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Africa

Kenya's Maasai Warriors Scrap Lion Hunt for Olympics

The Maasai Olympics were created to encourage athletic competitions to replace the traditional lion-hunting as the way to earn status.

 / Updated 11 PHOTOS
Image: A Maasai moran athlete has his face smeared with red ocher paint during preparations for the Maasai Olympics 2014 at the Sidai Oleng wildlife sanctuary in Kajiado

A Maasai moran athlete has his face smeared with red ocher paint during preparations for the Maasai Olympics at the Sidai Oleng Wildlife Sanctuary in southern Kenya on Dec. 13, 2014.

Scores of young Maasais representing four manyattas - a barrack for warriors aged about 16-25 - competed against each other on Saturday for prestige, bragging rights and a prized breeding bull for their manyatta.

Thomas Mukoya / X90150
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Image: KENYA-ATHLETICS-ENVIRONMENT-OFFBEAT

At the foot of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, Kenya's famed Maasai warriors competed for honor and prestige, not by hunting lions but by running, jumping and throwing.

Carl De Souza / AFP
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A young Maasai warrior throws a javelin during the competition.

The Maasai Olympics were created to encourage athletic competitions to replace the traditional lion-hunting as the way that young men can earn status in their society. Young Maasai men and women competed for prizes that included medals, cash, student scholarships, a prize bull and trips to participate in the New York marathon.

Ben Curtis / AP
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A Maasai warrior wears his hair in the traditional style.

Ben Curtis / AP
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Maasai athletes take their positions at the start of a race.

Famed Maasai runner David Rudisha, world record holder in the 800 meters and 2012 Olympic gold medal winner, attended the third annual Maasai games Saturday.

"I am patron of the Masaai Olympics to demonstrate the killing lions is no longer the way," said Rudisha before the competition. "We Maasai have a future as great runners. We must run - not kill the king of beasts - to earn our manhood and to win our brides in future."

Ben Curtis / AP
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A Maasai warrior makes the high jump, not in Olympic fashion but in Maasai warrior-style, a vertical jump from a standing position. Athletes must touch a high line with the top of their heads.

The events of the Maasai games were based on traditional skills: three running events of 200 meters, 800 meters and 5,000 meters; throwing a spear (javelin) for distance; throwing a club for accuracy; and the high jump.

Ben Curtis / AP
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Young Maasai women arrive to support the young warriors from their village.

Ben Curtis / AP
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Image: KENYA-ATHLETICS-ENVIRONMENT-OFFBEAT

A Maasai competitor takes part in the "rungu" or Maasai club throwing event.

For generations, Maasai warriors proved their manhood by killing a lion, but the campaign led by Kenyan Olympic champion David Rudisha is working to swap spearing for sport.

Carl De Souza / AFP
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Maasai women spectators whoop and cheer as runners from their village pass them in the lead.

The new Maasai competition was created to help conserve Kenya's lion population - which has declined from 250,000 40 years ago to 35,000 today.

Ben Curtis / AP
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Image: Maasai Olympics 2014

People pour water on a young Maasai man who collapsed after finishing his five-kilometer run.

Dai Kurokawa / EPA
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Maasai men sing and dance to celebrate an athlete from their village who won the 200m sprint.

— The Associated Press, AFP and Reuters contributed to this report

Dai Kurokawa / EPA
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