Updated 15 June 2012
Emmanuel Kipchirchir MUTAI, Kenya (Half Marathon/Marathon)
Born: 12 October 1984, Cheptigit village, Kipsinende Location, Uasin Gishu district, Rift Valley province
Manager: Michel Boeting, Coach: Patrick Sang
Trains in Kaptagat
A series of runner-up finishes at major marathons between 2009 and 2011 earned Emmanuel Mutai the tag the ’nearly man of marathon running’ but when he finished second at New York Marathon in 2011, he finally caught the bouquet.
Crossing the line in 2:06:28 behind winner Geoffrey Mutai (2:05:05, no relation), also well under the previous course record of 2:07:43 that had stood for a decade, Emmanuel Mutai became the fourth Kenyan runner to bag the men’s $500,000 (Sh47m) World Marathon Majors (WMM) series jackpot as the 2010/2011 series winner.
This placed him in the illustrious company that has scooped the high honour since its inception in 2006 as he followed in the accomplished footsteps of four-time Boston champion, Robert ‘Mwafrika’ Cheruiyot (Omar Ahmed), three-time London titleholder, Martin Lel and the late twice Majors winner and Olympics gold medallist, Samuel Wanjiru.
“I’m very happy; it’s been tough over the last two seasons and finally winning it brings so much joy. I learned from my mistakes in the past season and this year, the competition was very tough but I did what I needed to do to ensure that I did not miss out,” said Mutai, who had missed on the WMM payout in the previous season to Wanjiru and Tsegaye Kebede, upon his arrival from the Big Apple.
The reticent but engaging athlete will eternally affectionately recall 12 June 2012 when Athletics Kenya named him in the Olympics team, as a cherished career goal that looked almost buried after a seventh finish at London Marathon that April was fulfilled.
Federation bosses left his hopes dangling on a thin thread after placing Mutai on the standby list when announcing their final squad in the aftermath of spring marathon season on 30 April.
His stairway to the top of the pile began taking shape when he fulfilled his childhood dream by lining up in the red, green and black strip of his nation at the Berlin World Championships on 22 August, 2009.
There, despite falling sick in the closing stages of the race, Mutai came across the line in 2:07:48 for silver, also under the previous Championship record to complete the first ever Kenyan 1-2 at a major event with Abel Kirui taking the gold.
It is a vision he had harboured since he was a young boy watching top athletes train in his backyard in Uasin Gishu district.
“When I was starting we had Ismael Kirui, Bernard Barmasai, Richard Chelimo and even Matthew Birir,” Mutai said before Berlin. “As I ran in primary school, I hoped that one day I would be like them. I felt that I had the potential to become an international athlete and now my dream has come true.”
Talkative, intelligent and engaging, 27-year-old Mutai is one of a slew of young Kenyan marathoners who took up road running at a relatively young age.
The first born in a family of six (four boys, two girls), he started running while attending Cheptigit and Koisagat primary schools. “I would run up to district level mainly in 10,000 metres but never progressed further,” he recalls.
The pattern continued when he joined Samoei Secondary School (2000-2003) this time branching out to add cross country as well. He achieved his best result while in form 3, in 2002, by finishing tenth at provincial level. Finished with school in 2003, Mutai started proper training in 2004 almost by accident.
A keen student, his dream was to pursue higher education and Illinois University had expressed an interest in him. But it took too long for him to sit for the SATs (Scholastic Assessment Tests) and while waiting, he decided to try running. With Global Sports Camp in close proximity, he started training with the camp’s athletes though he had not been drafted yet. “I got a chance to train with the likes of Felix Limo and Richard Limo and this gave me confidence that I could make it,” Mutai recalls.
“He is a very intelligent boy and was actually more interested in school but the exams took too long and he decided to try running,” says manager Michel Boeting. “Once he realised he was good at it, he decided to pursue it.” Mutai impressed, officially joining Global Sports in March 2005, and in the first week of June, he ran his PB in 10,000m (28:09.2) in Eldoret. Later in the month, he was sixth in 10,000m (28:32.6) at the National Championships, in Nairobi. Mutai’s first destination in Europe was Zevenaar, in the Netherlands, on 18 August, where he ran a 10km road race, finishing fourth in 28:18.
Mutai had a great start to the 2006 season, marking his debut in Half Marathon running, with a win at the Nice Half Marathon (61:24) on 23 April. Eight days later he set his personal best for 10km (27:51) in Marseille and, on 28 May, set a personal best for 10,000m (28:21.14) in Hengelo. In September, he ran another Half Marathon, in Rotterdam, finishing sixth in 60:49. In October, he participated in his first Marathon, as a pacemaker at the Amsterdam Marathon.
2007 would be a breakthrough for the athlete as he stepped up his career. He started with fifth place at the Lisbon Half Marathon (60:51) in March. The following month, Mutai completed his first Marathon almost by default. Drafted in as a pacemaker in Rotterdam Marathon, he decided to give it a go and ended up finishing seventh (2:13:06).
