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Tegla Loroupe: First African Woman to Win a Major Marathon

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Tegla Loroupe was one of the best female marathoners of her time. In 1994, she won the New York Marathon and made history by becoming the first African woman to do so. She beat all odds to compete at the highest level. 

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During her running career, Loroupe established herself as a peace ambassador by reconciling the warring parties in her community. Today, she continues to spread the message of peace through her foundation and other positions. Learn more about her.

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Tegla Loroupe’s Early Life

Loroupe started taking responsibility at a young age. She was one of 24 siblings, so she had to help look after them. When she started going to school, Loroupe ran at least 10 kilometers, going to school and returning home. 

She tapped into this ability, and after winning some school events, she decided to pursue a career in running. Her family didn’t support her as they deemed running to be unladylike. Due to her small stature, Athletics Kenya overlooked her. However, in 1988, Loroupe won a race barefoot and changed their minds.

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Tegla Loroupe’s Professional Career

Even after she began competing in international competitions, Loroupe still ran barefoot and only wore shoes in difficult races. Despite that, she won the 1994 Goodwill Games and made waves. In 1994, Loroupe achieved the biggest win of her career and wrote her name in sporting history. She was the first African woman to win a major marathon.

Loroupe became a sporting icon for African female runners. Reflecting on this victory, the running legend said her ambition was to open the doors for African women. The athlete understood the struggles of women, coming from a community that marginalized women. 

There was no stopping for her. The following year, she returned to New York and won the race for a second year.  Her record in other road races was also impressive. She won:

With her success, Loroupe represented the country in the Olympic Games thrice:

  • In 1992 in Barcelona, Spain & finished in 17th.
  • In 1996, Atlanta, United States & finished in 6th.
  • In 2000, in Sydney, Australia & finished 13th in the marathon and 5th in the 10,000m.

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Tegla Loroupe’s World Records

Loroupe was a world record holder in multiple distances: 

  • 20km (1:05:26.6)
  • 25km (1:27:05.9)
  • 30km. (1:45:50)

In 1998, she broke Ingrid Kristiansen’s world record in Rotterdam with a time of 2:20:47. The following year, the Kenyan broke her record in Berlin with a time of 2:20:43.

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Peace Ambassador

Even after her success, one thing still bagged Tegla. Her community was constantly involved in battles with other communities over cattle. She used her sporting status to lead peace efforts in her community. 

In 2003, she launched the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation and the Peace Race. This was meant to bring people together and help them realize they could live together. Within a few years, the Pokot communities put their guns down, and the number of deaths was reduced to zero. 

To further the stability, the Tegla Loroupe Peace Academy was started to educate children and instill the values of peace. 

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Refugees at the Olympics

For the first time in 2016, refugees were allowed to compete at the Olympics. This is a project Tegla Loroupe started to help refugees access opportunities. After living and training with some of them in her community, she formed an Olympic refugee team with the support of the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach.

“Refugees have always been close to my heart. They have tough lives but this is something that’ll give them hope,” she told on.running.com.

Tegla Lorupe is more than an athlete. While her sporting achievements continue to amaze many, her desire to spread the message of peace sheds light on the depths of her imagination. She lived in a conflicted community and understands how it can change your life. More to that, Tegla inspired and opened the doors for many African women. 

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