Former UTEP track stars take unique path to United States Olympic Trials


EL PASO, TEXAS (KTSM) – Former UTEP track and field stars Anthony Rotich and Jonah Koech came to El Paso from Kenya.

Years later, they’re still on a similar path, becoming American citizens and serving their adopted country. Now, they’re both looking to represent the United States in the Olympics. The Kenyan-Americans are currently at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., Rotich in the 3,000-meter Steeplechase, Koech in the 800 meters, after taking a unique route to the Trials.

The great rapper Rakim once said, “It ain’t where you’re from; it’s where you’re at.” Koech and Rotich took that line to heart.

“This is our home. If you ask me where I’m from, I’m from El Paso,” said Koech.

The Kenyan-born runners came to UTEP to run for Kenyan countryman and 1988 800M Olympic gold medalist, Paul Ereng, now a Miners assistant coach.

Rotich won four NCAA national championships with the Miners, including three in a row in the steeplechase (2013-2015), while Koech was a 1st team All-American in the 800M in 2018, before finishing his career at Texas Tech in 2019. Years later, they’re back on the same team.

“Running together means we’re continuing the tradition of being a Miner,” said Rotich.”

Since leaving UTEP, both men have gained their American citizenship and joined the United States Army Reserves in the process. The military has given them the opportunity to continue their running careers, too. Rotich and Koech both compete for the Army’s World Class Athlete Program, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

They each will have to serve their adopted country for a few years, but the way things are set up, they still get to train full-time while also doing something to help the nation that they say has done a lot for them. For both Koech and Rotich, joining the military wasn’t just about track and field; it was much more than that.

“It was a good time for me to give back to this country that has given me so much,” said Rotich, who has an undergraduate and Master’s degree from UTEP. “You still are serving in the Army, and at the same time they give you a chance to continue your athletic career.”

For Koech, he’s living out a life-long dream that doesn’t just include his chance to compete in the Olympic Games.

“Even if I was in Kenya, I’d be in the military,” said Koech. “That’s what was in my heart. When I came here I saw this opportunity too (to continue running), so I said ok, I can pursue this while serving the community.”

The 2021 US Olympic Trials is their first chance to represent their adopted nation. While Koech unfortunately bowed out of a tough field in the 800M Semifinals on Saturday, Rotich will look to qualify for Tokyo beginning with the first round of the 3000-meter Steeplechase on Monday at Hayward Field.

“That would be the best time of my life because I’ve always dreamt of being an Olympian and I’ve been working for it for quite some time now,” said Rotich.

Rotich won three national championships in the steeplechase at Hayward Field, so he’ll be comfortable in the environment of Track Town, USA.

Joining Rotich in the steeplechase on Monday at the Trials will be Franklin High School graduate Brian Barraza. The former Cougar ran collegiately at the University of Houston, before turning pro in 2018. He’s had a career year in 2018, topping out at 8:24.39 a few weeks ago.

Both he and Rotich are still in need of securing the Olympic standard (8:22.00) in order to be able to go to Tokyo.

Later this week…Hanks graduate Kendra Chambers will run for a trip to Tokyo in the women’s 800 meters. Chambers, who ran at the University of Texas, told KTSM last week that she feels as though she’s peaking at the right time and is ready to make some noise in Eugene. Chambers finished 9th in the 800m at the 2016 Trials.

New Mexico State assistant coach Rachel Dincoff punched her ticket to the Olympics in the discus at the U.S. Trials on Saturday. Many more athletes with Borderland ties will look to head to Tokyo for other nations in the coming weeks.

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