Why did he decide to specialise in marathon running at such a young age? “I tried to run on track several times but could only get to provincials,” he said. “I simply couldn’t run on track so I decided to try road running and immediately realised that this would work for me.”
Having seen that he could handle the Marathon in Rotterdam, Mutai intensified his training as he prepared for the autumn marathons. In September, he was back in Lisbon for a Half Marathon, winning in 61:54. On 21 October, Mutai lined up for only his second Marathon, in Amsterdam, and made a massive step up, winning in 2:06:29.
“I was overjoyed at winning in Amsterdam, more so because I made such big improvement on my time, cutting seven minutes (off his PB),” he said. His exploits in Amsterdam earned him an invitation to the 2008 London Marathon, widely regarded as the crème de la crème of Marathon races. He prepared by setting a PB for 20km (57:33) in Alphen aan den Rijn, in the Netherlands, in March.
On 13 April, Mutai lined up alongside Martin Lel, Samuel Wanjiru et al in the London Marathon. Despite his relative inexperience, he would not be overawed finishing fourth in another personal best time, 2:06:15. Back running in Britain in September, Mutai easily won the Glasgow Half Marathon in 61:10. In October, he made his debut in the Chicago Marathon but finished sixth (2:15.36). “I was in really in good shape, and feeling Ok until the 25km mark, but as you know in Marathon anything can happen and my body refused to respond,” he said.
The year 2009 started at home for Mutai with tenth place (63:34) at the Discovery Run in Eldoret on 1 February. In March, he set a PB 60:45 in the Lisbon Half Marathon. That set him up for his second appearance in London Marathon, which produced one of the most dramatic races in recent history.
The leading pack set off at a furious sub two hours pace with the front men (Mutai included) running the fastest first half of a marathon yet. But, inevitably, the pace slowed down and Mutai again came home in a creditable fourth (2:06:53). “It was a crazy pace, because Samuel Wanjiru wanted to set a course record, so we went for it and were inside the course record until 30km, when the pacemakers dropped out,” he said.
After London, Mutai was given a choice for his next Marathon but, for him, there was only one option. “I told him that he could either go for World Championships or for one of the fall marathons but he absolutely wanted to run in Berlin,” said his manager. And, with Berlin round the corner, he was determined to shake off that fourth position (twice in London), “It will be my first time and I am looking to win a medal,” he said. “This time I will try to be on the podium.”
After fulfilling his podium dream, Mutai competed in Lisbon (October 4) to conclude his season where he raced his Half Marathon SB of 60:39.
In 2010, Mutai enhanced his reputation as the perpetual bridesmaid after following his Berlin silver with successive second finishes at the marathons of London (2:06:23, SB) in April and New York (2:09:18) in November.
“For next year, I will adjust my training so that I can finally win. I realised my finishing was not right and this is what I will work on in training,” he said upon his return from New York.
His performances however, helped him to third place in the WMM 2009/2010 series besides placing Mutai in amongst those challenging for the main prize in the next two-year cycle, 2010/2011 of the competition.
A third finish in Lisbon in 60:03 in March accounted for his SB in the half in yet another commendable campaign.
At the turn of 2011, Mutai skipped competition in the entire opening quarter to focus on his cherished aim of finally scaling to the middle of the podium at his favoured London Marathon.
His knowledge of the course and past experiences where he fell short combined to catapult him to glory in an astonishing 2:04:40 course record that could have reverberated around the world for much longer had his namesake, Geoffrey Mutai not stolen the headlines a day later in Boston.
Nonetheless, he managed to erase 30 seconds off the previous 2:05:10 route best ran by Wanjiru in 2009 besides clocking the seventh fastest time in history (at 15 June 2012).
"My dreams have come true because I had it in my mind that one day I would win one of the five major marathons. I was second here and in New York last year but today has finally come for me. My aim was just to win, I was not focusing on the time, but I tried my best to push it when I saw we were inside World record pace at one stage.
"It was fantastic to win the race and improve my personal best," he said in the aftermath of his victory.
On his return home having received the news that his namesake had raced the scarcely believable 2:03:02 in Boston, Mutai prophesied.
“I see the World record falling this year and the runners we have at the moment are capable of running even 2:00,” he noted.
On whether he would return to the Worlds if offered a chance for another title tilt in Daegu, Mutai offered, “I’m proud to represent my country Kenya but that decision is out of my hands and I will wait to see what happens in the coming weeks.”
However, he was one of the elite runners who turned down the Daegu ticket to focus on the fall marathon season and his gamble paid off when he struck the WMM jackpot in November.
In fact, only a brilliant second half recovery from fourth place at 36km to second place at the tape sealed his confirmation.
