When Kenya’s Rhonex Kipruto first came here for the UAE Healthy Kidney 10-K back in 2018, he was just 18 and had never been to the United States before.
He was warmly welcomed by the race organizers, New York Road Runners (NYRR), who made sure that he and his adidas teammate, Mathew Kimeli, were comfortable in their hotel near Central Park. Both athletes hoped to break the Central Park record of 27:35 and earn a special $30,000 bonus in addition to the first place prize of $10,000.
On his first morning in the hotel, Kipruto had a breakfast of tea (Kenyan style with milk and lots of sugar), and toast the NYRR staff had their first chance to get to know him. He talked a little bit about his family and his training, but when he was asked about his unusual name he demurred. Even when pressed he only smiled and continued to eat. Surely there was a story there, but Kipruto was not going to tell it. He finished his breakfast, and two days later smashed that Central Park record by running 27:08 (the still-standing USA all-comers record), and went home with $40,000 (after passing an in-competition drug test, of course).
A lot has changed for Kipruto since then, who has raced sparingly since the beginning of the pandemic. He won the 2018 World Athletics U20 Championships 10,000m title in 2019, earned a bronze medal at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in the 10,000m, broke the longstanding Peachtree 10-K course record by running 27:01 in 2019 (worth a $50,000 bonus), and set a new 10-K world record of 26:24 in early 2020 before the pandemic shutdown.
Yet, nobody has been able to learn anything more about his name.
“He said he would tell me, but that was six years ago,” said his agent Davor Savija over breakfast today at a midtown diner.
A Google search on the word “rhonex” returns only pages of references to Kipruto himself, except for a coincidental hit for “Rhone-X,” a medical term for diabetic macular edema, and the “Peloton x Rhone” high-performance tank top. Surely neither has any relation to Kipruto’s given name.
Kipruto, who flew into New York last night, runs Sunday’s United Airlines NYC Half on a hilly course from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Savija said his athlete is in good shape and recently completed a strong 20-kilometer time trial in Kenya to get ready for the race. He’ll be facing a quality international field which features American two-time Olympic medalist Galen Rupp, Australian Olympian Brett Robinson, and Kenyan road racing veteran Stephen Sambu who won the race in 2016.
But it is doubtful that any more information about the origin of his name will be forthcoming.
“Nobody knows,” said Savija, as he finished his toasted English muffin and crispy bacon.