Edinburgh, Scotland The idea that Leonard Patrick Komon would go on to take the individual silver medal in the Senior Men’s race at the 36th IAAF World Cross Country Championships here today would have seemed faintly absurd to anybody hearing the suggestion midway through the Kenyan trial to pick the team four weeks ago.
The 20-year-old Komon, in his first year in the senior ranks, suffered a mid-race stitch and his chances of making the team seemed lost. Way down the field he may have been but Komon was not about to give up. “In the middle of the race he was around No.40, completely out,” said Marc Corstjens of Golazo Sports, who represent him.
“But he got over the stitch, had the character to go on, and pulled up to No.7. He nearly missed the team but the coaches have seen what the boy did – he ran the fastest two laps of everybody. When you compete like that, from a lost position, you can see the boy has character – that he is a fighter.”
In finishing seventh, Komon booked his place in the provisional team for Edinburgh and was subsequently named to the final squad. "I was impressed by his stamina and willingness to listen to instructions in camp," head coach Julius Kirwa said of the reason he picked Komon. "He has a future since he is very focused and I expect him to surprise many this year at the World Cross Country as well as at the Olympics."
The first part of Kirwa’s prophecy having been fulfilled – Komon finished between the greatest cross country runner in history, winner Kenenisa Bekele, and the defending champion, third-placed Zersenay Tadese – we wait now to see whether the athlete can live up to the second part of the prediction. His sights are set on the 5000m at the Olympics, in Beijing, and he said after his silver medal here: “I think can win a medal if I go back and prepare well. My medal today gives me confidence.”
Runner-up in the 2006 Junior Men’s race, in Fukuoka, and fourth last year, in Mombasa, Komon has made an immediate impact in the older age group. “I am pleased with the result I have achieved today because this is my first time in the senior category,” he said. “I was not expecting to win any medal.”
These championships were an altogether happier experience for Komon compared with his debut two years ago, albeit he won a silver medal then too. "When I entered the plane for the first time, I was shaking and feeling scared,” he recalled of his maiden journey abroad. “I was very disturbed during the flight and my whole body felt paralysed. It was long and I didn't know where we were.”
Things were not any easier for the junior when he landed in Japan. "I had never seen sea food and it made me sick,” he said. “I was, however, focused on what we had come to do and that made the situation bearable." And there we have further proof of Corstjens’ claim that Komon is a fighter. A firefighter, too. He is employed at the Kenya Airports Authority as a fireman.
Unlike most athletes, Komon's build-up for Edinburgh was not affected by the post election violence that left 1,200 dead and 300,000 displaced in his home country. "We moved to the high altitude area of Marakwet in November last year and, fortunately, the region was not affected by the fighting, although moving to other parts became difficult,” he said.
David Powell for the IAAF