“I’m happy with the results. I ran 2:06, under the course record today. That’s a lot of difference from last year. I’m happy with that. It was challenging,” the London winner told IAAF after surging away from Ethiopian Tsegay Kebede to seal second place after his namesake Geoffrey tore away from all challengers for victory.
It was the first time for the Majors men’s title to be decided at the last event with Berlin champion and World record holder Patrick Makau (60) holding a five-point lead over Emmanuel (55), Tsegay (41), Geoffrey (40) and 2010 New York winner, Gebre Gebremariam (35).
“Well, for me (chuckling) it will be something small with my family. I have no idea what they have planned but you will not find me buying expensive cars, jewellery or clothes. It is important not to blow money quickly on things that do not add value to your life. We have seen where that leads to and since this is the only job I do and I will retire one day, I will spend everything I earn wisely,” he sagely said when quizzed on how he would spend his windfall.
Mutai’s New York performance was preceded by a personal best run in the Great North Run half marathon 59:52 (September 18) to place third behind compatriots Martin Mathathi and Jonathan Maiyo.
His 2012 started with news he had made the Kenyan London Olympics probable squad of six selected by Athletics Kenya in January. Makau, namesake Mutai, Kirui, Chicago record holder, Moses Mosop and rising sensation, Wilson Kipsang, whose defence of Frankfurt Marathon returned a staggering 2:03:42, four seconds short of the World record, completed the exalted group.
And in a remarkable occurrence, organisers of the London Marathon chose Iten as the venue to announce their elite field for that year’s event where Mutai was paraded alongside fellow podium finishers, World record holder, Makau and three-time winner, Lel who was second last year.
Mutai, who had opened his competitive year with a sixth finish at the domestic blue riband Discovery Half Marathon in Eldoret (62:56, 29 January) welcomed a group of international journalists touring under IAAF’s Day in Life programme in February.
Having witnessed his rigorous training regime under his coach Patrick Sang (Barcelona Olympics silver, 3000m steeple), the journalists headed to his camp in Kaptagat where he underlined his mission for London Games.
“The selection is challenging, but I think if I can finish in the top three in London, I will qualify. The extra pressure is there because of the Olympic selection, but I’ve been concentrating on running well in London. What comes after London, I will think about it then.”
On 22 April, Mutai lined at the start at the Olympics city’s World Marathon Majors race with running bib 1, but after hanging with frontrunners until the 30km mark, Kipsang broke free from the stellar cast and went on to attack the champion’s course record, but fell short by four seconds at the tape as Mutai limped home seventh in 2:08:01, his worse finish in five London appearances, perhaps more affected than he’d expected by a bout of typhoid he suffered a month prior to the race.
Three days later, AK uncovered the eagerly anticipated Olympic men marathon squad where Kipsang, Kirui and Mosop got the craved slots as Mutai was placed on standby. His fortunes dramatically changed 48 days later when he was proclaimed as replacement for Chicago record holder Mosop, who injured his Achilles in training forcing his withdraw.
“Emmanuel is a good runner and he helped Abel to the world title in Berlin. It is unfortunate for Mosop but in this country, any runner is good as the other and we still remain confident of retaining our Olympic title,” federation chief Kiplagat declared on 12 June. He was on the standby list and we assessed him and saw he was fit. We have no doubt that Emmanuel will work with his teammates to ensure we retain our title in London. We had to look outside major marathons for the next alternate and we picked (Paris winner Stanley) Biwott,” he added.
Having underlined his championship pedigree in Berlin, there’s no doubt that Mutai ranks as one of the podium favourites if he faces the starting gun on 12 April fully fit.
The father of one wants to emulate one of the gentlemen of Kenyan running, “I want to be like Paul Tergat,” he said. “He has achieved a lot more than just in athletics.”
10km: 27:51 (2006)
10,000m: 28:09.2 (2005)
Half Marathon: 59:52 (2011)
Marathon: 2:04:40 (2011)
Half Marathon: 2006: 1:00:49; 2007: 1:01:54; 2008: 1:01:10; 2009: 1:00:39; 2010:1:00:03; 2011:59:52; 2012: 1:02:56A
Marathon: 2007: 2:06:29; 2008: 2:06:15; 2009: 2:06:53; 2010: 2:06:23; 2011:2:04:40; 2012: 2:08:01
2007 7th Rotterdam Marathon (2:13.06)
2007 1st Amsterdam Marathon (2:06.29)
2008 4th London Marathon (2:06.15)
2008 6th Chicago Marathon (2:15.36)
2009 4th London Marathon (2:06.53)
2009 2nd Berlin, World Championships (2:07:48)
2010 2nd London Marathon (2:06:23)
2010 2nd New York Marathon (2:09:18)
2011 1st London Marathon (2:04:40)
2011 2nd New York Marathon (2:06:28)
2012 7th London Marathon (2:08:01)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2009-2012.