Athlete Profile

Saif Saaeed Shaheen

  • COUNTRY Qatar Qatar
  • DATE OF BIRTH 15 OCT 1982
Saif Saaeed Shaheen of Qatar celebrates winning the 3000m steeplechase (Getty Images)
Saif Saaeed Shaheen of Qatar celebrates winning the 3000m steeplechase (Getty Images)
  • COUNTRY Qatar Qatar
  • DATE OF BIRTH 15 OCT 1982


Focus on Athletes biographies are produced by the IAAF Communications Dept, and not by the IAAF Statistics and Documentation Division. If you have any enquiries concerning the information, please use the Contact IAAF page, selecting ‘Focus on Athletes Biographies’ in the drop down menu of contact area options.


Updated 24 March 2009

Saif Saaeed SHAHEEN , Qatar (3000m Steeplechase, 3000m, 5000m, Cross Country)
Born: 15 October 1982, Kamelilo Village, Iron Location, Keiyo District, Rift Valley Province, Kenya
Residence:  Eldoret, Kenya
1.74m/55kg
Coach/Manager: PACE Sports Management

Formerly Stephen Cherono, from Kenya, Saif Saaeed Shaheen is the sixth-born of nine children. He comes from a family of successful steeplechasers, his two elder brothers each having won significant international medals. Christopher Koskei was the 3000m Steeplechase World champion in Seville in 1999 and Abraham Cherono took the 2002 Commonwealth Games bronze medal in Manchester, in the race won by Stephen Cherono.

Shaheen started running motivated by Koskei, who finished second in the junior men‘s race at the 1993 World Cross Country Championship in Amorebieta, Spain. Impressed by that feat, and aged only 10 at the time, he started training lightly, but it was not until two years later, when he went to Marakwet Boys high school in Keiyo District, Rift Valley province, that he started light training sessions almost on a daily basis. This time, further influence came when Koskei won silver at the 1995 World Championship, in Göteborg, and the younger brother decided to try to emulate his success.

However, Shaheen’s attempts were shrouded in confusion, unsure of which race he should take. And, after failing to win any race at 1500m for four years, his family advised him to try the “water hurdles race”. At this timely moment, Shaheen met a renowned athletics coach, Brother Colm O'Connell, who offered him invaluable tips on his new choice. Shaheen owes his early years in athletics to Bro O’Connell’s relentless efforts to see him win.

It didn’t take long before both coach and athlete reaped the benefits of their wise decision. After clearing high school in 1999, and while with the junior Kenyan team at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, Shaheen won his first race in the 2000m Steeplechase (5:31.89). But, due to a technical error, his name was shortened in results to Cheruiyot Cherono from Stephen Cheruiyot Cherono.

After his new-found status Shaheen made his debut on IAAF Grand Prix circuit, posting an impressive 8:19.12 in Zurich in his first 3000m Steeplechase in the IAAF Golden League, Zurich. It was also the World age 16 best. “1999 was the breakthrough year for me”, admitted Shaheen, “The foundational year of my career upon which all other accolades, victories and records are anchored.’ This was even after he achieved another milestone in the 3000m in the IAAF Grand Prix I meeting, in London, posting 7:48.6h for another  World age 16 best.

However, his arrival in the limelight was followed by a personally emotional 2000. “In April 2000, I suffered a serious bout of typhoid and its accompanying fever after running 1500m at the KAAA permit meeting in Eldoret,” Shaheen recalled. According to Shaheen, “An official of the then KIM (KIM International Management) controversially refused to accord me the necessary support for medication. He gave me money to go to the hospital and I realised that it wasn’t even enough for a taxi to the nearby hospital, leave alone medication. I went home and sought treatment from my family and friends and subsequently missed all major championships and races until October that year”.

Shaheen then made a comeback in the KAAA 4km cross country, in Eldoret, where he finished second. “No one had bothered to find out how I was faring and some dismissed my performance as the last signs of a rising star. I then realised my emerging running career would reach its sunset under the circumstances and treatment. In fact, fearing an attack of stress and depression, I contemplated quitting”.

However, something significant had happened during the period of his illness. Due to perceived negligence and lack of consideration from Kenyan officials, Shaheen realised he needed to quit Kenya, not athletics. He decided to seek a change of citizenship “at the first available opportunity”.

