the 2020 Olympics? What role does the Tegla Loroupe Foundation play in this?
Through the Tegla Loroupe Sports and Training Centre in Ngong - Nairobi we train 25 refugees and 5 Kenyan athletes. Compared to 2016, the expectations of the Refugee athletes for the 2020 Olympic Games are higher. Without compromising on standards. The sportsman selection is based on highest performance - and will be highly competitive.
In the already started athlete training we focus on methods to achieve the high requirements. In addition to a strict diet, participation in local, regional and international competitions is just as much a part of this as intensive, strategic training and trainer exposure.
What role can the entire sports industry play in this context?
The conclusion of the Olympic Games in Tokyo should not be an end for the Refugee athletes: We want to train the athletes not only in the hope of qualifying for the Olympic Games. We want to help the athletes to develop their sporting careers in the long term - for a positive future. I am proud to be part of our peace mission and I am looking forward to other partners from the international sports industry joining me on this journey - to change the lives of refugee youth through sport.