Updated 11 August 2008
Lucy Wangui KABUU, Kenya (10,000m)
Born: 24 March 1984, Ichamara, Mukurweini, Central Province
1.54m / 40kg
Manager: Ricky Simms
Sixth born in a family of nine
Lucy Wangui Kabuu, the reigning Commonwealth Games 10,000 metres champion, is enjoying a return to form after a poor 2007. The petite lady, who hails from Mukurweini in Central Province, an area not known for athletics, goes to the Olympics as Kenya’s in-form long distance athlete this year, having qualified for both the 5000 and 10,000 metres. But Kenya’s athletics officials refused to select her for both.
Kabuu went to Matuto Primary school and it was while in school that she took an interest in athletics. “I had a teacher; Muteithia Njeru, who noticed I had potential and helped me to improve by lengthening my stride,” she said. “He used to make marks and ensure that my feet would only touch those marks.”
Japan-based athlete, John Kanyi, hailed from her village and it was he who encouraged her to go the Japan way. “Kanyi was at university in Japan and he saw my ability and asked me to compete at a trial race,” Kabuu said. She then contested two 6k races used to select athletes to go to Japan. She impressed and, in 2000, left Kenya to join the Amori Yada High School.
Moving abroad was not easy for a 16-year-old but she was determined and spent the first six months learning Japanese. In 2001, Kabuu clocked a seasonal best time of 15:45.04 in July. She completed her high school studies in 2002 and, the following year, joined the Suzuki team.
In her final year, she was already standing out as a special talent. She won the 1500m at the High School Championships in 4:09.60 and a 3,000m race in 9:02.77. She then clocked 32:45.70 for 10,000m in July before timing 15:33.03 over 5000m in September.
In 2003, at Japan’s National Championships, in Yokohama, Kabuu won the 5000m in 15:10.47 on 8 June. On 12 July she placed fourth at Kenya’s National Championships, in Nairobi, timing 15:42.5 in a 5000m which saw her invited to the trials to select the National team for the World Championships in Paris.
Two weeks later, she lined up at the ever-tough trials where she upset the form book by edging out Isabella Ochichi to finish third in the 5000m (15:43.61). She was, however, left out of the team as the selectors opted to include Ochichi instead, quoting her experience in competing in major championships.
Disappointed, Kabuu headed back to Japan where she continued her improvement by bettering her personal best for 5000m (15:10.23) at the Yokohama Grand Prix. On 27 September, Kabuu underlined her potential when she set a new National junior 10,000m record, stopping the clock on 31:06.20 at a meeting in Okayama.
She started 2004 by winning a Half Marathon in Yamaguchi in March in 69.47. In May she timed 31:32.69 in for 10,000m in Shizuoka. Two weeks later, Kabuu dipped under the 15 minute mark in a 5000m for the first time, clocking 14:57.09 in the Noboeka meet. She followed it up with another 5000m win, at the Japanese National Championships in June (15:00.08).
At the National Trials for the 2004 Athens Olympics Games, in Nairobi, on 25 June, Kabuu switched to 10,000m, where she finished second (32:12.3) behind Alice Timbilil to earn herself an Olympics ticket. In Athens, Kabuu clocked a PB 31:05.90 despite finishing ninth and the best placed Kenyan.
Kabuu started 2005 by placing sixth in the women’s 4km race to make Kenya’s team for the World Cross Country Championships in Saint-Etienne/Saint-Galmier, France. In March, she made her debut in World Cross finishing sixth in the 4km race Back in Japan, she struggled to hit the heights of the previous year timing 31:22.37, in Kobe in April, before losing her Japan national track 5000m title to Philes Ongori in June.
At the Kenyan trials for World Championships in Helsinki in July, Kabuu was 10th thus missing out on a place in the team. In August the same year, she made her debut in the Golden League in Brussels, where she was seventh in 5000m in 15:02.54. The following month she competed at the World Athletics Final, in Monaco, where she placed fifth in a season’s best time of 15:00.20 for 5000m.
2006 was Kabuu’s glory year as she won 10,000 metres gold at Commonwealth Games in Melbourne before clinching bronze at 5000m. At the longer distance, she outsprinted countrywoman and fellow Japan based athlete, Evelyn Wambui, to win in 31:29.66 on 21 March. Four days later, she clocked 15:00.20 for the 5000m.
Back in Japan, Kabuu dipped under 15 minutes (14:58.14) in 5000m at the Osaka GP in May and, in August, she made a return to the Van Damme Memorial in Brussels clocking a 5000m personal best of 14:56.09. At the World Athletics Final, in Stuttgart in September, Kabuu timed 8:56.41 for 10th in the women’s 3,000m.
The 2007 season was lean for Kabuu. She clocked 31:33.20 and 31:32.52 to win a couple of 10,000m races in Japan in April before running a season’s best in 5000m (14:57.55) on 3 June in Glasgow. Back home for the National Trials for the Osaka World Championships in July, Kabuu found the going tough, finishing a poor seventh in the 10,000m (33:24.8).
Downcast because of these results, Kabuu started giving serious thought to leaving Japan and training in Kenya instead. “Other athletes who I had competed against in 2005 and 2006 were improving and clocking better times but I felt I was regressing because competition in Japan was not as stiff as in Kenya,” she said.
In early 2008, Kabuu decided to leave Japan, pitching camp in Kaptagat, and the turnaround has been apparent. In April, she won the 10,000m at the trials for the African Championships. In Addis Ababa, she was the only one who kept up with the blistering pace set by the Ethiopians, finishing fourth in 33:52.11.
She then moved to the pre Olympics camp set by up Athletics Kenya before she chased Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba to a new 5000m World record at the Bislett Golden League meeting, in Oslo, setting her own personal best time of 14:33.49.
Come the national trials for the Olympics, Kabuu demonstrated her return to form with awesome running. Competing in the 10,000m on 4 July, she made her move with six laps to go, leaving everyone trailing to win by 60 metres in 32:18.47. Then, the following day, she lined up for the 5000m. She again made her move with four laps to go with only Priscah Cherono keeping up and, though Cherono beat her, her second place finish (15:35.09) earned her an automatic place in the 5000m team.
Kenyan officials, though, would have none of it, selecting Kabuu for the 10,000m and Vivian Cheruiyot instead at 5000m. “I wanted to double because even the Ethiopians double but AK refused,” Kabuu said. “But am ok with it.”
Then, at the Paris Golden League meeting, Kabuu gained a measure of revenge on Cherono, beating her by almost 100m as she won the 5000m in 14:38.47. So what has caused this sudden change of fortunes? “Its God and improving my training,” she says modestly.
5000m: 14:33.49 (2008)
10,000m: 31:05.90 (2004)
5,000m: 2001- 15:45.04, 2002-15:33.03, 2003-15:10.23, 2004-14:57.09, 2005-15:00.20, 2006-14:56.09, 2007-14:57.55, 2008-14:33.49
10,000m: 2002-32:45.70, 2003-31:06.20, 2004-31:05.90, 2005-31:22.37, 2006-31:29.66, 2007-31:32.52, 2008-32:18.6
2004 9th Olympic Games (10,000m)
2005 5th World Athletics Final (5000m)
2006 1st Commonwealth Games (10,000m)
2006 3rd Commonwealth Games (5000m)
2006 10th World Athletics Final (3000m)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008