Having recovered his health, Cherono travelled to the Golden League meeting in Paris-St. Denis where he finished a creditable sixth, clocking a World Youth best of 8:16.27 

While training with his then management Company in Melbourne in 2001, the opportunity presented itself. Shaheen met Qatari officials and immediately made up his mind. “For the first time in my life, I felt welcomed and at home in the reassurance of the strangers,” he said. “It was like basking in freedom after years of solitary confinement in bondage.”

Shaheen’s new state of mind was reflected in his races in Europe. He lined up over 1500m at the IAAF Grand Prix II meeting, in Gateshead, England, on 19 August and posted 3:37.27 for second place behind fellow Kenyan Paul Bitok (3:36.87). Buoyed by this performance, five days later Shaheen set a 3000m Steeplechase World junior record of 7:58.66 while finishing third at the Memorial Van Damme Golden League meeting in Brussels. and winning GL Berlin one week later.

Meanwhile, Shaheen’s decision to run for Qatar was ruffling Kenyan official feathers. And, while it initially played out in the boardroom, Shaheen remained unaffected in public.

In 2002 Shaheen changed coach and joined the Gianni Demadonna group and here met the Italian coach, Renato Canova. However, although awaiting the outcome of his application for change of allegiance from the then Kenya Amateur Athletics Association  (now Athletics Kenya), Shaheen continued running for Kenya, becoming the national 3000m Steeplechase champion,  and also the 2002 Commonwealth Games 3000m Steeplechase champion in Manchester on 27 July, and winning bronze at the African Championships in Radès, Tunisia, on 8 August.

IAAF rules state that, having once represented a member federation in international competition,  an athlete who changes citizenship cannot represent the new member federation in international competition for a period of 3 years, which can be reduced 12 months with the agreement of the member federations concerned. 

Having last represented Kenya on in August 2002, Shaheen skipped the Kenya cross country trials in 2003 and Kenyan trials for the track and field World Championships in Paris, although he continued competing individually in a number of IAAF super grand prix events in Europe. But, just before the IAAF Golden League, Zürich 3000m Steeplechase, he received the letter of release from the Kenyan federation. August 2003 was the axis of change in his life and the beginning of a Kenyan public inquiry into his decision, a debate that he started and which continues each time a similar situation arises.

By the second week of August 2003, Shaheen had become a Qatari citizen. Duty called immediately. For the first time as a Qatari national, Shaheen beat former countryman Ezekiel Kemboi in 8:02.48 in Zürich. Just days later,  at the World Championships in Paris, Kenyans were  shocked to see “their own” Stephen Cherono competing as Saif Saaeed Shaheen representing Qatar, competing against Kenyans and winning his first 3000m Steeplechase World Championship in 8:04:39. He also beat his brother, Abraham Cherono, who finished fifth competing for Kenya. This was unprecedented and too much for a fragile nation that had just completed a tense general election and was seeking cohesion.

“Contrary to reports, my brother did not refuse to congratulate me for the win,” Shaheen said. “He had walked away by the time I finished the lap of honour.” His high profile defection was felt all over Kenya with the new President, Mwai Kibaki, urging Kenyan athletes to resist the temptation to change their citizenship for financial gain. The World champion has since denied this and other speculation surrounding monetary gains, saying he does not regret his decision to move to Qatar. He points to the moral support he has received over the years which, according to him, has made the difference since 2003. To further boost his shape and manage his increasing schedule, he changed coach and agent in 2003 to PACE Sports Management and worked with Ricky Simms, who doubled as coach and agent.

In 2004, Shaheen was denied permission from the Kenya Olympic Committee to compete at the Athens Olympics for Qatar. “I cannot forget this occasion,” he said. “I felt so bad because my progression had been ruined. I had never been to the Olympics; my maiden opportunity had been blown to pieces.” 

Shaheen vowed to prove a point to make up for this unprecedented disappointment. A week after the Olympic medallists were still celebrating their feats, he upstaged the freshly coined Olympic champion, Ezekiel Kemboi, in the Golden League meeting in Brussels where he lowered the World record by 1.65sec to 7:53.63. “That was my Olympics. I felt even”, jokes Shaheen. He says he wants to remember the World record and not the disappointment of missing the Olympics. Victory in the World Athletics Final capped a series of six wins in as many races over 3000m Steeplechase for the dominant Shaheen.

