Updated 16 August 2008
Luke KIBET, Kenya (Half Marathon/Marathon)
Born 12 April, 1983, Kaplelach Village, Moiben, Uasin Gishu District, Rift Valley Province
Manager: Volker Wagner
Camp: Kenya Prisons
Everything about Luke Kibet is extraordinary. Last year, he was the virtual unknown marathon runner who conquered the heat of Osaka to be crowned World champion. Now fate has once again conspired to give him a chance of becoming only the second man in history to hold the World and Olympic titles in the classic distance after the shock late withdrawal of Robert Cheruiyot from Kenya’s team to Beijing.
Ethiopian great Gezahegne Abera immortalised his name as the first man to achieve that ultimate distance double with gold in the 2000 Sydney Olympics (2:10.11) and at the 2001 Edmonton World Championships (2:12.42).
“I was not expecting to be given this chance,” a stunned Kibet told reporters at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on 16 August as he prepared to board his flight to Beijing. “I have been training for an attack on the World record in Berlin (September). I had refused to travel to Beijing as a reserve to concentrate on my mission. But the coach (David Letting) told me to follow him to Nairobi only to be told that I would compete in Beijing. I was shocked but am ready to do my best.”
That does not tell even half his story.
At last year’s World Championships, Kibet bridged a 20-year gap in becoming only the second Kenyan to win the men’s marathon after Douglas Wakiihuri’s triumph in the 1987 championships. However, had Corporal Kibet (Kenya Prisons Service) pursued his first love, he would never have become a World champion.
“I used to play football a lot,” Kibet reflected. “I was so much in love with the game but, unfortunately, football was taking me nowhere.” The father of two (one boy, one girl), who is happily married to Lydia Kibet, opted to pursue athletics after international runners who hailed from near his family’s home in Moiben urged him on.
“Later I took up athletics,” Kibet continued. “I was inspired by runners like Moses Tanui, Elijah Lagat and Josephat Kiprono.” The flames to engage in athletics were stoked further in the former Ndelebi Primary School pupil when he watched his compatriots in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics 3000m Steeplechase Final.
“When I saw Joseph Keter lead Moses Kiptanui to a 1-2 finish on television, I was overcome with joy and told my father that, one day, I would run like them,” Kibet said. Shortly afterwards, he began training in earnest and taking part in athletics competitions in primary school.
“I embraced the sport seriously in secondary school, where I took part in the 3000m Steeplechase, 10,000m and 5000m,” Kibet said. “I did not go far, only making the provincial championships,” the Moiben Secondary School (1997-2000) alumnus said. The following year, Kibet was employed as a Kenya Prisons officer and, in 2002, he passed out (conscripted into service) after which he began training to break into the national team as a steeplechaser.
The Prison warden could record only 35th place in 4km race at the 2003 National Cross-Country Championships in Nairobi, but in March, he first placed third (28.18) in the 10km in La Courneuve, France, then a week later he clocked 1:01.10 to finish fourth in his first international Half Marathon, at Den Haag, in Holland. That was followed by victory in the Hilversum 10km (28:50) in April and fifth in the Humarathon Half Marathon (1:02.09) in the outskirts of Paris at the end of the same month.
Kibet then returned to Kenya with the burning desire to make the national 3000m Steeplechase team for the 2003 World Championships in Paris but, at the trials for Paris and the All Africa Games, he finished a disappointing eighth (8:42.2). “Steeplechase proved to be too hard for me, so I took up longer distances so that I could try getting into the team,” Kibet said. “I switched to Half Marathon and realised that I could put good performances averaging 60, 61 or 62min.”
In October, Kibet registered third place at the Breda Half Marathon in Holland (1:02.09). He also took part in the Half Marathon at the first edition of Stanchart Nairobi International Marathon, where he finished 99th. “When the race started, some of competitors took off with the full marathoners due to confusion while the rest, like me got lost and by the time I got my bearings, the frontrunners had finished,” he recalled.
Kibet travelled abroad soon after to begin his 2004 campaign with a runner-up placing at the Ratingen 10km, in Germany, where he clocked 28:48. “Then I started pacing marathons,” Kibet said. “My first event was the Enschede Marathon, in Holland. I paced for 25km, felt strong then pushed it to 35km. And, since my legs could still carry me, I finished the race.” That was his debut Marathon in which he ran 2:11.13 to finish runner-up in the May event.
Kibet returned home in a bid to secure a place in Kenya’s team for the 2004 Athens Olympics. He finished second (8:25.4) at the Kenya Championships but failed to make the Athens team after finishing eighth (8:33.5) at the Kenya Olympic Trials in July. Kibet ran his second Marathon that year, finishing second to compatriot Boaz Kimaiyo in 2:11.27 at the Frankfurt Eurocity Marathon in October.
In 2005, Kibet focused more on the Half Marathon and Marathon as he embarked upon enhancing his reputation as a distance athlete.
On January 9, he came fourth at the Nike Egmond Aan Zee Half Marathon, clocking 1:04.12. In April he made his debut at the London Marathon, finishing 17th (2:16.40). A fortnight later, still in April, he finished second at the Nashville Country Marathon (2:16.04). “I contemplated quitting marathon running since I felt that the distance was too taxing for me and, for a while, I entered only in Half Marathons,” Kibet recalled.
