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Updated 4 March 2011
Vincent Kiprop CHEPKOK, Kenya (5000m/Cross Country)
Born 5 July 1988, Kapkitony location, Keiyo District, Rift Valley Province
Club: Defence Forces; Coach: Patrick Sang (other coach, Joseph Chelimo deceased 2010)
Manager: Michel Boeting
In 2007, Vincent Kiprop Chepkok recorded a startling result at the World Cross Country Championships, in Mombasa, when he beat his more illustrious team-mates to win silver in the Junior Men’s race.
Two years later, Chepkok again upset the odds to emerge as the unlikely winner of the men’s 5000m at the national trials in July and earn a ticket for the track and field World Championships in Berlin, and proceeded to place seventh in the German capital.
Yet another two years passed before Chepkok came from ‘nowhere’ to clinch one of the four automatic slots for the Punta Umbria World Cross. The polite, quiet and stocky athlete seems to have a knack of springing the unexpected.
Born in Kapkitony location, as the middle child in a family of six, Chepkok first became interest in athletics while a student at Tulwet High School. “When I was in high school, some guys used to train nearby, like William Kiplagat, Bernard Kiprop, Salim Kipsang and Eliud Kipchoge, and this got me thinking that maybe I could make a career myself,” he said. However, he did not start serious training until 2006 after completing school. “I started training seriously, working hard, and was rewarded with a trip to Spain,” he said.
In the first of four races on Spanish soil Chepkok ran a personal best 5000 metres of 13:17.57 in Gavà on 4 June. Twenty days later, he clocked his personal best in 10,000 metres of 28:23.46 in Barakaldo. But, just when his fledgling career was finding its shape, Chepkok injured his tendon and was out for over three months, making his return to international competition in the Rennes 10km road race (28.39 on 15 October).
He started 2007 even more determined and worked really hard. Foremost on his mind was cross country and, with the World Cross being held in Kenya, athletes had more motivation than usual. He won the junior race at the national championships, which were used as a dress rehearsal for the global event in February, but come trials a month later, he could not even make the top ten. Athletics Kenya, though, had been impressed with his run at the nationals and selected him as a wildcard.
At the World Cross on 24 March, Chepkok repaid AK’s faith in his ability by powering forward, leaving the likes of Leonard Patrick Komon and Mathew Kisorio trailing in his wake as he went on to win junior silver as well as team gold. Fresh from his success, Chepkok decided to follow his father’s wish by joining the Defence Forces. This meant an eight- month sabbatical from his beloved sport. Later that year Private Chepkok resumed light training.
He turned his attention to the track, posting 13:33.4 for 5000m at the trials for the African Champions, held in Nairobi in April, but did not qualify, finishing fifth. In June, he improved his seasonal best to 13:22.96 in Kassel, Germany, and then to 13:06.41 in Heusden, Belgium, in July. His attempt for a place at 5,000 metres in the Kenyan team for the Beijing Olympic Games fell short with an eighth place finish (13:47.4) in the trials in Nairobi, at Nyayo National Stadium, on 4/5 July.
Chepkok responded to the setback by a seasonal best in 3000m (7:41.03) in Zagreb and ended his season at the Brussels Golden League meeting in September, placing seventh at 5000m (13:11.47)
In 2009, Chepkok returned in even better form. He started in June by improving his personal best in 3000m (7:37.40) with a win in Torino then, at the Golden League meeting in Berlin, on 14 June; he improved his 5000m best to 13:01.35, finishing fourth. At the Golden League meeting in Oslo on 3 July, he finished third (13:06.27). Despite an invitation to run at the Golden League in Rome, Chepkok opted to return home and prepare for the trials for the Berlin World Championships on 25 July.
At the trials in Nairobi, Chepkok took command in the last quarter of the race and put the hammer down in the final lap to win in 13:19.8. “Today’s race was so challenging, though I was in good shape, I wasn’t struggling,” he said. “I just gave it my best and I am happy to make the team for Berlin.” However, he would not be drawn on the possible outcome in Berlin.