In 2005, Shaheen’s top form continued. At the World Cross Country Championships in St-Etienne/St-Galmier he finished fourth in the 4km race and eighth in the 12km race, then continued his dominance on the track, remaining undefeated in the Golden League series across Europe.

Unknown to many, Shaheen travelled to Helsinki for the track and field World Championships with a hamstring injury caused by what her termed wrong hurdles technique. “I strained my right leg while attempting to fit into my then coach’s instructions,” he said. “I got hurt and skipped training for a week prior to the championship”. Even with these difficulties, Shaheen was crowned World champion. Having been unsure of his title defence just days before the championship with the developing hamstring, he clocked 8:13.31.

With the injury beaten in 2006, Shaheen contested the Great Edinburgh cross country, where he finished second behind Kenenisa Bekele. His indoor debut at the Asian Indoor Championships in Thailand in February 2006 paid a dividend when he won his first Asian 3000m title. His second indoor competition was at 3000m at the World Indoor Championships, in Moscow in March, where he again finished second (7:41.28) behind Kenenisa Bekele (7:39.32).

The silver medal was a reassurance of his shape but it was here that he suffered an Achilles tendon injury that, he says, was responsible for his ninth place in the World Cross Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, in April.

After a month’s break, Shaheen managed an unexpected 7:56.63 in the IAAF Super Grand Prix in Athens. But more trouble awaited him after he discovered that he had suffered patella tendinitis at the Golden League meeting in Brussels, where he won but disregarded the doctor’s advice not to put further pressure on his right knee.

Defiant, Shaheen went on to score a double in 3000m Steeplechase and 5000m at the World Cup in Athens. But, a week after, he felt a more pain of a “different degree” in the same right leg and it was confirmed to be the nagging Achilles tendon injury. The consequences were dire and came immediately when missed his home event at the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar.

In February 2007, Shaheen felt much better, only to succumb to a repeat attack of patella tendinitis a month later. .“I watched the World Championships in Osaka on television,” said the double World champion. “I should have been there and the thought of my title being taken away almost made me shed tears.”

The full extent of his injury descended on him when he realised that he couldn’t walk unsupported for some time and he was on crutches for the better part of the injury period. He eventually flew to Germany for an operation by renowned specialist Dr Müller Wohlfahrt, then relocated to Ireland for several weeks to recuperate, and went to Belgium for further treatment.  He travelled to the Aspire Academy in Doha for further checks and medical attention, after which he felt much improved.

It was not until April 2008 that Shaheen embarked on light training and decided to race in the Prefontaine Classic in Oregon.  But he realised that the affected leg lacked power and speed. While the leg still felt painful on impact and landing, his quest for an Olympic appearance took him to the IAAF Super Grand Prix, In Athens, where he completed only four laps before limping out with pain.

“Just how close was close?” wondered Shaheen after failing in his second comeback attempt. He decided to write off the season and forfeited his second chance at the Olympics. After a tumultuous working relationship with his Italian coach that led to frequent disagreements, Shaheen parted ways with Canova and went back to be coached by Pace Sports Management.

In February 2009, he made a strong statement of intent by winning the Cinque Mulini cross country, in San Vittore Olona, Italy. But, weeks after that, he bowed out of the  KCB/AK Kenya cross country permit meeting in Eldoret, leading to renewed murmurs about his recovery status. When he again failed to finish the Kenya cross country trials, in Nairobi, the speculation became rife.

“Contrary to media reports, I did not retire from the races,” Shaheen said. “I used both (Eldoret and Nairobi) cross country events to test my shape and particularly the leg to my satisfaction. It was purely tactical; after several laps, I didn’t feel the pain at all and decided not to spoil the party for Kenyans. You know how revered the trials are and I had those battling for Amman tickets (World Cross Country Championships in Jordan) in mind. Confidently speaking, I am back at full throttle and anybody doubting that should challenge me in Amman.”

Shaheen is set to lead a strong six-man Qatari team in Amman, where he not only plans the biggest return to competitive athletics in two years, but also use the platform to launch his return programme for 2009, including recapturing his world title in the 3000m Steeplechase. And another record perhaps? “Let’s meet in Berlin in five months time to see about that,” he said.

