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Paul Koech, former world half-marathon champ, dies at 49

In this Saturday, April 26, 1997 photo, Paul

In this Saturday, April 26, 1997 photo, Paul Koech, right,  and Sally Barsosio, both from Kenya, celebrate winning the Trevira Twosome 10K run in New York's Central Park. (AP Photo/Gino Domenico, File) Photo Credit: AP/Gino Domenico

NAIROBI, Kenya — Paul Koech, a former world half-marathon champion and long-time teammate of Kenyan great Paul Tergat, has died. He was 49.

The Kenyan track and field federation said Wednesday that Koech died Monday after a short illness. The federation did not release any more details.

"Paul was a great track, cross-country and road-racing athlete," Athletics Kenya said.

Koech won the world half-marathon championship in Zurich in 1998. At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, he finished sixth in the 10,000 meters and the following year was fourth at the world championships. Tergat won silver in both of those races.

In 1997, Koech ran the third-fastest 10,000 in history, finishing second behind Tergat as his friend broke the world record in the event.

The IAAF said it was "deeply saddened" to hear of Koech's death.

Koech was a major in the Kenyan armed forces and a member of the Athletics Kenya executive committee at the time of his death.

Tergat, now head of the Kenyan Olympic committee, said Koech was highly patriotic and hard working.

"It's beyond belief he is no longer with us," Tergat said. "This was a very good friend of mine and not only did we represent the country together but he believed entirely in national duty.

"He was someone who was a refined officer. He was firm, never believed in any short cuts ... this is very painful."

Koech was a three-time Kenyan cross-country champion, an impressive feat in a highly competitive running nation. He often got the better of Tergat at national championships, but he never managed to win the coveted world cross-country title. He did win individual silver behind Tergat and the team gold with Kenya at the cross-country worlds in 1998, his best season.

"Fearless racer but a truly humble and gracious person who always had time for a chat at a race," former Australian distance runner Lee Troop wrote on Twitter.

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