Updated 13 July 2012
Isiah Kiplangat KOECH, Kenya (3000m, 5000m, Cross Country)
Born: 19 December 1993, Keringet village, Molo District, Rift Valley Province
Coach: Japheth Kemei
Manager: Bob Verbeeck (Golazo Sports)
Fourth born in a family of eight
Height / Weight: 1.83m / 58kg
Schools: Silbwet Primary School and Silbwet Secondary School
As chairman of Athletics Kenya and IAAF Council Member, Isaiah F Kiplagat has bestrode the Kenyan and international athletics scene like the proverbial colossus for the better part of two decades. His 18-year-old namesake, Isiah Kiplangat K, is only just revving up to what many who have seen the powerfully built running machine in action prophesy will culminate in a potential age of dominance in mid and distance running.
He was soon being tagged as the reincarnation of Abraham Chebii, who exploded in 2003 when, at the height of his powers, he ran the 5000m four times under 13 minutes and out-kicked the feared Ethiopian duo of Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele in Rome. But unlike Chebii, who fizzled out after his barnstorming season, the Keringet village born middle child in a family of eight has enjoyed an upward career trajectory since he presented his credentials to the athletics fraternity by striking gold at the 2009 World Youth Championships in Bressanone.
Since 2010, the moniker ‘Chairman’ has stuck to him like super glue in parody to the AK chief and this is the tag the soft spoken runner has taken upon himself to shed and forge his own identity with passion, by letting his legs do the talking.
"My name is Kiplangat but since everyone has been writing Kiplagat, I now want to be known as Koech," he charged with a tinge of defiance. “I respect the (AK) chairman as a father figure and that is why I want to leave the chairing to him. My work is to run,” he added.
With two World junior indoor records under his belt at the beginning of 2011 (7:37.50 at 3000m and a12:53.29 at 5000m), Kiplangat Koech had already served notice of what lies ahead for the rest of the campaign. And the world had sat up and taken notice.
The seed to his running career was sowed after the 2008 World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland when his village pal, Josphat Bett, became the toast of town when he returned to a roaring reception with the 10,000m gold adorning his neck.
“I started running seriously when I saw my neighbour Bett get a hero’s welcome after returning from Poland and a few months later, bring a lot of money home from races abroad. Within no time he had built this big house and I wanted to be like him,” the teenage sensation narrates.
Bett noted his friend’s new found interest in the sport and assumed the role of his mentor, taking him for training runs in addition to introducing him to his Golazo Sport management team that took the raw Kiplangat Koech to their fold in late 2008.
At the Golazo camp, Koech linked up with his coach, Japheth Kemei to prepare for the upcoming season and was selected in his country’s team for the World Youth Championships in Italy in July 2009.
“I was very excited,” he recalls with a wide smile. “It was my first trip outside the country and I had to ask my friend (Bett) how it is to travel in an aeroplane, what kind of food they eat abroad, how to behave there and take care of my belongings.”
At the 3000m final, Koech followed his team-mate David Kiprotich Bett as the latter lead from 1200m, then surged and torpedoed for the line unchallenged in a championship record of 7:51.51 ahead of Bett.
“God bless the organisers of this race. These championships are wonderful. I am proud and extremely happy. The victory of my team mate Cherono Koech (girls’ 800m) just before the start gave me a lot of encouragement. In Kenya we focus on teamwork and we have been rewarded. I come from Kericho, like Edwin Soi who won the bronze in Beijing and with whom I train,” he told IAAF after the race. “It was a very proud moment for me. My family back home were waiting for the results and when they heard I had won, they celebrated so much and this made me very happy,” he recalls his maiden golden moment in Team Kenya colours.
Once again, Koech made his nation’s squad for 2010 Bydgoszcz World Cross, where he finished just outside the medals in fourth but helped his nation to complete the 1-2-3-4 sweep to score the perfect ten. “I really wanted to get a medal, but although the race was not hard, I mistimed my run as we came for the finish. However, I helped my team get gold and that was good enough for me.”
While preparing for the Moncton World Juniors, Koech snapped a muscle on his right ankle, ruling him out of action until October. “It was very painful and at times I doubted whether I would ever make it back to shape. I persevered with the treatment regime and physiotherapy sessions with hope that I could return to the sport.”
Koech resumed to action at the fourth KCB/AK National Cross Country Series meeting in Kangaru where he was runner-up in the junior 8km race. “At that time, I was testing whether my leg could take the punishment and when I realised that it held up, I returned to training to work on getting shape,” Koech, with a smile on his face, recalled the November run that marked the beginning of his comeback.
On 8 January 2011, Iten hosted the last KCB/AK weekend meet, where any lingering doubts he was nearing his best shape were dispelled by a commanding 26 seconds victory over his Poland teammate and bronze winner, Japheth Korir (24:35.0 against 25:01.8).
He was then off to Europe where his introduction to closed circuit running returned jaw-dropping performances in Düsseldorf and Gent. In Germany, Koech humbled one of the doyens of distance running, Eliud Kipchoge the 2003 World 5000m champion, as he became only the fourth man to run under 13 minutes indoors when he clinched victory in 12:53.29, a World junior record, while Kipchoge also dipped under the barrier.
“I could not believe I had just beaten Eliud. After the race all these people came to me wanting to know what I had just done but I had a strong headache and I remember retreating to rest. Later it occurred to me what I had just performed. This made me even more surprised.”
Two days later, Koech landed in Belgium for the Flanders Indoor Meeting to take part in the 3000m race. “I was still not feeling well and my manager gave me some tablets to relieve the headache. After sometime, the pain eased and I went out for a two-hour warm-up. I was ready now for the race.” What happened next saw the 17-year-old command international headlines since he set a second World junior Indoor record of 7:37.50.
