Philip Boit: Kenya’s first winter Olympian

Philip Boit wrote his way into the annals of Kenyan sports history when he became the first Kenyan to compete in the Winter Olympics, entering the 10km classic race at the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan.

Prior to taking up skiing, Philip was a middle distance athlete specializing in the 800m and 1500m events. He also just happened to be the nephew of Mike Boit, 800m bronze medalist at the Summer Olympics of 1972 in Munich, West Germany.

Philip’s journey to Nagano started two years earlier when global sportswear giant , Nike, nominated him and countryman Henry Bitok for training in Finland in order to become competitive skiers. This was literally the duo’s first experience on snow.

Fast forward to 1998 and Kenya were granted a solitary slot at the Nagano Games, Philip taking up this slot and sparking massive global media interest.

Chaos preceded the start of the race, when the athletes were unexpectedly soaked by heavy rain.

Philip was unaccustomed to skiing on wet snow, and had more problems with it than most.

Gold medalist in the men’s Nordic cross country event, Bjorn Daehlie, helps last placed finisher Philip Boit of Kenya at the finish line of the 10km classic race on 12 February 1998. Boit, who first saw snow two years earlier, finished twenty minutes behind the Norwegian winner

In a later interview with the BBC, Philip said, “I fell down so many times, going uphill, the skis were collecting snow. It was like I had put on high heeled-shoes!”

Well, he chugged his way to the finish line in 92nd position, 20 minutes behind eventual winner, Norway’s Bjorn Daehlie.

Even as he savoured his victory, Daehlie made a point of following Philip’s progress round the course. He actually delayed his appearance at the medal ceremony to wait and see Philip get across the finish line. Relayed around the world, the scene of the two embracing each other seemed to embody the spirit of the Olympic Games.

“The Norwegian team had heard about this guy from Africa who was taking part,” Daehlie told the BBC. “We thought it was really interesting and we were eager to see if he would succeed, ” he added.

Nagano was not the final chapter of Philip’s Olympic story. He made two further appearances at the Winter Games, carrying his country’s flag on both occasions. At Salt Lake City 2002 – by which point Daehlie had retired – the Kenyan finished a career-best 64th out of 71 entrants in the sprint, while also competing in the 2x10km pursuit. And four years later he took part in the 15km classic at Turin 2006.

Boit also competed in four FIS Nordic World Ski Championships and in a number of other international events around the world. On making his final world championship appearance in Oslo in 2011, the Kenyan introduced the Norwegian Daehlie to his four children, including the now teenage son who had been named after him.

-with additional information from BBC and the International Olympic Committee

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