Updated 22 March 2008
Mercy Chelimo KOSGEI, Kenya (1500m, cross country)
Born 10 October, 1989, Moiben, Uasin Gishu District
Height: 165 cm (5'5''); weight: 43kg
Coach: Brother Colm O'Connell/ Kipchumba Beron
Renowned Irish coach, Brother Colm O'Connell, who came to Kenya as a teacher at St Patrick's High School, Iten, has unearthed yet another young gem in the softly- spoken Mercy Chelimo Kosgei. In three years as a junior athlete, Kosgei has filled her family's home mantelpiece with one gold and three silver medals from the track in addition to a World Cross Country Championships silver and bronze.
The third born in a family of seven, whose parents are peasant farmers, the former Sosito Primary School student is determined to end her junior international career on a high in 2008, with medals at Edinburgh World Cross as well as at the World Junior Championships, in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
Kosgei’s quest for international honours started in 2003 as a standard seven pupil at Sosito, having repeated the same class that year, but she could only make the provincials. "I had not trained well for the Kenyan team but going as far as the provincials gave me confidence to continue training hard," the 18-year-old recounted.
A similar fate befell the then standard eight pupil the following year but, after joining Sing'ore Girls' High School in 2005, Mercy's star began to steadily rise.
The then form one student began the year by finishing 16th at the sixth cross-country series meet while running as an individual in the 6km race. The performance ruled her out of participating in the National Cross Country Championships, ending her chances of participating in the World Cross in St-Etienne/St-Galmier, France.
Undaunted, Mercy turned her gaze on the Africa Youth Championships, in Rades Tunisia. She clocked 4:26.5 at the National Youth Trials for the event to finish the 1500m in sixth place. That was not enough to secure her a berth and Kosgei decided to look to the National Championships where, mixing with seniors for the first time, she finished fifth (4:19.0).
Kosgei was listed among the competitors at the National Trials for the World Championships, in Helsinki, but she did not start the 1500m race with her place in the national youth team assured.
At the Africa Youth event in Rades, Kosgei won silver in 3,000m steeplechase to earn her first medal for Kenya and then placed fourth in 1500m. Satisfied with her achievement, she returned to complete her first year at Sing’ore but carried on training. "I was very happy since it made me more experienced and motivated my interests in athletics further," she said.
Academic commitments saw her skip the National Cross Country series but, hoping to feature at the World Cross Country Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, the diminutive athlete lined up at the IAAF Permit/AK National Cross Country Championships where she ran the junior race to finish just outside the podium behind Veronica Nyaruai, Pauline Korikwiang and Pamela Lisoreng.
At the National Trials, and running under the North Rift banner, Kosgei finished third behind the in-form Nyaruai and Korikwiang but above Lisoreng to make the national team. In Fukuoka, Kosgei took the junior bronze behind Korikwiang and Nyaruai and Kenya won the team title.
After returning to school, Kosgei joined the Iten's Kiptenden Training Camp in November where she linked up with her coaches to prepare for a shot at making the 2007 World Cross junior women's team. She displayed terrific form at the Tusker National Cross Country series, with three victories in the junior race.
She warmed up for the national events by taking on the seniors at the last meet in Eldoret, where she ran the 8km race in 27:22.0 on January 13.
Kosgei skipped the National Championships, in Mombasa, but lined up at the trials, taking runner-up position behind hot favourite Korikwiang to confirm her place in the national squad. At the World Cross, enthusiastic home supporters roared when the junior women's race runners lined up for the first event of the day. However, with the thermometer hitting a punishing 35 degrees C, and thanks to bedlam in the lap counting, the 6km race served high drama.
Most of the juniors could not take the searing conditions, as they dropped like flies and, to exacerbate matters, the timekeeper rang the bell a lap too early, causing the leading pack including Korikwiang and Ethiopian runners to engage a spirited kick. The sharp Kosgei and team mate Nyaruai realised the blunder and were soon urging their compatriots to resist the breakaway.