Personal Bests
3000m Steeplechase:     7:53.63 WR (2004)
1500m:    3:33.51 (2006)
3000m:    7:34.67 (2004)
5000m:    12:48.81 (2003)

Yearly Progression
3000m Steeplechase: 1999 – 8:19.12; 2000 – 8:16.27; 2001 – 7:58.66; 2002 – 7:58.10; 2003 – 7:57.36; 2004 – 7:53.63; 2005 – 7:55.51; 2006 – 7:56.32; 2007 - ; 2008 - .

Career Highlights
1999    1st    World Youth Championships (2000m Steeplechase)
2001    3rd    Golden League, Brussels, 3000m Steeplechase (7:58.66 WJR)
2001     3rd    IAAF Grand Prix Final (3000m Steeplechase)
2002    1st    Commonwealth Games (3000m Steeplechase)
2002     3rd    African Championships (3000m Steeplechase)
2003    1st    World Championships (3000m Steeplechase)
2003     1st    World Athletics Final (3000m Steeplechase)
2003     2nd    Asian Championships (1500m)
2004    1st    Asian Cross Country (4km), 
2004    5th    World Cross Country Championships (4km)
2004    1st    Golden League, Brussels 3000m Steeplechase (7:53.63 WR)
2004    1st    World Athletics Final (3000m Steeplechase)
2005    4th    World Cross Country Championships (4km)
2005    8th    World Cross Country Championships (12km)
2005    1st    World Championships (3000m Steeplechase)
2006    1st    Asian Indoor Championships (3000m)
2006    2nd    World Indoor Championships (3000m)
2006    9th    World Cross Country Championships (4km)
2006    2nd,    Golden League, Rome 5000m (12:51.98 AR)
2006     1st    World Cup (3000m Steeplechase)
2006     1st    World Cup, (5000m)

Prepared By Saddique Shaban for The IAAF ‘Focus On Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2009.

