Kenyan Connection Makes University of Texas at El Paso a Powerhouse in Collegiate Cross-Country

Nationwide, blacks make up 28 percent of the student athletes who are on athletic scholarships for track or cross-country. Blacks make up a large percentage of the athletes who compete as sprinters and in various jumping events. White athletes are more prevalent in distance running and in cross-country.

But at the University of Texas at El Paso, all seven members of the cross-country team are black. But not one of them is an African American.

The team’s coach is Paul Ereng, who won an Olympic Gold Medal in the 800 meters for Kenya in 1988. Since taking over the cross-country program in El Paso, Ereng has recruited runners from his native Kenya, a country known for its distance runners. Ereng is a national hero in Kenya, which gives him a recruiting edge to attract the nation’s best young runners who want to pursue higher education in the United States.

Ereng, who is a graduate of the University of Virginia, was the first Kenyan to be named a head coach at an American college or university.

The Kenyan athletes live together in off-campus apartments. The seven Kenyan students have an average GPA of 3.16. At least one plans to become a medical doctor.

Dominic K. Tanui, a junior from Kenya, told the Chronicle of Higher Education, “In the United States people play football. Where I grew up, people run.”