Charles Waweru KAMATHI (kahthee), Kenya (5000/10,000m)
Born 18 May 1978, Mathari (suburb of Nyeri), Nyeri District, Central Province, Kenya
Police corporal. Lives mainly in Nyahururu and Ngong. Based in Columbaro, Italy, during track season.
Manager: Federico Rosa. Coach: Gabriele Rosa
1.65m/51 kg. Native language: Kikuyu. Fifth of nine children. Widowed mother a coffee plantation worker.
Finished Njogu-Ini Sec. Sch. 1996. Joined Kenya Police 1998. Promoted to corporal 2001.
Began running in third year of secondary school (1995). Finished 6th at 5000m in Kenya schools nationals. The following year he was 26th in national schools cross country and 7th in 5000. Spotted by local coach David Miano, who has arranged for many athletes from the Nyeri area to run in Japan for company or university teams. Kamathi was sent to Japan to run for Toyota in April, 1997. Developed tendonitis and sent home after 10 days. Replaced by fellow Nyeri athlete Simon Maina, who became Commonwealth 10,000 champion 17 months later.
Trained alone for a year, competing in open meets and national championships with modest success. Joined Police as an athlete. After basic training, took 1st in 10,000 (29:26) and 2nd in 5000 in 1999 Police Championships, then 9th at 5000 (13:42) in nationals. Selected by federation to join group of Kenyans traveling to India for four races. On return, approached by talent-spotter John Mwai, representing Lebanese-born American manager Hussein Makke. Police permitted Kamathi to join Makke athletes training at 2,700 meters altitude in Kinangop. Most were preparing for US road races; Kamathi insisted on track. Makke set up late-season (1999) race: 10,000m at Van Damme Golden League meet in Brussels.
Sensational European debut in Brussels, winning in 26:51.49, fastest in 1999. Followed up with 13:05.29 5000 m in Berlin four days later. The next winter he edged five-time World Champion Paul Tergat in three European cross country races but slipped to 13th in Kenya’s World Cross trials. Controversially included in Kenya team, finished 7th at World Cross in Vilamoura.
Hamstring injury in May ruined most of 2000 season, limited to a few US road and European track races and a DNF in 5000m in Kenyan Olympic trials. After two months' rest and a change of management, 2001 began promisingly with bronze medal in the World Cross (top Kenyan in 12K) and ended spectacularly with last-lap victory over Haile Gebrselassie in 10,000m (27:53.25) at Edmonton World Championships.
Injuries persisted in 2002. After a creditable 5th in the Dublin World Cross and a two-second loss in his half-marathon debut at Stramilano (60:22), he struggled in the World Half-Marathon Championships three weeks later (9th in 62:01) and raced hardly at all until the autumn. In 2003, he was forced to drop out of Kenya's World Cross trials in the last kilometer, but had recovered enough by June to record 13:15.33 for 5000 in Ostrava Super GP. He confirmed his fitness at 10,000 with an easy 27:29.12 in Portugal just before the Kenya World Championships trials, in which, having been assured of his defending champion’s wild-card berth on the team, he cruised through 5000 in 13:30.8. In Paris, he held on courageously to the Ethiopian juggernaut well past the half-way point of the World Championship 10,000 before fading to 7th (27:45.05).
The 2004 World Cross in Brussels saw Kamathi in a similar predicament, hanging on for 5th place in the 12 km as a trio of Ethiopians powered away to a medal sweep. Kamathi and his fellow Kenyans in the Athens Olympic 10,000m (Moses Mosop and John Cheruiyot Korir) were determined to prevent a repeat of Paris or Brussels, but they succeeded only because Haile fell off his teammates’ pace and finished 5th. Kamathi, apparently suffering from the heat (he made no mention of injury), stayed with the leaders through half the race then faded badly to finish 13th (28:17.08). He recovered quickly from whatever ailed him, however, running a season’s best (lifetime second-best) 26:59.93 for 2nd at the Brussels GL two weeks later. Nine days after that came another badly off-form performance in the Berlin GL 5000 (13:35.09 for 13th), then a perfunctory 13:15.02 for 7th at the World Athletic Final.
Kamathi’s solid 4th over the 12 km distance at Kenya’s 2005 World Cross Trials seems to indicate a return to form. His coaches an teammates think so—they chose him captain for St. Etienne/St. Galmier. His job now, in addition to his own performance, is to see that the team recaptures the title Kenya hadn’t lost for 18 years until the 2004 debacle.
Yearly progression 5000/10,000: 1999 - 13:05.29/ 26:51.49; 2000 - 13:23.24; 2001 - 13:05.16/ 27:22.58; 2002 - 13:02.51/28:20.98; 2003 - 13:15.33/27:29.12; 2004 – 13:11.41 (Zurich GL)/ 26:59.93 (Brussels GL).
A modest, soft-spoken young man, Charles Kamathi keeps finding himself in the midst of sensation and controversy. His debut in major international competition, in the 10,000 at the 1999 Van Damme Memorial, was as spectacular as any in the recent history of the sport—the year's fastest time from a complete unknown whose previous best, run at altitude, was more than two minutes slower, and who was initially allowed to enter the race only as a pacemaker.
Six months later he was at the center of a dispute between Kenya's athletes and team management at the World Cross Country Championships in Vilamoura. Management had brought seven runners for the 12K men's race in the vain hope that either defending champion Paul Tergat or Cross Challenge leader Kamathi would be granted a wild card entry. When informed that only six could run, the team managers dropped Joshua Chelanga, who had finished five places ahead of Kamathi in Kenya's trials, and they did so without the customary consultation with team members. Deeply offended, the athletes threatened not to run until persuaded by Tergat in discussions that lasted all night long before the race. Exhausted, demoralized and without a race plan, the Kenyans managed to retain their team title, but Tergat, going for an unprecedented sixth straight individual gold, was beaten on the home straight by Mohammed Mourhit of Belgium, whom Kamathi had pulled to a European 10,000 m record in Brussels. Said the bewildered young Kenyan, who finished 7th, "I just found myself in the middle of things, and I can't even explain.”
The next year, in Edmonton, Kamathi did what no one had been able to do for eight years: he beat Haile Gebrselassie over 10,000m. And he did it in a fashion worthy of the great Ethiopian himself—with blazing acceleration on the last lap. Kamathi's final 200 was unofficially clocked at 26 seconds. This time the voracious media attention brought a curious and welcome consequence. An Edmonton dentist noticed the victorious Kenyan was missing a front tooth and offered to fill the gap for free with sophisticated bridgework.
In 2004 Kamathi won Kenya’s National Championships at 5000m and a week later finished 3rd at 10,000m in the Olympic trials. Selection was guaranteed, however, only for the first two placers. Kamathi and Nicholas Kemboi, last year’s second best at 10,000 (26:30.03, then #3 All-Time), who had been ill during the trials, were to face off for the third spot on the team by racing in the 10,000 at July’s African Championships. Kamathi went to steamy Brazzaville and won with a sterling 28:07.83 in a tactical race, but Kemboi begged off because of illness. Kamathi, feeling somewhat aggrieved (but enjoying vigorous support in Nairobi’s sports pages), had to wait two more weeks before he was finally selected. Oddly enough, this year, when Athletics Kenya chose to name the teams for the World Cross more than two weeks before the competition, it was Kamathi who raised objections, saying the runners at Kenya’s training camp should be competing for places right up to the end.
Prepared by John Manners for the IAAF "Focus on Africans" project. © IAAF 2002-05.