Updated 13 July 2012
Milcah CHEMOS Cheywa, Kenya (3000m Steeplechase)
Born: 24 February, 1986, Bugaa Village, Mt. Elgon District, Rift Valley
Coach: Self and Alex Sang (husband)
Manager: Marc Corjstens (Golazo Sports)
Team: Kenya Police
Since becoming only the third Kenyan woman to medal in the 3000m Steeplechase, after winning bronze at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Milcah (also written as Milka) Chemos has worked her way up forging a reputation as Kenya’s finest female steeplechaser.
Unbeaten in 2012, the athlete, who needs the slightest provocation to break into a warm smile, carries the country’s hopes of winning a first Olympic gold medal in the water and barriers race for women.
Though Kenyan men enjoy a stranglehold on the Steeplechase, the women have struggled to match their exploits in the event though Chemos has certainly done her bit to rectify that in the past few years.
Remarkably, Chemos would still be nonchalantly serving as a Constable at Kenya Police College (KPC), Kiganjo, had her husband Alex Sang, not urged her to run. The well-spoken, petite 26-year-old took up Steeplechase running only in March 2009. Barely four months later, she not only qualified for the Berlin World Championships, at the Kenyan Trials, but in doing so managed to finish ahead of World Junior record holder Ruth Bosibori.
It does not end there. In just under three and a half years, Chemos is an African, Commonwealth and Diamond League titleholder as well as being ranked fourth on the All-time list thanks to the 9:07.14 she clocked in Oslo in June this year as she set a new African, Kenyan and Personal Best.
Chemos, attended Matumbei (Standard 1 to 7) and St Phillips (Standard 8) primary schools after her family relocated from Bugaa village to settle in Kitale, where her subsistence farmer parents live. “When we were at Kiganjo College, Alex (800m PB of 1:46.13 in 2010), whom I had just met, kept on looking at me and telling me: ‘You have a body of a runner, why don’t you try it’?” she disclosed. Thus the seeds of a new athletics career were sown in 2005 as a Kenya Police recruit.
“They came round the college asking for anyone interested in competing for them and I decided to give it a try, first as a joke, but then I noticed I could beat others and that’s when I saw I had a future in running,” she said. However, after being conscripted and posted to Makueni, in the Eastern part of the country in 2006, she stopped running and married Sang. The following year, the newlyweds were blessed with a daughter, Lavine Jemutai.
“After recovering from maternity, I began training seriously in 2008, urged on by my husband,” Chemos said. “At first, I chose to compete in 800m and 1500m. This is after I was transferred to Kenya Police College to work alongside (Olympic bronze winner) Richard Mateelong.” Chemos made her competitive debut over 800m at an Athletics Kenya (AK) weekend meeting in Nakuru, taking second place (2:11.12) before clocking 2:07.8 at the Kenya National Championships in winning her heat. Chemos finished fourth (2:08.33) in the final a day later. At the Beijing Olympics Trials, the nascent athlete clocked 2:09.59 for seventh place, a performance that did not merit consideration for China.
“I decided to switch to Steeplechase this year (2009) after realising I could not make good times to be competitive in 800m and 1500m,” Chemos explained. She started her season with a victory over 800m (2:11.9) at the third New KCC/AK Weekend Meeting in Nyeri. At the next event in the local series, in Kakamega, Chemos clocked 9:54.4 for a win on her Steeplechase debut before finishing third in Nijmegen (9:54.32) in her second competition in the discipline and her first European outing facilitated by Golazo Sports, the management agency with whom she has signed.
Next, in Rehlingen, Germany, Chemos recorded 9:42.90 for fifth place before featuring in a 1500m race at the Chabab Hassani International Meeting, in Casablanca, where she registered 4:15.38 for fifth. An effort of 9:41.00 was enough for silver at the Kenya Championships followed by a foray into 3000m running in Tangier, Morocco, where she finished second in 8:52.57.