A couple of days later, he returned home to prepare for the National Cross Country Championships. And at Nairobi’s Uhuru Gardens, Koech charged away to complete the 8km course in 23:25.9 and lead the junior field, confirming his place for the Punta Umbria World Cross in Spain.
“It was not an easy race but returning to the World Cross gives me a chance to make up for last year. I took it easy until 4km when my body started responding and then I took off. My main focus for the year is to make the team for World Championships where, like Kipchoge, I hope to be a champion as a teenager. The Diamond League is also in my plans,” he asserted.
His World Cross medal dreams were again buried for the second successive year when he faded badly in the last loop as teammate Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor scorched the field with an awesome display of relentless front running to give no one a chance. The pre-race favourite finished 10th.
“I felt something pull in my leg and I could not keep up with the pace. I’m disappointed but there will be another day,” the exasperated Koech rued after the race. “I was disappointed to miss a medal in Punta Umbria and I'm going to channel all my energies with the sole aim of winning a medal in Daegu to please myself and make the country proud as well," Koech added.
He prepared for a stab at the Daegu World Championships team by embarking on the Diamond League circuit with commendable results, starting with an excellent second place finish in 12:54.59 over 5000m in Rome, the fastest mark by a junior since 2006 and eighth of all-time. He followed up with a third place over Two Miles (8:14.16) in Eugene and fourth in New York (13:07.22).
Back in Nairobi, Koech once again found the fast legs to lead Thomas Longosiwa and Kipchoge across the line to win the Daegu Trials 5000m in 13:21.91.
"I was probably the youngest in the field. I saw Kipchoge and Mark Kiptoo, very experienced runners, in the race but I knew coming into the last lap I was faster and that is the most important part of the race," Koech told of his triumph over more seasoned opposition.
Before heading to Korea as a strong medal prospect, Koech sparred against potential rivals for the world title at the Herculis Diamond League meet in Monaco, where he finished third behind Britain’s Mo Farah and American Bernard Lagat in 12:54.18, improving his position in the all-time junior lists to sixth as the front pair ran national and Area records respectively to underpin the intensity of that race.
At the World Championships, Koech did become the first Kenyan across the line, but placed just outside the medals having been shut out of the podium by Ethiopia’s Dejen Gebremeskel, who took bronze in 13:23.92 as Koech returned 13:24.95. Farah and Lagat scooped gold and silver.
“I felt bad since another chance to win a medal as a senior was gone. I was in good shape, I believed I had the finishing speed but on the day, hao wananaume (those men) had too much experience and I learned my lesson,” he reflected.
He closed the year with a resounding victory over 10.5km at the Lotto cross country meet in Brussels, crossing the line 45 seconds ahead of his rivals.
Koech opened the 2012 season on the European indoor circuit, with 13:02.36 for second in the Düsseldorf 5000m where he was defeated by Longosiwa.
He marked another resounding milestone when he turned up on Valentine’s Day in Liévin, France and scorched to 7:32.89 over 3000m, bettering his own World junior indoor record from Gent 2011 in finishing second to Edwin Soi. In Stockholm less than two weeks later, he defeated a classy field clocking 7:33.55.
Outdoors, he breezed to 7:32.43 for fourth over 3000m at the opening Diamond League meet in Doha before winning the Ostrava Golden Spike (7:37.14). Koech then again faced the world’s best in Eugene, finishing second to the superior kick of Farah in 12:57.63, a World junior leading mark behind the Somali-born Briton’s 12:56.98. He notably dipped ahead of triple Olympic champion and World record holder, Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, attempting a return to the top to defend his Olympic titles after a series of injury-plagues years, who was fourth.
With Farah and Lagat not in sight, Koech stopped the clock ahead of all comers at a soil record of 13:09.80 at the Kenyan Trials to book his place for a re-match against the pair at the Olympic Games in London.
“Our rivals are clocking 52 seconds in the last lap and our fastest is 56 which is four seconds slower and its something we must work on before we go to the Olympics,” Koech pointed out the reason why he has failed to crack the senior opposition at recent showdowns. “Last year was my first time in major world events so I made mistakes. This time I know there is room for improvement and I can do better than I did in Daegu,” he asserted.
Before heading to London, Koech lined up at his third Diamond League meeting, in Paris St. Denis, for what was to be the most amazing race ever run over 5000m. The Ethiopians had their last chance to make the London-bound team (their Olympic selections are done on times) and pushed the pace hard, with Dejen Gebremeskel prevailing in 12:46.81 (the fastest mark since 2005, elevating him to the fifth performer of all-time) over 18-year-old Hagos Gebrhiwet’s 12:47.53 – a new World junior record – with Koech third in 12:48.64 (the second-fastest junior and eighth of all-time) and overall six athletes under 12:50 and 11 under 13 minutes.
In addition to Farah and Lagat, Koech will now also have the young Ethiopians to watch in London.
3000m: 7:32.43 (2012)
5000m: 12:48.64 (2012)
3000m: 7:32.89 (2012)
5000m: 12:53.29 (2011)
3000m: 2009: 7:51.51; 2010: -; 2011: 7:37.50i WJR / -; 2012: 7:32.89i WJR / 7:32.43
5000m: 2010: 13:07.70; 2011: 12:53.29i WJR / 12:54.18; 2012:13:02.36i / 12:48.64
2009 1st Word Youth Championships, Bressanone (3000m) 7:51.51
2010 4th World Cross Country Championships, Bydgoszcz (junior race)
2011 10th World Cross Country Championships, Punta Umbria (junior race)
2011 4th World Championship, Daegu (5,000m) 13:24.95
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2010-2012