"Veronica and I noticed we had only done 13 minutes and I told her that we had not finished, she signalled to Linet (Masai) who had joined us," Kosgei said. Korikwiang sprinted all the way and raised her arms in victory at the end of the lap only to realise it was all in vain. Deflated, she soon fainted, her title defence ruined.
That allowed Masai (20:52), whose finishing kick in the last 400m edged out her compatriots, to take gold with Kosgei settling for silver. She would have run the winner close but, upon realising that Nyaruai was struggling with stitch, she elected to rally her to the tape to secure the medal sweep. It was only after she was sure that her stricken team mate would clinch bronze that she ran for silver.
"The heat made the event very difficult but the will to win at home and make our country proud motivated us," Kosgei recalled. On her exemplary team ethic that helped Kenya to bag the overall title, she noted: "Team work and unity saw us through and we had to work for each other. The heat affected us but I think it affected runners from other countries more."
With places in the national teams to Osaka World Championships, All Africa Games in Algiers and Africa Junior Championships in Ouagadougou up for grabs, Kosgei launched another bid to wear the red, black and green Kenyan strip on the track.
Taking a break from school, the then form three student at Sing’ore stepped up for the National Championships where, against senior runners in the 1500m, she recorded 4:15.0 to finish just off the podium. However, she missed the Algiers ticket with Florence Kiplagat (4:09.0) and Nyaruai (4:12.4) and selected.
Come the National track trials, Kosgei ran 4:21.90 to miss out on the Osaka-bound team. But Athletics Kenya selected her to run for the country in Ouagadougou for her efforts. In living up to her championship form, Kosgei ran 4:21.41 to claim 1500m silver. She then displayed her versatility by teaming up with Pamela Chelimo, Fiona Sang and Lydia Wafula to clinch gold in the 4x400m.
"I am a 1500m runner and we sprint in the last 400m,” she said. “When coaches asked who would help our relay team when we were in camp in Nairobi, I volunteered." She went back to her studies thereafter.
As post election chaos wreaked havoc on many athletes' programmes, Kosgei did not feature in the National Cross Country series programme that was shortened to only five meetings. At the 2008 National Trials cum Championships in Ngong for the World Cross in Edinburgh, Kosgei was among the 40 athletes given a wildcard entry.
She started the race well but disaster struck. In the second lap, another competitor spiked her and after braving the pain for several hundred metres, the forlorn figure of the reigning silver world junior medallist was spotted retiring from the race. "What happened to her was unfortunate and Athletics Kenya should consider giving her the wildcard for the provisional squad," Brother Colm said.
His wish was promptly granted after it was considered that all top six finishers who were earmarked for the provisional squad had no experience at the world event. In the team's training camp in Kigari, Embu (167km from Nairobi) her coaches were impressed after viewing signs of her championship form returning and Kosgei was named in the final squad. "My hopes are to do well in Edinburgh and win gold in my last year as a junior," Kosgei said.
And what does she do with her earnings from the sport. "I help my parents and educate my brothers and sisters," she said. The athlete who was inspired by Rita Jeptoo, says that younger sister Winnie Chemeli (Std 4) is the only sibling following in her footsteps.
Kosgei aspires to feature on the international scene for as long as her idols - world marathon champion Catherine Ndereba and former marathon world record holder Paul Tergat. She has sights on securing sponsorship to study further when her time at Sing'ore ends later this year.
1500m: 4:11.7 (2006)
3000m Steeplechase: 10:09.78 (2005)
1500m: 2005 - 4:19.0; 2006 - 4:11.7, 2007 - 4:15.0.
2005 2nd, African Junior Championships, 3000m Steeplechase
2005 4th, African Junior Championships, 1500m
2006 3rd, World Cross Country Championships (junior)
2006 2nd, World Junior Championships, 1500m
2007 2nd, World Cross Country Championships (junior)
2007 2nd, Africa Youth Championships, 1500m
2007 1st, Africa Youth Championships, 4x400m
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008