The big picture: the champion runners of Iten

Shamil Tanna captures the hard training and collective spirit of the aspiring Olympic athletes of a tiny town in western Kenya known for its marathon winners

Iten, a town of 4,000 people in western Kenya, is known across the world of athletics as the semi-mythical “home of champions”. For more than three decades the village, 8,000ft above sea level, has produced Olympic medallists and marathon winners with uncanny regularity, nearly all of whom are descended from the Kalenjin tribes that have lived for millennia at high altitudes in the great Rift Valley.

The London-based photographer Shamil Tanna, whose father was born in a village near Iten, has been documenting the latest generation of runners for a personal book project. His photographs capture the almost monastic ritual of the young athletes’ days, which begin and end in the half-light to avoid the full heat of the sun: run, recover, run, recover. Invariably the aspiring champions work in groups, challenging the records and times of their heroes, pushing one another on.

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