Personal Best - Outdoor
Performance Wind Place Date
1500 Metres 3:33.51 Berlin 03 SEP 2006
2000 Metres 5:03.06 Villeneuve-d'Ascq 17 JUN 2001
3000 Metres 7:32.46 Doha 08 MAY 2009
Two Miles 8:18.80 London 07 AUG 1999
5000 Metres 12:48.81 Ostrava 12 JUN 2003
10 Kilometres 28:05 Portsmouth 24 OCT 2010
15 Kilometres 43:22 Portsmouth 24 OCT 2010
2000 Metres Steeplechase 5:14.53 Doha 13 MAY 2005
3000 Metres Steeplechase 7:53.63 Bruxelles 03 SEP 2004
Personal Best - Indoor
Performance Wind Place Date
3000 Metres 7:39.77 Pattaya 11 FEB 2006
Progression - Outdoor showShow All Graphs
1500 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2006 3:33.51 Berlin 03 SEP
2003 3:35.15 Lausanne 01 JUL
2002 3:35.79 Zagreb 08 JUL
2001 3:35.47 Zagreb 02 JUL
2000 3:45.4 Eldoret 29 APR
1999 3:41.08 Malmö 02 AUG
2000 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2001 5:03.06 Villeneuve-d'Ascq 17 JUN
3000 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2010 7:46.82 Hengelo 30 MAY
2009 7:32.46 Doha 08 MAY
2008 7:47.53 Eugene, OR 08 JUN
2004 7:34.67 Doha 14 MAY
2001 7:46.03 Sydney 16 FEB
1999 7:48.6 London (CP) 07 AUG
Two Miles Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2008 8:22.86 Eugene, OR 08 JUN
1999 8:18.80 London 07 AUG
5000 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2010 13:00.31 Oslo (Bislett) 04 JUN
2009 13:22.70 Toronto (VC) 11 JUN
2008 13:29.83 Beograd 29 MAY
2006 12:51.98 Roma (Stadio Olimpico) 14 JUL
2004 13:14.65 Stockholm 27 JUL
2003 12:48.81 Ostrava 12 JUN
2002 13:11.55 Melbourne 07 MAR
10 Kilometres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2010 28:05 Portsmouth 24 OCT
15 Kilometres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2010 43:22 Portsmouth 24 OCT
2000 Metres Steeplechase Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2005 5:14.53 Doha 13 MAY
1999 5:31.89 Bydgoszcz 17 JUL
3000 Metres Steeplechase Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2010 8:09.63 Zürich 19 AUG
2006 7:56.32 Athína (Olympic Stadium) 03 JUL
2005 7:55.51 Bruxelles 26 AUG
2004 7:53.63 Bruxelles 03 SEP
2003 7:57.38 Monaco 14 SEP
2002 7:58.10 Monaco 19 JUL
2001 7:58.66 Bruxelles 24 AUG
Progression - Indoor showShow All Graphs
3000 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2010 7:43.44 Karlsruhe 31 JAN
2006 7:39.77 Pattaya 11 FEB
Honours - 3000 Metres
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
11th IAAF World Indoor Championships 2 7:41.28 Moskva (Olimpiyskiy Stadion) 12 MAR 2006
Honours - 5000 Metres
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 11h1 13:26.35 Berlin 20 AUG 2009
10th IAAF World Cup 1 13:35.30 Athína (Olympic Stadium) 16 SEP 2006
Honours - 2000 Metres Steeplechase
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
1st IAAF World Youth Championships 1 5:31.89 Bydgoszcz 17 JUL 1999
Honours - 3000 Metres Steeplechase
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
10th IAAF World Cup 1 8:19.09 Athína (Olympic Stadium) 17 SEP 2006
3rd IAAF World Athletics Final f DNS Monaco 09 SEP 2005
10th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 1 8:13.31 Helsinki 09 AUG 2005
2nd IAAF World Athletics Final 1 7:56.94 Monaco 19 SEP 2004
1st IAAF World Athletics Final 1 7:57.38 Monaco 14 SEP 2003
9th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 1 8:04.39 Paris Saint-Denis (Stade de France) 26 AUG 2003
17th IAAF Grand Prix Final 3 8:18.85 Melbourne 09 SEP 2001
Honours - Senior Race
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
37th IAAF World Cross Country Championships 13 35:28 Amman 28 MAR 2009
Honours - Short Race
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
34th IAAF World Cross Country Championships 9 11:08 Fukuoka 01 APR 2006
33rd IAAF World Cross Country Championships 4 11:42 Saint-Galmier 19 MAR 2005
32nd IAAF World Cross Country Championships 5 11:44 Bruxelles 20 MAR 2004
Honours - Long Race
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
34th IAAF World Cross Country Championships 0 DNS Fukuoka 02 APR 2006
33rd IAAF World Cross Country Championships 8 35:53 Saint-Galmier 20 MAR 2005


Focus on Athletes biographies are produced by the IAAF Communications Dept, and not by the IAAF Statistics and Documentation Division. If you have any enquiries concerning the information, please use the Contact IAAF page, selecting ‘Focus on Athletes Biographies’ in the drop down menu of contact area options.


Updated 24 March 2009

Saif Saaeed SHAHEEN , Qatar (3000m Steeplechase, 3000m, 5000m, Cross Country)
Born: 15 October 1982, Kamelilo Village, Iron Location, Keiyo District, Rift Valley Province, Kenya
Residence:  Eldoret, Kenya
1.74m/55kg
Coach/Manager: PACE Sports Management

Formerly Stephen Cherono, from Kenya, Saif Saaeed Shaheen is the sixth-born of nine children. He comes from a family of successful steeplechasers, his two elder brothers each having won significant international medals. Christopher Koskei was the 3000m Steeplechase World champion in Seville in 1999 and Abraham Cherono took the 2002 Commonwealth Games bronze medal in Manchester, in the race won by Stephen Cherono.

Shaheen started running motivated by Koskei, who finished second in the junior men‘s race at the 1993 World Cross Country Championship in Amorebieta, Spain. Impressed by that feat, and aged only 10 at the time, he started training lightly, but it was not until two years later, when he went to Marakwet Boys high school in Keiyo District, Rift Valley province, that he started light training sessions almost on a daily basis. This time, further influence came when Koskei won silver at the 1995 World Championship, in Göteborg, and the younger brother decided to try to emulate his success.

