Throwback: The Kenyan cross-country skier who wowed the crowds in Japan

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February 12, 1998

Philip Boit grew up with dreams of competing in a distance race in the Olympics. He just didn’t figure it would be in the snow.

Yet when the field of 98 cross country skiers took the starting line for the 10km pursuit at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, the 26-year-old from Eldoret, Kenya was right there among them.

A former middle-distance runner from Kenya’s Rift Valley, Boit was talented at his original sport but not exceptional enough to stand out among the stellar roster of track athletes in his native country. So when Nike looked to sponsor a program in February 1996 to train a competitive winter sports athlete from Africa, Boit proved a suitable candidate.

After two years of training in Finland, Boit qualified for the Nagano Games and became an inspirational story for fans and his competitors alike.

The race got off to a rough start for Boit, who struggled in unfamiliar wet conditions and fell a number of times during the 10,000 meter trek. Yet he kept going, finally crossing the finish line in 47:25.5, nearly nine minutes behind his closest competitor and 92nd out of 92 finishers.

Despite Boit’s time being 20 minutes slower than his own, Norwegian gold medalist Bjorn Dæhlie, (27:24.5) was so impressed by Boit’s perseverance that he refused to immediately attend the medal ceremony. Instead, he asked for it to be delayed so he could wait at the finish line to congratulate Boit when he finally crossed.

“I felt really impressed that he was able to finish the race in these conditions and I wanted to wait to see him over the finish line,” Dæhlie recalled.

The Japanese crowd was just as generous with their affection as Boit approached the home stretch.

“They were shouting ‘Kenya go, Philip go’” Boit said. “It was like winning a medal even though I was last.”

Several weeks after the Winter Games, Boit would name his newborn son Dæhlie Boit after the gracious gold-medal winner. Boit continued to compete in cross country skiing after the 1998 Games, finishing 64th out of 69 finishers in the sprint competition in Salt Lake City in 2002 and 92nd out of 97 finishers in Turin in 2006.

 

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