Created 23 July 2012
Abel Kiprop MUTAI, Kenya (3000m Steeplechase)
Born 2 October 1988, Chepteon village, Nandi District, Rift Valley
Weight: 62 kg
Camp: Rosa Associati Camp, Kaptagat
Manager: Federico Rosa/ Coach: Claudio Berardelli
Family: Second born in a family of seven
Schools: Ndonyogaria Primary School, Chemuswa Secondary (Form 1&2) and Kapkagaon Secondary (Form 3&4)
Married to a former volley-ball player and Discus athlete with son Adan Kiptoo Rop (born 19 June 2010)
Mutai- Means tomorrow, Kiprop means- Born during the rain in his Kalenjin dialect
Keen to make up for lost time; Lance Corporal Abel Mutai first made his name at the 2005 World Youth Championships in Morocco to append his name to Kenya’s emergent steeplechase talent before enduring a seven-year wait to dine again at the high table of international running.
Until the Olympic year of 2012, Mutai, who followed his Marrakech triumph in the men 2000m steeple with the 2007 Africa Junior title, struggled to replicate his early promise, thanks largely to recruitment to the Kenya Defence Forces in 2008 and an Achilles tendon injury that kept him out the entire 2010.
“It is very hard for a runner to be out for so long, but the encouraging thing is the realisation that you are not the only one to go through a bad injury. Others stay out for two or more years and return to the top and that is why you can not lose hope,” he reflected on his Annus Horibillis that enforced a break from a career that promised much when his form was just hitting the right note.
The cultured athlete turned to the sport after seeing his Administration Police father and house-wife mother participating in domestic competition. His second major influence was his high school teacher, William Matei, whom he credits with laying the foundation that set him on his path to his maiden outing with the national team.
“My parents were runners, my mother was a 400m runner and my dad was a distance runner but he did not go outside the country, since he was employed as an officer. When I was in standard four, I entered school competitions and I would go to the Zonal level until Standard 7 when I went to the Districts and in Standard 8, I ran to the Provincials and that is how it stayed until I was in Form 4 when I qualified in the Kenyan team for the World Youth.
“My teacher made the difference, since he was supporting me financially and even when he was transferred from Chemuswa to Kapkagaon to become the head teacher, he took me with him. He is the one who was coaching me until I got to the 2005 World Youth,” he recounted.
Kirui started out competing in the 3000m, 5000m and 10,000m distances in his formative years, but when he started to break to the District Championships, he entered the water and barriers race.
“From the Zonals through to the Divisional races, I would compete in the 3000m flat, 5000m and sometimes 10,000m. At the District level, they would provide us with barriers and I noticed I was performing well in the steeple and that is when I decided to take up the event when I entered secondary school,” he explained.
His adoration of the event that has more than any other established Kenya as a force in distance running was cemented when young Kirui sat down to watch the 2004 Athens Olympics.
“I loved the race even more when Ezekiel Kemboi led the others to the 1-2-3 (Brimin Kipruto and Paul Kipsiele) since I had ran it before and it had aroused my interest. Kemboi is my hero, the way he runs and what he has achieved and I even enjoy watching him run to date.
“He and the others who have been doing well in this race have motivated me and when I got a chance to compete with them, it gave me huge morale. They made me believe that my talent can take me far since I can run with champions,” Mutai disclosed.
He made his Team Kenya debut in 2005 when he stopped the clock at 5:24.69 ahead of compatriot Bisluke Kiplagat (5:24.87) initially for the silver behind former countryman Denis Kipkurui Keter. Running under the adopted name of Tareq Mubarak Taher
However, Taher’s Marrakech performance, together with those at the subsequent 2006 World Cross and World Juniors, was scrapped when - following an IAAF two-year investigation - his age declared at the time was found to be incorrect, making him over-age and ineligible to compete at the World Youth.
“Officials led by our chairman (Athletics Kenya boss Isaiah) Kiplagat were adamant he had cheated and when it was finally proven, I was happy but at first, I was satisfied with what I had won since it was my first time,” Mutai said of the age saga that ‘won’ him his first global title.
As the probe into Taher’s identity rumbled on into 2006, Mutai failed to qualify for the Fukuoka World Cross and Beijing World Juniors, but ventured into his first outings outside Africa, in Portugal in June, competing over 3000m (8:05.16) and 5000m (14:07.80) as well as in the steeple (8:35.38).
In 2007, Mutai was on double duty at the African Junior Championships after an eighth finish at the Trials for Osaka Worlds (8:42.20) saw him miss out on the biennial showpiece, but he was nonetheless selected for the age tournament in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
He won the steeple in a season’s best 8:29.76 on 9 August, beating Ethiopia’s Yakob Jarso (8:29.99) and fellow Kenyan, Patrick Terer (8:34.59) and three days later, he posted 14:53.53 for seventh in the 5000m at an event where Kenya won her highest ever gold medal tally of 13 at any level of competition.
