Where Gebreselassie, now 38, and his old marathon record sparring partner, Kenyan Paul Tergat, 42, hit their career peak in their mid-30s, the new clutch of Kenyan stars all shattered records before their 30th birthdays.
And what has propelled these much younger men is the sudden shift in commercial sponsorship from track and field events to the long distance races.
Way out of poverty
Kenyans with even basic athletic talent have always seen running as a way out of poverty. Winning even a middle-tier race abroad can return prize money exceeding 10 or even 20 years of average earnings here.
“It’s the market that wants to see every race run so fast, and it will pay very much better for those times,” says Emmanuel Mutai, the 2011 London Marathon winner. “To do that, the way we train is different, it’s a lot of long runs, longer than the old guys, but also speed training on the track, good physios, professional techniques.”
Renato Canova, an Italian coach who has spent the last decade living in Iten and training Kenya’s best runners, including Mosop, agrees.
“The marathon used to be the refuge for the older runners, those who had already finished a career on the track at 5,000 [meters], 10,000m,” he says. “Now there is money in marathon, and nothing for track. So the young guys, they are going straight for marathon, and they are wild, they are aggressive, it is like nothing we have seen before.”