However, Shaheen’s attempts were shrouded in confusion, unsure of which race he should take. And, after failing to win any race at 1500m for four years, his family advised him to try the “water hurdles race”. At this timely moment, Shaheen met a renowned athletics coach, Brother Colm O'Connell, who offered him invaluable tips on his new choice. Shaheen owes his early years in athletics to Bro O’Connell’s relentless efforts to see him win.

It didn’t take long before both coach and athlete reaped the benefits of their wise decision. After clearing high school in 1999, and while with the junior Kenyan team at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, Shaheen won his first race in the 2000m Steeplechase (5:31.89). But, due to a technical error, his name was shortened in results to Cheruiyot Cherono from Stephen Cheruiyot Cherono.

After his new-found status Shaheen made his debut on IAAF Grand Prix circuit, posting an impressive 8:19.12 in Zurich in his first 3000m Steeplechase in the IAAF Golden League, Zurich. It was also the World age 16 best. “1999 was the breakthrough year for me”, admitted Shaheen, “The foundational year of my career upon which all other accolades, victories and records are anchored.’ This was even after he achieved another milestone in the 3000m in the IAAF Grand Prix I meeting, in London, posting 7:48.6h for another  World age 16 best.

However, his arrival in the limelight was followed by a personally emotional 2000. “In April 2000, I suffered a serious bout of typhoid and its accompanying fever after running 1500m at the KAAA permit meeting in Eldoret,” Shaheen recalled. According to Shaheen, “An official of the then KIM (KIM International Management) controversially refused to accord me the necessary support for medication. He gave me money to go to the hospital and I realised that it wasn’t even enough for a taxi to the nearby hospital, leave alone medication. I went home and sought treatment from my family and friends and subsequently missed all major championships and races until October that year”.

Shaheen then made a comeback in the KAAA 4km cross country, in Eldoret, where he finished second. “No one had bothered to find out how I was faring and some dismissed my performance as the last signs of a rising star. I then realised my emerging running career would reach its sunset under the circumstances and treatment. In fact, fearing an attack of stress and depression, I contemplated quitting”.

However, something significant had happened during the period of his illness. Due to perceived negligence and lack of consideration from Kenyan officials, Shaheen realised he needed to quit Kenya, not athletics. He decided to seek a change of citizenship “at the first available opportunity”.

Having recovered his health, Cherono travelled to the Golden League meeting in Paris-St. Denis where he finished a creditable sixth, clocking a World Youth best of 8:16.27 

While training with his then management Company in Melbourne in 2001, the opportunity presented itself. Shaheen met Qatari officials and immediately made up his mind. “For the first time in my life, I felt welcomed and at home in the reassurance of the strangers,” he said. “It was like basking in freedom after years of solitary confinement in bondage.”

Shaheen’s new state of mind was reflected in his races in Europe. He lined up over 1500m at the IAAF Grand Prix II meeting, in Gateshead, England, on 19 August and posted 3:37.27 for second place behind fellow Kenyan Paul Bitok (3:36.87). Buoyed by this performance, five days later Shaheen set a 3000m Steeplechase World junior record of 7:58.66 while finishing third at the Memorial Van Damme Golden League meeting in Brussels. and winning GL Berlin one week later.

Meanwhile, Shaheen’s decision to run for Qatar was ruffling Kenyan official feathers. And, while it initially played out in the boardroom, Shaheen remained unaffected in public.

In 2002 Shaheen changed coach and joined the Gianni Demadonna group and here met the Italian coach, Renato Canova. However, although awaiting the outcome of his application for change of allegiance from the then Kenya Amateur Athletics Association  (now Athletics Kenya), Shaheen continued running for Kenya, becoming the national 3000m Steeplechase champion,  and also the 2002 Commonwealth Games 3000m Steeplechase champion in Manchester on 27 July, and winning bronze at the African Championships in Radès, Tunisia, on 8 August.

IAAF rules state that, having once represented a member federation in international competition,  an athlete who changes citizenship cannot represent the new member federation in international competition for a period of 3 years, which can be reduced 12 months with the agreement of the member federations concerned. 