Mutai joined the Kenya Defence Forces at the end of that year, but he had to endure a barren season in the Olympics year of 2008 since he was in Military School and upon passing out, he was posted first to Thika Barracks in the Engineers battalion before he was transferred to Nanyuki in the same infantry in 2012.
In 2009 Mutai unsuccessfully tried to make the Berlin Worlds squad, but a fifth finish of 8:30.81on 25 July at the Trials in Nairobi ended his quest. He however endured a solid season on the European circuit that saw him qualify for the last World Athletics Final in Thessaloniki, Greece in September.
He hammered his best steeple mark by more than a massive 18 seconds to 8:11.40 (ranked 13th for the year) in Athens in July and tested himself against the world’s best, including in three Golden League meetings before returning ninth in Thessaloniki (8:24.11) to wrap his season.
However, an Achilles tendon injury cut short his progress to the élite.
“I resumed training in 2009 and I was finding my feet back in the sport but the injury kept me out of 2010. It was very frustrating but I kept believing that I would be back. It was frustrating since I had trained well in readiness to compete.”
Welcoming Adan Kiptoo in the middle of 2010 to the family went a long way in easing the pain of being out of the sport, as his spouse shelved her own ambitions to further her talent to play the dutiful wife.
“I’m a proud married man and starting a family helped me get me focused. That injury made me realise that I need to invest whatever little that I earn from this career and not joke with it. It has also made me focus more especially now, since I must think of how my kid is going to eat and go to school in the future.”
Upon his return to active competition in June 2011 Mutai again set out to qualify for the World Championships, but once more a fifth finish (8:27.49/16 July) snuffed the Daegu dream, but he was given the consolation of being handed the ticket to the Maputo All Africa Games.
An unspectacular 8:36.75 (11 September) in Mozambique placed him eighth, concluding a season where he had achieved his year best of 8:21.02 with victory in Cottbus in June.
“I had not regained my form completely and felt some of the effects to the injury, but at least I was back healthy and I was looking forward to the next season.”
As the London Olympic Games loomed in 2012, a fit Mutai strung a sequence of impressive performances that pointed to a man reborn as signs of fulfilment of his immense potential came to the fore.
Having picked up his second Forces title, he once again obliterated his previous lifetime best with a second place
Victories for the number 3 steeplechaser in 2012 (as at 23 July) at the CAA meet (8:08:44) in Brazzaville and at the National Championships (8:27.7) primed him for the Olympic Trials later in June where he followed Beijing Champion, Brimin Kipruto and his hero Kemboi across the line in 8:13.47 for third and a place in London.
“I was so surprised I made it, since I did not believe I could beat all the champions in that race, Brimin, Kemboi, Kipsiele and (Richard) Mateelong. I have been watching them make the Olympics and World Championships team and to compete with them and get a place left me in shock.
“Running for the country is the best thing that can happen to a patriotic athlete. It is a fight to make the Kenyan team and an achievement, since it places you somewhere on the international map. My aim is to maintain my place, never turning back so that hopefully, I can run at the 2013 World Championships and the Olympics in 2016,” he gleefully described his qualification for his maiden Olympics.
Not done, he accepted the call to run for his nation at the African Championships in Porto Novo, Benin, where he ruled the roost in 8:16.05 (29 June) before ending his pre-London programme with a sturdy third finish (8:03.15) behind Kipsiele and Kipruto at the Paris/St Denis Diamond League meeting.
With Kenya having won the last seven steeplechase gold medals at the Olympics with podium sweeps in the 1992 and 2004 editions, Mutai is well-schooled on the dream the water and barriers trio carry to any major championship.
“We are a good squad capable of bringing the 1-2-3 back home. This is our race and we are not going to let it go in London, that is the mission we have as a team and individually, I’m aiming for a medal; the colour? I cannot predict,” he assured.
With his elder sibling now a teacher and the remaining siblings still at various stages of education, Mutai has also extended some of the income he earns from the track to sustain his younger brothers and sisters in school.
“My dad is not that well off and I have been helping him by paying school fees for my brothers and sisters in college, secondary and primary schools. It is the least I can do since none have followed my footsteps as a runner and the rest I invest carefully to guarantee the future of my own.”
With that, he bid Focus on Athletes farewell with the request, “Please do not fail to mention my teacher William, I owe him a lot.”
3000m SC: 8:01.67 (2012)
3000m SC: 2006: 8:35.38; 2007: 8:29.76; 2008: -; 2009: 8:11.40; 2010: -; 2011: 8:21.02; 2012: 8:01.67;
2005 1st World Youth Championships (Marrakech)
2007 1st African Junior Championships (Ouagadougou)
2007 7th African Junior Championships (Ouagadougou) (5000m)
2009 1st Kenyan Armed Forces Championships
2009 3rd Kenyan Championships (Nairobi)
2009 9th World Athletics Final (Thessaloniki)
2011 8th All Africa Games (Maputo)
2012 1st Kenyan Armed Forces Championships (Nairobi)
2012 1st Kenyan Championships (Nairobi)
2012 3rd Kenyan Olympic Trials (Nairobi)
2012 1st African Championships (Porto Novo)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2012