HONOLULU (06-Dec) -- They are amongst the world's fastest marathoners, but today Wilson Kipsang and Jimmy Muindi of Kenya slowed down to share some of their life experiences with hundreds of students at the St. Andrew's Priory School, an all-girls school established here in 1867 by Queen Emma Kaleleonalani. The students filled the James C. Castle gymnasium and peppered the two athletes --plus the Kenyan Ambassador to the United States Elkanah Odembo-- with questions.
"This is exciting for us and our girls," said Judy Ezra, the director of the lower school, before a 23-piece student band played the Kenyan national anthem to start the program.
Kipsang, the 2012 Virgin London Marathon champion and Olympic Marathon bronze medalist, told the girls in advance of Sunday's 40th Honolulu Marathon that they should strive for excellence as he had done in his athletics career.
"I'm an athlete by profession," Kipsang began. "I was also a student like you, way back." He continued: "I always run to my best. Likewise, for you, you are in school. Do your best."
Ambassador Odembo, a rabid running fan who flew to Hawaii yesterday from his post in Washington, D.C., said he was thrilled to be in the Aloha State, the 27th of the 50 American states he has visited. He had planned to watch the ING New York City Marathon on November 4 where Kipsang was to run, but that event was cancelled in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Odembo saw a new opportunity to support his country's athletes.
"I have traveled for two years to 26 states," the Ambassador said. "I have a good excuse to come here. I felt so badly for the athletes from my country who could not participate (in New York)." He added: "When I heard that Wilson was coming to Honolulu, I asked my secretary if I could get to Honolulu. I didn't realize how far it is!"
For Muindi, 39, who will run his 20th Honolulu Marathon on Sunday, coming to this island has become second nature for him. He had also visited the Priory several times before, and has won the race six times.
"My name is Jimmy Muindi and Honolulu is my favorite place to be," the smiling Muindi told the students who broke out into spontaneous applause.
Honolulu holds a special position in the history of marathon running for Kenyan athletes, Ambassador Odembo pointed out. Kenyans first became a factor in commercial marathons here in Honolulu. Ibrahim Hussein won Honolulu in 1985 and 1986 before he became the first Kenyan to win the ING New York City Marathon in 1987 and the Boston Marathon in 1988. Kenyan men have won the Honolulu Marathon 21 times, and Odembo said that Kipsang and Muindi were carrying on that proud tradition.
"This is the marathon where Kenyans first became known," said Odembo, who ran the 1979 Boston Marathon while he attended Bowdoin College in Maine. "These guys, Jimmy and Wilson, you are seeing are the best."
Sunday's Honolulu Marathon boasts seven Kenyan men in the elite field: Kipsang (2:03:42 PB), Nicholas Manza (2:06:34), Nicholas Chelimo (2:07:38), Patrick Ivuti (2:07:46), Muindi (2:07:50), Kiplimo Kimutai (2:11:21), and Julius Arile (2:12:13).
"I am very proud of our marathoners and half-marathoners," Odembo concluded.
PHOTO: Olympic Marathon bronze medalist Wilson Kipsang poses with two students at the St. Andrew's Priory School in Honolulu in advance of the 2012 Honolulu Marathon (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)