Updated 22 March 2008
Margaret WANGARI Muriuki, Kenya (1,500m, cross country)
Born 21 March, 1986, Subukia, Nakuru
Height: 165 cm (5’5”); weight: 45kg
Manager: Bob Verbeeck
Team: Kenya Police
Monday 17 March 2008 will forever be etched on the mind of Margaret Wangari Muriuki. This was the day when the recently conscripted Kenya Police recruit made the national team and she will don the famous red, black and green strip for the first time at the World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh.
"As part of the team, I expect to perform well," Wangari remarked when her place as a surprise inclusion in the senior women's race squad was confirmed at Kigari Teachers Training College in Embu. The fact that she was chosen ahead of Vivian Cheruiyot , the world 5000m silver medallist and eighth place finisher in the Mombasa 2007 World Cross, was testament to the faith that the national team coaches have in her.
Wangari’s arduous road to Edinburgh started when she discovered that her legs could take her places as a pupil at Kagondo Primary School in Nyahururu. "I just found myself running and realised that I was rather good at it when I joined Kagondo for Standard Eight (last year of primary education)," she reminisced.
The fifth born in a family of nine, hailing from an area not known for producing runners, Wangari studied the first seven years of her formative education at Lari Primary. It was in her first year at Kagondo (she joined the Secondary School wing of the same institution in 2003) where she met Francis Kamau Mwaniki who runs Nyahururu's Mfae Athletics Club, famous for nurturing prodigious talent such as world junior 3000m champion Veronica Nyaruai.
As 2002 drew to a close, Wangari hit the national cross-country series trail, making her debut at the third meet in Nyahururu , finishing sixth in the junior 6km race. She did not pursue the championships any further and spent most of 2003 in school and training. However, towards the end of the year, she launched a serious attempt to qualify in the national junior team to run in the 2004 World Cross Country in Lausanne.
Wangari took the last podium place at the first national cross country series meet in Nairobi, in October. At the third meet in November, held at her Nyahururu training base, she was seventh before form deserted her when she made her National Cross Country Championships debut in February. Here, Wangari finished 27th and the then 18-year-old's bid to run for Kenya came to a shuddering halt.
Later in the year, Wangari resumed her cross country campaign, this time opting to try her luck in the senior 4km ranks. Competing in the first AK meet in Nairobi, she finished second to Mfae team mate Nancy Wambui.
Up next was the second meet in Machakos, where she was once again denied victory by Wambui. The in-form pair then chased each other to the tape at the third meeting, in Nyahururu, where once again Wangari had to play second fiddle to Wambui.
At the final series meet, in Eldoret, Wangari finished runner-up for the third time in succession, but on this occasion to another Mfae teammate and 2007 World Cross junior bronze medallist, Nyaruai in the 6km junior race.
With her robust form, after mixing it with the seniors in the national series, she enlisted for the junior 6km race at the National Cross Country Championships, held at Ngong Racecourse, with hopes high she would finally break into the national team. She staged a spirited run to finish seventh and was subsequently named in the provisional squad for the 2005 World Cross, in St-Etienne/St-Galmier, France.
"I accompanied the team to Kigari, Embu and after two weeks of training, I was not named to the final squad,” Wangari said. “It was very disappointing since I had worked so hard.” At the national track championships she ran 4:20.2 to finish sixth in the 1500m and, at the national trials for the World Championships in Helsinki, she clocked 4:25.17 for fifth as yet another shot at donning the Kenyan strip missed the target.
Wangari endured a very rough 2006 and, as her tribulations mounted, it became impossible to concentrate on her athletics progression, skipping almost the entire year. "I missed the cross country and track championships after my family found it difficult to raise my school fees,” she said. “I had to help in our shamba (subsistence farm) to make ends meet.” Sadly, Wangari dropped out of Kagondo in the second term of her third year and had to return home to be engaged in her family's only source of income.
Ever optimistic, Wangari returned to the national cross series circuit and marked her comeback at the fifth meet in Kisii in December, finishing a disappointing 18th. She had then switched clubs from Mfae to ESMI.
Wangari skipped the National Cross Country Championships, in Mombasa, but lined up at the trials in Nairobi, finishing 23rd. And her wish to feature in the 2007 Mombasa World Cross Country Championships was ended.
She turned her sights to the track season and, taking part in the National Championships, shortly after being recruited by Kenya Police, she placed third over 1500m (4:13.3) in championships that were used to selected the team for the All Africa Games, in Algiers. Initially, only the top two finishers in that race, Florence Kiplagat and Veronica Nyaruai, were given the nod by AK but the federation later included Wangari to hand her the Kenyan strip for the first time. But, in Algiers, she could finish only seventh (4:13.70)
"It was the first time to represent Kenya and I was overjoyed,” Wangari said. “I was spiked during the heats. I ran with a bandaged, painful leg in the final. I believe I could have done better but the experience left me very motivated.”
Two days after the team returned from Algiers, Wangari sought a place in the team for the World Championships, in Osaka, but finished third in the trials. "The time was outside the qualification bracket and I was not selected,” she said. “Algeria had drained so much from me and I had not fully recovered from the spiking. “
Wangari then joined the Kenya Police Training College, Kiganjo, to be formally enlisted into service as a constable officer, guaranteeing her employment. "I knew then that I had to have something to fall back on as back-up to my athletics career," said the runner who passed out (conscripted) as a constable on 25 March.
Stringent rules for Police recruits in Kiganjo could not allow Wangari to participate in the 2007-2008 national cross-country series that was suspended after the fifth meeting due to the eruption of post-election violence. She won the Kenya Police National Cross Country Championships 8km women's race to qualify for the trials cum championships, in Ngong, where she finished sixth.
After impressing coaches at the national team's camp in Kigari, Wangari realised her cherished dream to run for Kenya. "Cross-country running offers good build-up for the track season since one gains mileage and speed," she said, adding that she will feature in European GPs for the first time after Edinburgh as she seeks an Olympic qualifying time.
Wangari uses her earnings from the sport to "cultivate our farm and pay school fees for my brothers and sisters - my family depends on me." Her inspiration is world women's marathon champion Catherine Ndereba because "she is God fearing and runs well."
1500m: 4:13.3 (2007)
2005: 4:20.2; 2007: 4:13.3 (2007)
2005 – 7th, Kenya National Cross Country Championships
2005 – 5th Kenya Trials for World Championships, 1500m
2007 – 3rd, Kenya National Championships, 1500m
2007 – 7th, All Africa Games, 1500m
2007 – 3rd, Kenya Trials for World Championships, 1500m
2008 - 6th, Kenya Cross Country Trials
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008