“I can’t talk about the race or about who will be the favourite,” he said then. “It will all depend on the day, on how you wake up, because in sports you never know.”
Despite his resolve, Chepkok failed to fire at the final, after barely squeezing to the medal race with a fourth finish (13:20.24) at the first heat. After surging to the lead in the third lap, Chepkok ran out of steam to clock 13:21.31 for ninth in the decider.
“I don’t know what happened, my body did not respond at all,” the desolate athlete said at the mixed zone as he walked out of the Olympiastadion’s bowels, gutted by his performance. That disappointment blazed him to display his pre-Berlin form at the Zurich and Brussels Golden League meetings where he ran two sub-13s in succession, recording 12:58.17 (28 August) in the former for fourth and a year-best 12:55.98 for third in the latter (4 September).
Faced with championship settings at the last World Athletics Final in Thessaloniki, Greece, Chepkok once again faltered under the challenge, returning 13:30.76 for seventh (13 September) to close 2009.
In 2010, Chepkok took his ‘customary hiatus’ from Team Kenya after failing to make the national team for, first, the March Bydgoszcz World Cross, after finishing ninth at the selection event, then the African Athletics Championships, following a fourth finish in the 5000m (13:37.96/25 July) Trials.
Two career bests were the highlight of the year. The first was nailed at the 14 May opening Diamond League meeting in Doha where he finished a strong second to 2003 World champion, Eliud Kipchoge in 12:51.45, a mark which would remain the number two in the top lists for the rest of the year. On 22 August, Chepkok then raced his 7:31.41 (number five in the top list) life time best in 3000m in Berlin, where he played bridesmaid to Ethiopia’s Tariku Bekele.
On 4 December, Chepkok showed up at the fifth KCB/AK National Cross Country Series meeting in Kisii where he charged to the long race title. It was here he made his Punta Umbria intentions known, saying, “I have been out of the World Cross for long and I want to be back. My performance here today showed I’m getting to the right shape.”
At the onset of 2011, Chepkok realised his World Cross dream when two consecutive third place finishes at the 22 January Defence Forces (to make their team) and 19 February IAAF Permit/KCB National championships secured his berth in the Punta Umbria line-up.
“I realised going for the win at these (selection) events has cost me a chance to make the team in the past that is when I planned to not chase for victory but be in a position for selection,” he revealed adding, “With my first objective achieved, it is time for me to focus on how to break into the medals. Having done it in Mombasa, I believe I can do it again in Spain although running in the senior race is different.”
Athletics, he says, has changed his life. “It has helped me improve my family’s life making it better,” he explained. Chepkok is married with two children. He currently trains with the likes of Beijing Olympics 5000 metres silver medallist Kipchoge, World and Olympic 3000m Steeplechase champion Brimin Kipruto, 2007 12km World Cross bronze medallist Bernard Kipyego, Mike Kipyego, Lucas Rotich and William Biwott.
“He is very modest but combines it with a politeness that feels almost royal,” manager Michel Boeting says of Chepkok. His confidence is great but he will never show it to the outer world. His bouncing running style doesn’t appear too quick but it’s very efficient and fast.”
He reveres Ethiopian long distance king Kenenisa Bekele. “I would like to be like Bekele because he has made his mark in the world by winning so many races and in many distances as well as breaking records,” he said.
1500m: 3:40.47 (2008)
3000m: 7:31.41 (2010)
5000m: 12:51.45 (2010)
10,000m: 28:23.46 (2006)
3000m: 2008: 7:41.03, 2009: 7:37.40; 2010-7:31.41
5,000m: 2006: 13:17.57; 2007:- ; 2008: 13:06.41; 2009: 12:55.98 2010-12:51.45
2007 2nd World Cross Country Championships (Junior)
2009 7th World Championships in Athletics (5000m)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2009-2011