Limo has learnt a lesson and is ready for Dublin
Chris Turner for the IAAF
13 March 2002 - Kenya’s proud distance running tradition is well known and is no better exemplified than by her unbroken string of team victories, stretching back to 1986, in the men’s long course race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
However, by comparison, Kenya’s record at long distance events at World and Olympic track championships have been far less pronounced, if not altogether disappointing. In fact, no Kenyan man has taken gold at the Olympic 5000 or 10,000m, since 1988 and 1968 respectively, and before Edmonton last summer, none had triumphed at the World Championships at 5000m, since 1997 or 10,000m, since 1991.
These statistics are perhaps a little unfairly wounding to Kenyan pride because as Kenya’s Paul Tergat, twice an Olympic 10,000m silver medallist, knows only too well, at 10,000m at least, the 1990’s have been entirely dominated by the great Ethiopian master, Haile Gebrselassie.
Events in Edmonton, at the 2001 IAAF World Championships changed Kenya’s fortunes. Firstly, Charles Kamathi tamed “The Emperor’s” roar at 10,000m, with Gebrselassie fading to third place. Then in the 5000m final, Richard Limo further restored Kenyan pride with a blistering finishing kick, which on this occasion denied another Ethiopian, Olympic champion Million Wolde, the gold medal by just under three seconds. > NB. Ali Saidi-Sief originally second, was disqualified <
Richard Limo, at 22 years of age, is at the vanguard of a newly emerging Kenyan distance running elite and he has an uncompromising attitude that all great champions must possess.
When asked about the Edmonton final and if he had had any pre race plans, Limo was quite happy to confess – “we (Kenyans) knew we couldn’t do it alone, so we decided to work as a team, like the Ethiopians always do. We decided to make the race very fast. I took the first lap in 59 seconds and then faded to 4th or 5th place. Kipketer then took over my early lead…and when he was caught, we knew we still had Kibowen and myself in a position to sprint with the other top guys.”
The tactics of Limo and his fellow teammates in Edmonton were very much taken from the Ethiopian textbook, which in recent years has detailed countless sacrifices by individual Ethiopian runners, so that their strongest man, usually Gebrselassie, would be in the best tactical position to win gold.
Since finishing 10th at the Sydney Olympic and watching Ethiopia’s Million Wolde sprint to victory in what was the slowest Olympic 5000m final since 1968, Limo insists he and the rest of the Kenyans have become ‘street-wise’ as racers.
“After Sydney, I learnt a lesson about long distance running. We Kenyans are used to fast races. Slow races are a threat to Kenya. In order to get medals we have to make races fast. As this is not always possible, I started to improve my sprinting abilities with extra sprint training.”
Now, having recently won the Kenyan Cross Country Championships on February 25th this year, Richard Limo will lead the Kenyan challenge for medals at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Dublin (23-24th March), and is determined to retrieve the individual long course gold for Kenya, which for two years has been won by Belgium’s Mohammed Mourit.
There is no doubting Limo’s determination – “In the absence of (five time World Cross Country Champion) Paul Tergat, I knew the race (Kenyan Champs) wouldn’t be so tough….This is the first step, and my eyes are on the World title which we (Kenya) have missed for two years.”
Limo, who was born in Cheptigit, Kenya, and who has two brothers – Sammy Kimaiyo, 4th in the 2000 Mazatlan Marathon, Mexico, and Andrew Limo, who is still a junior – does not fit into the usual mould for a Kenyan runner. In fact he was the only runner in his village, when he first took up serious training.
“It was very hard to train alone, so I hooked up with some other young athletes who trained near to my village.”
At the same time he also met up with his first, and only coach, Joseph Chelimo, a veterinarian by profession, who is now also assisted by former steeplechaser Patrick Sang (8:03.41 PB).
The World Cross Country Championships are at the heart of Limo’s running, especially because the 1998 edition, which was held in Marrakech, Morroco, was his first competition outside Kenya. It was a successful trip, with Limo taking the junior silver medal behind Million Wolde. It was a feat he repeated the following season in Belfast, behind another Ethiopian Haylu Mekkonen.
Limo, liking the broken rhythm of the cross country environment was principally a 3000m steeplechaser on the track at the start of his career, taking the silver in the African Championships in Dakar in 1998, aged 17. However, third place in the Commonwealth Games 5000m, and an inaugural World junior 3000m record (7:36.76 mins) during the same year, was enough to convince Limo that his future lay with flat races.
“When I started running I was good in the 3000m steeplechase. But I found that I was fast between the barriers but crossing them was always difficult for me. Therefore I simply decided I was a better 3000 and 5000m runner…and I have no plans to run steeplechase again.”
Since winning his World title in Edmonton last year, Limo’s confidence has spiralled. “Now I am World champion it is a new world…. I would like to have a long stay at the top. I hope to be World Record holder one day. I do realise that I have to break the records of Haile Gebrselassie, probably the best runner ever, but one day his records will be broken…. I want to be the next Olympic champion but my next goal is to be World Cross Country Champion.”
Watch out Dublin, Richard Limo, like the whole of Kenya, has learnt his distance running lesson!