John Cheruiyot KORIR (kohREER), Kenya (10,000m/cross country)
Born 13 December 1981, Kiramwok, near Merigi, Bomet Dist., Rift Valley Province, Kenya.
Finished Merigi Secondary School 1998. Army private; enlisted 2001.
Lives in Kiramwok and Ngong Army camp, near Nairobi. European base: Trento, Italy.
Manager: Gianni Demadonna. Coach: Renato Canova
1.72m// 57kg. Native language: Kipsigis (Kalenjin). Oldest of five children. Father a farmer with 20 acres, 10 of tea.
Began running in primary school; 4th at 5000m in primary school nationals 1994. Reached secondary school nationals twice in both 10,000 and cross country, winning both in 1997. Invited to train with Kenya Army at Ngong Training Camp during school holidays. Competed informally in inter-unit military competitions and entered invitational Kenya Amateur Athletics Association (KAAA) meets under Army auspices. Spotted by manager Demadonna in February 1999 at KAAA meet.
International debut at 1999 Cinque Mulini Cross Country; finished 2nd to Salah Hissou. Podium finishes in dozen more road, track and cross races in Europe that year. Began 2000 winning junior title at Kenyan World Cross trials. Slightly injured at training camp; 3rd in World Cross. Busy European road and track season interrupted by Kenyan Olympic trials, which he won in new altitude world best (27:48.42). Once again slightly injured before Games; 5th in Sydney final.
Won 12 km race at 2001 World Cross trials; finished a dismal 28th in Ostend mud. In Kenya's 2001 World Championship trials, 2nd (27:49.34) to Charles Kamathi's new altitude world best (27:47.33) but again slightly injured in Edmonton; finished 8th (27:58.06).
Joined Army on return to Kenya, committing himself to nine months of basic training, which kept him out of 2002 World Cross trials. Completed Army training in time for African Military Games, which Kenya hosted. Won 10,000 ahead of fellow new recruits Sammy Kipketer and Paul Kosgei.
Edged by Kosgei in yet another altitude world best (27:44.14 to Korir's 27:44.55) in 2002 Commonwealth Games trials 10,000. Lost home-straight sprint in Commonwealth race, finishing 4th, 0.44 seconds behind winner Wilberforce Talel. Silver, again behind Kosgei, at 10,000 in African Championships in Tunis; winner over Kosgei in World Military Championships 10,000. At end of 2002 season shared lead in brilliant Brussels GL 10,000 until last lap; wound up 5th in PB 26:52.87, behind Kipketer's world leading 26:49.38
In 2003, won 12 km World Cross trials for second time but could manage no better than 6th in Lausanne. Similarly, scored a comfortable win in World Championship trials 10,000 (27.59.18) but wound up 5th in Paris (27:19.94).
Held true to form in 2004: a solid 2nd in the World Cross trials 12 km followed by a disappointing 11th in the Brussels World Cross. Then a comfortable win in the Kenyan Olympic trials 10,000 (27:56.6) and selection for Athens, but another 6th place in the big event (27:41.91). He repeated his 6th place, albeit in a faster time in the Brussels GL (27:04.14) and then ran five road and two cross country races in quick succession— including the World Half-Marathon Championships in New Delhi, where he was again just off the podium in 4th (62:38).
In 2005 he once again performed well at the Kenya World Cross trials—a solid 3rd behind Eliud Kipchoge and Moses Mosop—but history points to a probable a top-eight but out-of-the-medals finish in St. Etienne/St. Galmier. Of course, no one is keener to prove history wrong than Korir himself.
Yearly progression 5000/10,000: 1999 - 13:24.22/27:38.86; 2000 - 13:09.58 (Zurich GL)/27:24.75; 2001 - 13:19.58/27:49.34; 2002 - --/26:52.87 (Brussels GL); 2003 - 13:22.78/27:17.24; 2004 – 13:20 (Zurich GL)/ 27:05.14 (Brussels GL)
John Cheruiyot Korir* has repeatedly finished at or near the top in Kenyan trials for major championships and then comie up just short in the championships themselves. He won Kenya's junior World Cross trials in 2000 but settled for bronze in Vilamoura; won the 2000 Olympic trials 10,000 in a world altitude best, but finished 5th in Sydney; won the senior 12 km World Cross trials in 2001 and sank to 28th in the Ostend mud; came a close 2nd at 10,000 in the 2001 World Championships trials, then faded to 8th in Edmonton; finished a close 2nd again in 2002 in a record-breaking Commonwealth Games trials 10,000, but missed a medal by 0.05 seconds in Manchester; won the 2003 World Cross trials at 12 km but could do no better than 6th in Lausanne; took the 10,000 at the 2003 World Championships trials in decisive fashion but settled for another 5th place in Paris; and last year took 2nd in the World Cross trials 12 km and dropped to 11th in Brussels, and then won the Olympic trials 10,000 and wound up 6th in Athens. That he performed well in Kenya’s 2005 World Cross trials (3rd) does not necessarily bode well.
The slips in performance have sometimes resulted from minor injuries that developed between the trials and the championships, or from a miscalculation in the closing stages of the big race. But by now Korir has had so much experience preparing for and competing in races at the highest level that he may finally be ready to overcome his championship jinx.
Korir is not one of the many Kenyan internationals who discovered their running talent late in life. He grew up a few kilometers from the home of two-time World Cross champion William Sigei, and he has wanted to be a world class runner for as long as he can remember. In primary school he would pick tea on his father's plot every morning and leave himself just enough time to run 20 minutes to school. He'd then run home for lunch, back to school and home again, knowing he was building stamina. In secondary school, he deliberately chose a roundabout route so the run to school took an hour. His training paid off in two national schools championships (in cross country and 10,000m) in his third year of high school, and this earned him a rare headmaster's dispensation: he was allowed to wear a track suit to class instead of the school uniform.
His national titles attracted the attention of the Kenya Army, and he was invited to train with Army athletes during school holidays at their camp near Nairobi. The Army also entered him in inter-unit competitions and in KAAA invitational meets, and Korir's sense of obligation was such that years later, when Army officers asked him to enlist so that he could strengthen the Kenyan team in the upcoming African Military Championships in Nairobi, he signed right up and went immediately into rigorous Army basic training.
Korir's first trip abroad came when he was fresh out of secondary school, but unlike many Kenyan juniors, whose first international experience comes under the auspices of a national junior team, Korir was traveling on his own for a few races in Italy. His natural apprehensions were heightened when his aircraft behaved erratically and was forced to turn back to Nairobi. Two plane changes later, he was off to Italy via Belgium, but he was arrested in Brussels for want of appropriate transit documents. When he finally reached Italy, too late for the first of his scheduled races, he was so shaken that he wouldn't eat anything but bread and water, convinced that the crafty Europeans were out to hobble him one way or another.
Travel holds no fears for him now though. He's delighted with the opportunities he has won through all his hard training. "My friends who were studying together with me," he says, "they are at home now, not flying around the world like me."
* Not to be confused with John Korir, ace of the US road circuit, who hales from the same corner of Kenya's Rift Valley Province.
Prepared by John Manners for the IAAF "Focus on Africans" project. © IAAF 2003-2005.