Updated 20 August 2007
Justus KOECH, Kenya (800m)
Born 19 March 1980, Bomet Uasin Gishu district
Club: Armed Forces, Manager: PACE
Lives in Narok and is based in London during the season
The first born in a family of nine, Justus Koech – an ardent football fan – remembers how he first got into running. “I started for fun because athletes would be allowed to leave school to compete outside so I would get a chance to go out of the school compound,” he said. And, to start with, he won the Bomet district 800 metres titles in 1997 and 1998.
It was after school that a friend influenced him to take running seriously. Major Patrick Kirui had seen him run during school competition and persuaded him to take it seriously. He trained for a while but then became disillusioned. Iin 1999, while training with the army, he stopped and headed back home. But Kirui had faith and cajoled him to resume training.
“We are neighbours in Narok and we go to the same church so, when I stopped training, the major came back for me at home and urged me to resume,” Koech said.”He gave me the example of Japheth Kimutai and William Chesire who did very well on the track scene.”
With renewed vigour and resolve, Koech was back on the track in 2002. He made the Commonwealth Games team to go to Manchester only to be dropped because of ‘inexperience.’ Consequently, he decided to join the army and went to through the eight months training.
In 2003, Koech finished second at the Armed Forces Championships in Nairobi, qualifying for the national trials to select the team for the World Championships in Paris that year. As a prelude to the national trials, he won the 800 metres in Padova. Spurred by his omission from the Commonwealth Games team, Koech ran a great race to not only make the team by finishing second but also to set his PB (1:44:16) at altitude. He also ran in the IAAF Golden League on August 10 in Berlin, finishing sixth (1:45:24).
Come the World Championships, Koech managed a creditable sixth in the 800 metres final in his first major outing for Kenya. After Paris he was off to Nigeria to participate in the 2003 All Africa Games, in Abuja, where he claimed bronze.
His 2004 season started with a great win at the IAAF Super Grand Prix in Doha on May 14 (1:45.37). He followed it by winning the Armed Forces title in Nairobi and second place in Rehlingen (1:45.28). Koech improved his season’s best time to 1:44.91 on June 5 when he finished fourth at IAAF Grand prix in Seville. He came second in Zaragoza a few weeks later improving his seasonal best to 1:44.37.
Back in Kenya in mid-June, Koech finished second at the national championships (1:47.27) but could not sustain the pace at the Olympic Games trial the following week, finishing a poor seventh (1:47.17).
The IAAF Golden league meeting in Rome in early July was a chastening experience as he finished eighth but he responded in great fashion setting his quickest time in Europe when he clocked 1:44.19 at the IAAF Super Grand Prix in Heraklion. At the IAAF Super Grand Prix in Madrid on July 17, he finished second to Wilfred Bungei, timing 1:44.26.
2005 was a slow year for Koech as he recorded his season’s best time when finishing third at the IAAF Super Grand Prix in Madrid (1:45.73) In July, at the Kenyan trials for the World Championships he could only manage fifth, missing out on a place in the team for Helsinki.
After the disappointment of 2005, Koech approached 2006 with renewed drive. He destroyed the field to win at the Jamaica invitational meet in 1:47.39, in May he was in Rio de Janeiro where again brushed aside his opponents to win, albeit it in a slower time (1:47.80) and his win streak continued in Fortaleza. He set a PB for 1,000 metres at the IAAF grand prix in Belem (2:18.70) on May 21.
But, back home - and back in the 800m - Koech found the going tough, finishing fifth at the national athletics championships in June. In Lausanne, in July, he clocked his fastest time of the year but his 1:45.44 could only get him sixth place.
Koech’s opening race of 2007 saw him finish third at the Millrose Games in New York on February 2. He then won the Irish indoor 800 metres title. At the Kenyan Armed Forces championships on May 19, Koech showed great strength and resilience to win the men’s 800 metres final barely an hour after finishing third in the 1500m.
Koech also posted the fastest altitude time this season of 1:46.5 after pulling level with second placed Daniel Kandie and veteran Joseph Mutua with a 100 metres to go before kicking to victory. He placed second in Rehlingen and then placed 10th in Bydgoszcz on June 2 posting 1:46:35.
In mid June, Koech was back in Kenya where he won the national 800m title during the three day championships held on June 14-16. Koech was selected for the All Africa Games, in Algiers, where his last gasp surge was not enough and he had to settle for bronze medal in his second showing at the Games.
Koech then set his season’s best time of 1:44.86 despite finishing sixth in Athens on July 2. At the very competitive Kenyan trials on July 28, Koech finished second after another close race. After a slow first lap, he desperately hung on in a close finish to earn his Osaka spot just days after returning from Algiers .
Deeply religious, his vest and running shoes carry messages of his faith. ‘God do for me,’ ‘I always trust God’, ‘Lord is my strength’, ‘Strengthen me’, ‘Do for God’, are messages written on his running gear.
2002 -1:46.10; 2003 – 1:44.16; 2004 - 1:44.19 ; 2005 - 1:45.73 ; 2006 - 1:45.44 ; 2007 - 1:44.86
800m: 1:44.16A (2003)
1,000m: 2003 - 2:18.70 (2006)
2003 6th World Championships (1:45.63)
2003 3rd All Africa Games (1:46.50)
2007 3rd All Africa Games (1:45.80)
Prepared by James Wokabi for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. © IAAF 2007