Updated 23 August 2007
Isaac Kiprono SONGOK, Kenya (1500m/5000m)
Born 5 April 1984, Kaptel, near Kapsabet, Nandi District, Rift Valley Province, Kenya.
Former student at St. Patrick's High School, Iten, Keiyo District.
Lives mainly in Iten. Based in Tubingen, Germany during track season.
Manager: James Templeton. Coach: Bro. Colm O'Connell
Native language: Nandi (Kalenjin). Second of seven children. Father small-scale farmer.
Isaac Songok began running in primary school and was National primary school champion at 5000m in 1999 and 2000 (also 2nd in Steeplechase in 1999). He finished 3rd in Kenya's 2000 World Junior trials 5000m (13:37, running barefoot) and was spotted by Bro. Colm O’Connell, who urged him to switch to 1500.
The next year Songok won the primary schools 1500, then Kenya's trials for the World Youth Championships 1500. At the World Youths, in Debrecen, Hungary, he took the title in a championship record 3:36.78.
With help of fellow villager Bernard Lagat and manager James Templeton, Songok ran in four late-season European meetings in 2001, improving his PB to 3:35.55 in Leverkusen, breaking Jim Ryun's 37-year-old under-18 mile record in Linz (3:54.56) and setting a World Junior record at 2000m in Berlin (4:56.86).
In 2002 he won the 1500 in Kenya's national junior championships (3:39.2, faster than the winning time in the senior nationals, held simultaneously). Later in 2002 he lowered his PB to 3:34.20 in Zurich, but finished a disappointing 7th in the World Junior Championships in Kingston, where, according to Bro. Colm, "he was a bit of a marked man" and was badly jostled in the final.
In 2003 Songok won Kenya's senior National Championships (3:38.6), finished 2nd in the World Championships trials (edging Lagat), and a week later in Heusden lowered his PB to 3:31.54. He showed his inexperience in the Paris World Championships, however, mistiming his kick and barely qualifying in his semi-final, then finding himself unable to follow Hicham El Guerrouj's sustained drive in the final (finished 10th in 3:34.39).
Songok claimed a couple of major scalps during Kenya's 2004 cross country season, beating both current and former World 5000m Champions Eliud Kipchoge and Richard Limo in the North Rift provincial competition. He took 5th at 4km in the Kenya World Cross Country trials and withstood the Ethiopian/Qatari (ex-Kenyan) onslaught at the Brussels World Cross Country to finish 7th (2nd among Kenyans) in the 4 km race.
Up to the Olympics, Songok’s 2004 outdoor season included six Grand Prox races and two brutal rounds of the Kenyan Olympic trials, in all of which he finished lower than 3rd only once (4th in 3:31.94 in the speedy Rome GL, behind Rachid Ramzi, Lagat and Mehdi Baala). He won the Kenya trials over a formidable field and finished 3rd in the dramatic Zurich 1500 (PB 3:30.99) as Lagat edged El Guerrouj in the year’s best time (3:27.40).
In Athens, however, after cruising in his heat (3:38.89), he ran tentatively in the semi-final, much as he had in Paris, barely reaching the final on time (3:37.10). And once again, he seemed unprepared for the erratic pace of the unpaced final and was left well back at the bell, ultimately coming in 12th in 3:41.72. Ten days later, in Brussels, he ran a creditable 3:32.02 for 6th behind four of the top five men from Athens. But in the more tactical Berlin race he was well off the pace in 11th (3:36.23). The 20-year-old’s long season ended with another 11th place (3:48.32) in the jog-and-kick World Athletics Final.
Songok spent the winter training in Kenya and was well-prepared for the 2005 cross country season. He dominated strong 4 km fields in both the North Rift provincial and the National Championships/World Cross Country trials. At the World Cross Country itself he couldn’t match Kenenisa Bekele’s sustained drive and was outkicked on the run in by team-mate Abraham Chebii, but he collected the bronze, his first global senior medal.
On the track he began experimenting with his former event, the 5000, after warming up with a 7:30.14 PB at 3000 in Hengelo in late May. At Kenya’s World Championships trials a month later, he pulled away from a brilliant 5000 field that included reigning world champion Kipchoge, to win in the superb altitude time of 13:11.1.
Two weeks after that he topped Kipchoge again with a formidable 12:52.29 PB in Rome, but in the final at the World Championships in Helsinki (after winning his qualifying heat in 13:20.36), Songok once again allowed himself to be caught in the crowd when the sprinting started at the end of an 11-lap jog, finishing 10th in 13:37.10. He fared a little better off a similar slow pace in the unpaced World Athletics Final (3rd in 13:40).
It began to seem that the wide open spaces of cross country suited Songok better than the track. In early 2006 he had no trouble handling the always daunting mob of talented youngsters in Kenya’s two-stage World Cross Country trials, trading wins in the 4k with training partner Augustine Choge (the new Commonwealth 5000 champion). Then at the World Cross Country Championships, in Fukuoka, Songok put up the toughest cross country challenge Bekele had faced in five years, losing to the five-time double champion by a single second in the 4k.
On the track, too, Songok began to seem more confident and comfortable. In nine races in 2006, in some of the most competitive meets on the GP circuit, he missed the podium only once and notched two superb PBs (7:28.32 to win in Rieti and 12:48.66 for 2nd behind Bekele’s 12:48.25 world leader in Zurich).
Songok tried indoor racing for the first time in 2007, winning two out of three, and then cruised through just three races on the outdoor Grand Prix circuit, recording what would seem discouraging times and places if it were not for his masterful win in the Kenyan World Championships trials 5000 (13:20.0 at 1700m altitude).
That performance, in an unpaced contest, may indicate that Songok has at last learned how to run championship races. If so, he is the most likely candidate to sustain Kenya’s long string of 5000m World Championships victories. (Kenyans have won the last three and seven of the eight since 1991).
1500/3000/5000: 2001 - 3:35.55; 2002 - 3:34.20; 2003 - 3:31.54; 2004 – 3:30.99; 2005 – 3:31.72 / 7:30.14 / 12:52.29; 2006 – 3:31.85 / 7:28.32 / 12:48.66; 2007 – 3:39.05i / 7:38.10 / 13:15.70.
1500m: 3:30.99 (2004)
3000m: 7:28.32 (2006)
5000m: 12:48.66 (2006)
2001: 1st World Youth Championships, (1500m)
2002: 7th World Junior Championships, (1500m)
2003: 9th World Championships (1500m)
2004: 7th World Cross Country Championships (4k)
2004: 12th Olympic Games (1500m)
2005: 3rd World Cross Country Championships (4k)
2005: 10th World Championships (5000m)
2006: 10th World Cross Country Championships 2nd (4k)
Prepared by John Manners for the IAAF ’Focus on Athletes’ project. © IAAF 2007