Having last represented Kenya on in August 2002, Shaheen skipped the Kenya cross country trials in 2003 and Kenyan trials for the track and field World Championships in Paris, although he continued competing individually in a number of IAAF super grand prix events in Europe. But, just before the IAAF Golden League, Zürich 3000m Steeplechase, he received the letter of release from the Kenyan federation. August 2003 was the axis of change in his life and the beginning of a Kenyan public inquiry into his decision, a debate that he started and which continues each time a similar situation arises.

By the second week of August 2003, Shaheen had become a Qatari citizen. Duty called immediately. For the first time as a Qatari national, Shaheen beat former countryman Ezekiel Kemboi in 8:02.48 in Zürich. Just days later,  at the World Championships in Paris, Kenyans were  shocked to see “their own” Stephen Cherono competing as Saif Saaeed Shaheen representing Qatar, competing against Kenyans and winning his first 3000m Steeplechase World Championship in 8:04:39. He also beat his brother, Abraham Cherono, who finished fifth competing for Kenya. This was unprecedented and too much for a fragile nation that had just completed a tense general election and was seeking cohesion.

“Contrary to reports, my brother did not refuse to congratulate me for the win,” Shaheen said. “He had walked away by the time I finished the lap of honour.” His high profile defection was felt all over Kenya with the new President, Mwai Kibaki, urging Kenyan athletes to resist the temptation to change their citizenship for financial gain. The World champion has since denied this and other speculation surrounding monetary gains, saying he does not regret his decision to move to Qatar. He points to the moral support he has received over the years which, according to him, has made the difference since 2003. To further boost his shape and manage his increasing schedule, he changed coach and agent in 2003 to PACE Sports Management and worked with Ricky Simms, who doubled as coach and agent.

In 2004, Shaheen was denied permission from the Kenya Olympic Committee to compete at the Athens Olympics for Qatar. “I cannot forget this occasion,” he said. “I felt so bad because my progression had been ruined. I had never been to the Olympics; my maiden opportunity had been blown to pieces.” 

Shaheen vowed to prove a point to make up for this unprecedented disappointment. A week after the Olympic medallists were still celebrating their feats, he upstaged the freshly coined Olympic champion, Ezekiel Kemboi, in the Golden League meeting in Brussels where he lowered the World record by 1.65sec to 7:53.63. “That was my Olympics. I felt even”, jokes Shaheen. He says he wants to remember the World record and not the disappointment of missing the Olympics. Victory in the World Athletics Final capped a series of six wins in as many races over 3000m Steeplechase for the dominant Shaheen.

In 2005, Shaheen’s top form continued. At the World Cross Country Championships in St-Etienne/St-Galmier he finished fourth in the 4km race and eighth in the 12km race, then continued his dominance on the track, remaining undefeated in the Golden League series across Europe.

Unknown to many, Shaheen travelled to Helsinki for the track and field World Championships with a hamstring injury caused by what her termed wrong hurdles technique. “I strained my right leg while attempting to fit into my then coach’s instructions,” he said. “I got hurt and skipped training for a week prior to the championship”. Even with these difficulties, Shaheen was crowned World champion. Having been unsure of his title defence just days before the championship with the developing hamstring, he clocked 8:13.31.

With the injury beaten in 2006, Shaheen contested the Great Edinburgh cross country, where he finished second behind Kenenisa Bekele. His indoor debut at the Asian Indoor Championships in Thailand in February 2006 paid a dividend when he won his first Asian 3000m title. His second indoor competition was at 3000m at the World Indoor Championships, in Moscow in March, where he again finished second (7:41.28) behind Kenenisa Bekele (7:39.32).

The silver medal was a reassurance of his shape but it was here that he suffered an Achilles tendon injury that, he says, was responsible for his ninth place in the World Cross Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, in April.

After a month’s break, Shaheen managed an unexpected 7:56.63 in the IAAF Super Grand Prix in Athens. But more trouble awaited him after he discovered that he had suffered patella tendinitis at the Golden League meeting in Brussels, where he won but disregarded the doctor’s advice not to put further pressure on his right knee.

Defiant, Shaheen went on to score a double in 3000m Steeplechase and 5000m at the World Cup in Athens. But, a week after, he felt a more pain of a “different degree” in the same right leg and it was confirmed to be the nagging Achilles tendon injury. The consequences were dire and came immediately when missed his home event at the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar.

