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Paul Tergat and Moses Tanui's Secret American Fan
-
December 21, 2001 

The low-key trip of Kenyan greats Paul Tergat and Moses Tanui to Washington, DC last weekend took a surprise twist when the Kenyan stars got a private meeting with America's #1 runner, President George W. Bush, in the Oval Office.

Tanui and Tergat were in town promoting Operation Smile (a volunteer medical services organization that performs reconstructive surgery on children with physical deformities around the world).  They attended a small 10 km road race with roughly 600 entrants on Saturday morning, where only a few of the runners seemed interested in meeting them (although registration reportedly increased by 30% in the two days before the race as rumor spread that the Kenyans would be there), and then went to the Washington Redskins football game on Sunday as the guest of Bruce Smith - one of the Redskins' top defensive players and himself an active volunteer for Operation Smile.  On their way home from the game, they learned that one very important person wanted to meet them - President George W. Bush.


Paul Tergat, President George W. Bush, Moses Tanui

President Bush had learned the two Kenyan stars were in town - thanks to a tip from LetsRun.com - and, being an avid runner himself, wanted to meet them. The President, who ran a marathon in 3:44 at the age of 46 and told a national television audience on the Oprah Winfrey Show last year that the one thing he couldn't do without was "running", was impressed by the great accomplishments of Tergat and Tanui even if the American public at large wasn't.  

Thus the Kenyan stars were invited to the White House on Monday, December 17th, where they had lunch with one of the President's top aides.  They then were directed to the Oval Office, where President Bush greeted them and chatted with them before posing for pictures.

The President showed his trademark self-deprecating humor throughout the meeting. He told Tergat and Tanui that he initially wanted to go for a run with them even though they'd probably be able to keep up with him "running backwards." However, he had been unable to find a time that fit into his schedule.  

When it was pointed out that Tergat's former world-record of 26:27.85 for 10,000 meters came out to roughly 4:16 per mile, the President quipped, "4:16 per mile for more than 6 miles? I should be embarrassed."

PC151350.JPG
Paul Tergat and Moses Tanui at the local 10k
with "Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer"

The President told Moses Tanui that he was impressed that Tanui was still a factor on the international scene at the advanced age of 36. The President and Tergat talked about Tergat's two second-place finishes in the Olympic 10,000 meters.  It was interesting to note that the Tergat, a true class act, told the President that he had been beaten by "a friend of mine from Ethiopia" in reference to Haile Gebreselassie - the winner of the 1996 and 2000 gold in the men's 10,000.   The President tried to provide solace to Tergat by joking, "You must have been sick (if you got second)."

Tergat and Tanui were both extremely honored to get to meet the President of the United States.  Afterwards, Tergat acted a little like a star-struck teenager as he half-jokingly said that he didn't want to wash his hands since the President had shaken them.

"It was a great honor to meet President Bush," said Tergat, the five-time world cross country champion. "It was totally unexpected and such a surprise. I could not believe it. It was like I was dreaming."

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