Updated: 11 August 2008
David KIMUTAI, Kenya (20km walk)
Born: 19 August, 1970, Sotik Division, Kericho District, Rift Valley Province
Height: 165 cm (5'5''); Weight: 57kg
Coach: George Kariuki
He hails from an area that has produced world class runners but David Kimutai has held his own in a discipline that few Kenyan athletes dare venture into - the 20km Walk.
A veteran Olympian in a career that has spanned 13 years, Kimutai, a first born in a family of nine, is still No.1 in Kenya at an event that has taken him to three Olympics (Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004).
“I realised that I possessed athletics talent and tried to run in different mid and long distances until I settled for the 10,000m,” Kimutai said. I did not perform to my expectations and that’s when I took up the walk.” Kimutai, who hails from a subsistence farming background, explains how he took up a discipline that is alien to most Kenyan athletes.
The ten-time national 20km walk champion attended Sosit Primary School, in Kericho, from 1976 to 1983 (then Kenyan primary education lasted seven years) before joining Kapyenga Secondary School. In 1986, he was forced out of Kapyenga due to lack of school fees and a young Kimutai, 16, ventured in small scale business, opening a kiosk (small shop) to make ends meet at Kapkatet Market village.
Fortunes turned for him in 1992 when he was selected to join the Armed Forces, graduating to be posted at the Nanyuki Airbase, where he started to participate in the Inter-Divisions competitions within the institution. In 1995, he took part in his first 20km Walk in the Armed Forces Championships, winning on his debut before taking the national crown in 1:25:00.
He qualified for the 1996 Olympics where he finished 23rd after winning the National Championships in 1:20:40, which remains his personal best. In this year he also won his first international medal, silver, at the African Championships in Yaoundé. He suffered a muscle injury in 1997, after winning his hat-trick of Kenya’s titles in 1:23:46, which kept him out of action for the rest of the year.
The following year saw him take fourth at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and record a routine fourth national title in 1:23:19, He followed that with his fifth national title (1:22:37) in the 1999 championships that laid a platform for his first gold medal, at that year’s All Africa Games, in Johannesburg.
The next year saw Kimutai surrender his national title to arch rival, Julius Sawe (1:21:21) but he still qualified for the Sydney Olympics, where a bout of typhoid weakened him and he only managed 39th placing (1:28:45). In 2001, Kimutai regained his national title from Sawe, posting 1:22:42, and retreated to spend most of the year in training for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, in Manchester. At the Kenya Championships, the Army Corporal defended his title in 1:23:21 and went on to scoop bronze in Manchester.
Kimutai had to put his career on hold as duty called when he was posted on a peace keeping mission in Eritrea in 2003 and, in his absence, Sawe (1:22:53) took the national title.
At the end of his mission in mid 2004 (where Sawe won his third Kenyan crown), Kimutai resumed his training. In 2005, he regained the Kenyan title but, as the scorer ended the race prematurely (Kimutai clocked 1:16.07) he missed the chance to qualify for the Helsinki World Championships.
The following year, Kimutai walked to 20km gold (1:23.58) at the African Championships in Mauritius, retained his national crown (1:23:05) but finished 18th at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in March (1:25:45).
Last year, he won the 10km Walk at an Athletics Kenya (AK) meet in Kakamega in April before sealing an unprecedented 11th national 20km Walk title (1:23:06), Kimutai’s attempt to win a second All Africa Games gold medal fell short after he was forced to take silver (1:24.16) behind Hatem Ghoula of Tunisia-1:22:33.
After the race, the severely dehydrated silver medallist had to be given prompt treatment as the mercury rose to 33C at the finish. “I almost the hit the Olympic qualifying mark but the heat was too much and now I hope to do it in Addis Ababa (2008 AAC),” he said.
This year, Kimutai won the 30km road race at the Armed Forces Championships in January as he built on his endurance and, at the April 13 trials for Addis, he recorded 1:24:31 to scoop the event and book his place in the national team.
“I have inspired many athletes to take up the event,” Kimutai said. “However, most find it hard to stay in the walk since it is hard and one has to persevere.” He was greatly helped to nurture his career by Kaplenya Justus, a coach in the Armed Forces, and pays tribute to his greatest competitor, Sawe: “We have taken this discipline and kept it alive in the country and he has always been beside me as we carry Kenya’s prowess in the walk.”
Kimutai laments that domestic competitive events for walkers are hardly organised and facilities for them to improve are conspicuously absent, a state that has seen few venture in the discipline. “For example, the Russians have clubs and hold meets every weekend and this keeps them in shape throughout the season,” he said. “Here, we only take part in few events.”
This year, Kimutai embarked on a mission to make the Kenyan Beijing team for his third showing at the biggest sporting event.
The task was to get the qualifying time (1:23.00) and Kimutai set upon seeking it at the Africa Athletics Championships in Addis Ababa where he was also defending the 20km walk title.
However, things did not go according to plan after he finished outside the medals in fourth but more importantly, his time of 1:25.08 was 2:08 minutes below the Olympic qualifying mark.
“My shoe untied when we were starting and I lost valuable time to the leaders. The heavy rain and altitude did not favour me as I tried to catch up with them,” Kimutai said then.
He knew he had only the Kenyan Olympic trials to get the time and at the 4 July selection championships, he raced against himself and the clock to win in 1:22.20 to just make the Olympic team.
“That was really close. I am so happy to have finally erased the memories of 2005. My aim now is to perform well at the Olympics,” he said after saying a short prayer at the finish line when his winning time was confirmed by the stadium announcer as having taken him to the Olympics.
“It’s a pity that I will be going there alone. I really wanted someone to push me hard for the time but when I realised the rest of the field was lagging behind, I decided to go upfront alone and hope for the best.” His challengers simply paled, with the closest, Sylvanus Wekesa (1:26.13) finishing four minutes after Kimutai and by then, celebrations for the winner were waning.
Kimutai, who is married with four children, had initially planned to switch to running and the full 42km marathon after the Beijing Olympics at the earliest, but he reconsidered his position after victory at the trials.
“I thought that my best days as a walker had ended in Algiers but I still feel that I have few more years left. I still habour ambitions to try the marathon but that will come a little later.”
20km Walk: 1:20:40 (1996)
1996: 1:20:40; 1999: 1:22:37; 2001: 1:22:42; 2002: 1:23:23; 2006: 1:23.05; 2007: 1:23:06; 2008:1:22.20
1996 23rd Olympic Games
1998 4th Commonwealth Games
2nd Africa Championships
1999 1st All Africa Games
2000 39th Olympics Games
2002 3rd Commonwealth Games
2006 1st African Championships
18th Commonwealth Games
2007 2nd All Africa Games
2008 4th African Athletics Championships
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008