Runner’s High: Kenya’s Marathon Runners in Europe

For African athletes making money abroad is the big goal. But Kenyan marathon runners need to be careful – the industry is ruthless and only few make it.

For years, sports managers have been bringing African athletes to Europe to run in marathons with promises of potential prize money and a top career. For many it’s a means of escaping poverty. But what price do the marathon runners themselves pay?

The pursuit of a better life leads many marathon runners from Africa to the limits of what they’re capable of. For how long does their hope remain stronger than the pain in the battle against their own bodies? Is all this effort financially worthwhile?

Long-distance running is among the toughest disciplines in the world. Professional marathon runners battle over seconds in a race more than 40km long – seconds that are often worth huge sums of money. Running has become a business. The prize money for a major event can be in five figures. Participants have to be world-class athletes to win these amounts.

Another route is to become a successful manager such as Volker Wagner. He brings people from Africa to Germany for races. If they win, he gets a cut of the prize money. Wagner invented the trade in African athletes in Germany. He has taken Kenyan and Ethiopian runners from the street to the very top. He’s won all major marathons with them: New York, Tokyo, London and Berlin.

His athletes have participated in the Olympic Games and set thirteen world records. He has turned runners like Tegla Loroupe and Joyce Chepchumba into international stars and millionaires. Wagner was at the very top himself, until rival managers recognized his system and perfected it, coming up with more money, bigger sponsors – and a lack of scruples.

Wagner hasn’t had any big successes in the past ten years as his best runners are constantly poached by other managers. But he doesn’t want to quit. His new Kenyan running team will, he hopes, produce another international star.

Runner’s High: Kenya’s Marathon Runners in Europe
  • Info
  • Release date2015
  • Full runtime
  • Director(s)Daniel Sager
  • Production companyBaden-Wûrttemberg