In September, Kibet featured in the race in which his compatriot, Samuel Wanjiru, set a World record of 59:16 for the Half Marathon in Rotterdam. Kibet was fifth (1:00.59). Then, in October, he ran 2:08.52 to finish third at the Eindhoven Marathon, in Holland, a time which remains his personal best.
In 2006, Kibet was 14th in Rotterdam Marathon on 3 April (2:15.25) before tackling the Rotterdam Half Marathon, in September, in which he was fifth (1:00.43). A month latr, he placed third in the Eindhoven Marathon with a seasonal best of 2:10.06. Eighth in the Half Marathon at the Stanchart Nairobi International Marathon (1:02.42), he ended the year by winning Chinese Taipei Marathon (2:11.05) in December.
In 2007, Kibet rose to international acclaim. From relatively modest beginnings in March, as he finished 14th (1:02.51) in the Fortis Den Haag Half Marathon, a race in which Wanjiru set the present World Half Marathon record (58:33), Kibet won the Vienna Marathon in April (2:10.07) after which he was named in the national team for Osaka.
That was after all of Kenya’s top marathoners, busy in the lucrative World Marathon Majors campaign, opted to give the Osaka event a miss after being approached by Athletics Kenya (AK).
“I was very proud since I had tried all I could to make the team,” Kibet said. “I told friends that I would do my best and, if I missed out on the gold, I would help the squad to the team title. I am used to running in the heat and believe my performances in Taipei and Vienna Marathons persuaded AK to select me for Osaka.”
In August, with mercury recording 33 degrees with 81 per cent humidity at the end, Kibet, the second choice, delivered the most unlikely victory at the World Championships, commanding the field in 2:15.59 for gold.
He broke away from compatriot William Kiplagat and Kenyan born Qatari Mubarak Hassan Shami at the 32km mark to embark on a solo run for victory. But, instead of milking his glory by taking a lap of honour, Kibet hung on his shoulders a flag given him by jubilant AK and Government officials and waited at the finish line for his struggling compatriot, Kiplagat.
“I saw him in great difficulty in the last lap,” Kibet recalled. “We were talking and helping each other throughout the race, especially at water points. I stood at the finish and urged him to cross the line.” Kibet then untied his countryman’s shoes and called for medical help. Kibet’s triumph set the tone for Kenya’s best performance at the event which yielded four other gold medals, including the women’s Marathon title won by Catherine Ndereba.
The win saw the athlete, who hails from the same region as distance greats Noah Ngeny and Samson Kitur,treated to a lavish reception and awarded Sh500,000 ($7800) by President Mwai Kibaki for his achievement on returning home. Then, in October, Kibet clinched the BUPA 10 miles road race title in Portsmouth, England (47:31) to cap a memorable season.
Kibet was not spared in the post election clashes in Kenya, falling victim to armed youths twice in a month. The first time he was hit on the head suffering a concussion, while the second attack happened on his way to Nairobi.
“We were coming to (Kenya Prisons) training camp in Nairobi when we were attacked,” he recounted. “I drew my official gun that scared away the youths, who were armed with pangas (machetes). I cannot say that they were targeting me and it was just bad luck.”
In 2008, Kibet finished 11th (2:15.25) in London Marathon, in April, and was named as a reserve for Kenya’s marathon team for the Olympics. Rather than rely on the previous year’s glories, AK chose to select runners who had posted impressive results in the spring marathons and Kibet’s position in London was bettered by Martin Lel (winner), Wanjiru (runner-up) and Boston champion, Cheruiyot, who were named as automatic choices.
The ‘big boys’ had expressed willingness to eye the Olympic ticket unlike the previous year.
It was Cheruiyot who contributed immensely to Kibet’s latest chapter. On the day of departure (August 16) for Kenya’s men marathon team to Beijing, shocking news filtered through that Cheruiyot, a major hope for the podium, had voluntarily withdrawn from the Olympics after aggravating a left thigh injury the day before.
“I decided, for the sake of the country, not to compete, knowing too well that I would not make it,” Cheruiyot said. “Kibet is a good runner and I know he will have the quality to win.
Kibet said: “I am not thinking about being the second man to win World and Olympic titles but to work with my team mates to win the gold for Kenya. For now, the World record can wait, my country calls.”
After conquering hot conditions in Far East once after travelling as a second-choice runner, could lightening strike twice for Kibet, the reserve runner who now carries a nation’s hopes of a first men’s Olympic marathon gold medal?
10km: 28.03 (Rotterdam, 2006)
Half Marathon: 1:00:43 (Rotterdam, 2006)
Marathon: 2:08:52 (Eindhoven, 2005)
Half Marathon: 2003 - 1:02:09; 2005 - 1:00:59; 2006 - 1:00:43; 2007 - 1:02:51.
Marathon: 2004 - 2:11:13; 2005 - 2:08:52; 2006 - 2:10:06; 2007 2:10:07.
2004 2nd Enschede Marathon
2nd Frankfurt Marathon
2005 17th London Marathon
2nd Nashville Country Marathon
3rd Eindhoven Marathon
2006 14th Rotterdam Marathon
3rd Eindhoven Marathon
1st Chinese Taipei Marathon
2007 1st Vienna Marathon
1st World Championships (Marathon)
2008 11th London Marathon
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008