In February 2007, Shaheen felt much better, only to succumb to a repeat attack of patella tendinitis a month later. .“I watched the World Championships in Osaka on television,” said the double World champion. “I should have been there and the thought of my title being taken away almost made me shed tears.”

The full extent of his injury descended on him when he realised that he couldn’t walk unsupported for some time and he was on crutches for the better part of the injury period. He eventually flew to Germany for an operation by renowned specialist Dr Müller Wohlfahrt, then relocated to Ireland for several weeks to recuperate, and went to Belgium for further treatment.  He travelled to the Aspire Academy in Doha for further checks and medical attention, after which he felt much improved.

It was not until April 2008 that Shaheen embarked on light training and decided to race in the Prefontaine Classic in Oregon.  But he realised that the affected leg lacked power and speed. While the leg still felt painful on impact and landing, his quest for an Olympic appearance took him to the IAAF Super Grand Prix, In Athens, where he completed only four laps before limping out with pain.

“Just how close was close?” wondered Shaheen after failing in his second comeback attempt. He decided to write off the season and forfeited his second chance at the Olympics. After a tumultuous working relationship with his Italian coach that led to frequent disagreements, Shaheen parted ways with Canova and went back to be coached by Pace Sports Management.

In February 2009, he made a strong statement of intent by winning the Cinque Mulini cross country, in San Vittore Olona, Italy. But, weeks after that, he bowed out of the  KCB/AK Kenya cross country permit meeting in Eldoret, leading to renewed murmurs about his recovery status. When he again failed to finish the Kenya cross country trials, in Nairobi, the speculation became rife.

“Contrary to media reports, I did not retire from the races,” Shaheen said. “I used both (Eldoret and Nairobi) cross country events to test my shape and particularly the leg to my satisfaction. It was purely tactical; after several laps, I didn’t feel the pain at all and decided not to spoil the party for Kenyans. You know how revered the trials are and I had those battling for Amman tickets (World Cross Country Championships in Jordan) in mind. Confidently speaking, I am back at full throttle and anybody doubting that should challenge me in Amman.”

Shaheen is set to lead a strong six-man Qatari team in Amman, where he not only plans the biggest return to competitive athletics in two years, but also use the platform to launch his return programme for 2009, including recapturing his world title in the 3000m Steeplechase. And another record perhaps? “Let’s meet in Berlin in five months time to see about that,” he said.

Personal Bests
3000m Steeplechase:     7:53.63 WR (2004)
1500m:    3:33.51 (2006)
3000m:    7:34.67 (2004)
5000m:    12:48.81 (2003)

Yearly Progression
3000m Steeplechase: 1999 – 8:19.12; 2000 – 8:16.27; 2001 – 7:58.66; 2002 – 7:58.10; 2003 – 7:57.36; 2004 – 7:53.63; 2005 – 7:55.51; 2006 – 7:56.32; 2007 - ; 2008 - .

Career Highlights
1999    1st    World Youth Championships (2000m Steeplechase)
2001    3rd    Golden League, Brussels, 3000m Steeplechase (7:58.66 WJR)
2001     3rd    IAAF Grand Prix Final (3000m Steeplechase)
2002    1st    Commonwealth Games (3000m Steeplechase)
2002     3rd    African Championships (3000m Steeplechase)
2003    1st    World Championships (3000m Steeplechase)
2003     1st    World Athletics Final (3000m Steeplechase)
2003     2nd    Asian Championships (1500m)
2004    1st    Asian Cross Country (4km), 
2004    5th    World Cross Country Championships (4km)
2004    1st    Golden League, Brussels 3000m Steeplechase (7:53.63 WR)
2004    1st    World Athletics Final (3000m Steeplechase)
2005    4th    World Cross Country Championships (4km)
2005    8th    World Cross Country Championships (12km)
2005    1st    World Championships (3000m Steeplechase)
2006    1st    Asian Indoor Championships (3000m)
2006    2nd    World Indoor Championships (3000m)
2006    9th    World Cross Country Championships (4km)
2006    2nd,    Golden League, Rome 5000m (12:51.98 AR)
2006     1st    World Cup (3000m Steeplechase)
2006     1st    World Cup, (5000m)

Prepared By Saddique Shaban for The IAAF ‘Focus On Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2009.