Daegu, KoreaWith his record-setting IAAF World Championships Marathon victory in Berlin two years ago, Abel Kirui showed that he was as equally gifted in championship racing as he was in commercial Marathons which use pacemakers. He had run a 2:05:04 personal best at the Fortis Marathon Rotterdam earlier that year, good for third position, and with his 2:06:54 championships record in Berlin he appeared to be on his way to dominating the sport.
But it was not to be. At the Virgin London Marathon the following spring, Kirui made an aggressive move which he would later regret. He, along with Ethiopia's Tsegaye Kebede ran miles 14, 15 and 16 in 4:39, 4:39 and 4:37, respectively, covering the five kilometres through 25-K in an imprudent 14:26. He and Kebede later traded surges, and soon the too-hot pace caught up with him. Kirui fell back and finished fifth, three minutes behind Kebede.
In the fall, Kirui again struggled, finishing ninth at the ING New York City Marathon in 2:13:01, five minutes behind the winner, Gebre Gebremariam. Again, he had faded late in the race. He had worse luck at this year's Virgin London Marathon where he was forced to drop out past 35-K. Something was wrong.
"After London, we had to have a conversation," said his manager Valentijn Trouw of Global Sports Communications.
Trouw discovered that Kirui, an exceedingly outgoing and friendly man, had too many distractions when he trained near his home in Kapsabet. He would see many visitors, and lost his training focus attending to his wife, Stella, and his two children, David Kipchumba and Joylin.
Trouw suggested that Kirui shift his training venue to the Iten/Eldoret area and move to the renowned Italian Marathon coach, Renato Canova. Kirui rented a house in Iten with another athlete, Jonathan Maiyo, and settled into a routine with coach Canova where he would spend several days at the camp, before going home for a day or two to see his family.
"I changed my training," Kirui said. "I moved from where I used to stay in Kapsabet and I went to Iten for my serious training because sometimes training at home doesn't give acceptable results for a world championships."
Canova discovered that Kirui trained very hard all the time, and did not vary his level of effort from day to day as the world's best marathoners do. So, he changed his training so that Kirui did more specific kinds of workouts, varying the intensity as needed. Canova also emphasized "cut down" workouts where Kirui would steadily increase his tempo towards the end of his longer runs to build the endurance he would need to compete strongly near the end of his races where he was struggling. Today's performance showed that Canova's program was working.
"Actually, I had a good strategy before because I was coached by Renato Canova," Kirui said. "He is one of the best coaches in the world, and he gave me good training."
Trouw agrees. "He used to sprint very fast then fade in his last kilometers," Trouw said. "It took something out of the training he did."
Kirui, 29, is now looking forward to continuing his program with Canova and getting ready for the London Olympics in 2012. He said today that he feels like he deserves a spot on that team, but acknowledged that Kenya has a lot of great marathoners and his selection is not assured.
"The selection in Kenya is very stiff because there is a load of competitors," Kirui said. "But, I was the defending (world) champion and I was fighting to be one of the best ones for Olympics next year. It was my great opportunity (today)."
Kirui is a big Manchester United supporter, and he saw their recent 8-2 victory over Arsenal as a good omen.
"Of course it was a good foreshadow," Kirui said with a smile. He also said that he went to see his grandmother before coming to Daegu. "I get my last blessings from my grandmother who is almost 80 years and 5 years," he said.
Trouw thinks that Kirui could continue to run well for another five or six years. His client is now brimming with confidence.
"Now I think he can step up from this one," Trouw said. "He has the personality to perform in a championships situation."
David Monti for the IAAF