Chemos then made a mark with a personal best performance of 9:22.33 in her adopted speciality at the KBC Night of Athletics, in Heusden, Belgium, where Morocco’s Hanane Ouhaddou (9:22.12) and Ethiopia’s Sofia Assefa (9:22.23) beat her to the finish. In only the sixth race of her career, Chemos’ 9:22.33 ranked her as the seventh quickest athlete (at August 4) of 2009.
A week later, Chemos (9:35.94) was bettered only by another surprise offering, Gladys Kipkemboi (9:32.62) in the race for the Kenyan World Championship tickets. Bosibori (10:08.33) was fourth.
“Running is my talent and, when I made the team, it was very rewarding for me,” Chemos said. “I’m going for a medal and winning one would be great motivation to me. I’m still new in the sport, and I’m yet to meet the Russians, but I don’t fear them,” she said in reference to World Record holder and Olympic champion, Gulnara Galkina and World champion, Yekaterina Volkova.
In Berlin she lived up to her promise by finishing fourth in her heat (9:23.87) to make the final. In the final, the fearless athlete worked her way into reckoning with an impressive run to win bronze in a time of 9:08.57.
Having tasted success, Chemos set a new personal best in 3000m flat in Zagreb clocking 8:43.92.
She then finished second in the 3000m Steeplechase in Rieti (9:21.81) before capping off an impressive debut season with a second place finish at the World Athletics Final in Greece in 9:20.19 behind Bosibori.
Chemos capped her breakthrough year with three cross country races in Europe, finishing second in Llodio and Alcobendas.
At the beginning of 2010, she contested two more cross events before exploding in the steeplechase when the track season got off, winning eight out of 12 races she started and on the four occasions she did not triumph, she finished second.
She made her track debut in at the Diamond league meet in Shanghai finishing second 9:20.63 in May, then recorded a four-race winning streak starting with a 9:12.66 win in Oslo and six days later, ran her seasonal best with 9:11.71 at the Golden Gala in Rome.
Chemos then sauntered to a win at the national trials for African Athletics Championships in a time of 9:34.28 and followed it up with yet another Diamond League win at the Prefontaine Classic in 9:26.70. She then rounded her AAC preparations with a seasonal best time of 8:54.04 in 3000 metres flat in Lausanne.
At the continental championships held in Nairobi, Chemos was roared on by a capacity crowd that filled Nyayo National stadium and she did not disappoint, winning in a time of 9:32.18
Having wrapped up her first major crown, Chemos set her sights on etching her name in the newly introduced Diamond League. A second place placing at the DN Galan meet in Stockholm (9:19.32) was followed by a win in London (9:22.49).
Though she could only manage a second place finish the grand finale ran in Zürich, Chemos had done enough to earn her Diamond trophy.
Silver at the IAAF Continental Cup in Split (9:25.84) halted her winning momentum, but at the Commonwealth Games, in Delhi a month later, ‘normal service’ was resumed when she pipped teammate, Mercy Njoroge to the top medal in 9:40.96. With Gladys Jerotich Kipkemboi coming home for bronze, Kenya recorded her first podium sweep in the women’s equivalent of the event fondly known as ‘Kenya’s Race.’
So good were her performances that she was among the five women athletes voted as finalists for the 2010 IAF Woman Athlete of The Year.
Chemos picked up from where she left in 2011 where once again, two cross country races in Spain (San Sebastian and Caceres) set her on her way.
By early August she had strung seven victories in an equal number of starts and was only awaiting official confirmation to be declared the winner of the Diamond Trophy for the second successive season with five out of five victories.
Her winning streak in the elite Samsung Diamond League circuit read: Doha (9:16.44), Rome (9:12.89), New York,(9:27.29), Lausanne (9:19.87) and London (9:22.80).
On the domestic front, Chemos was obliged to contest for a place in the Kenyan line-up for the Daegu World Championships at the National Championships and in a demonstration that her race is attracting more competitors, the women’s 3000m Steeple had semi-finals for the first time.
She duly won her semi in 9:46.0 before lining up for the final two days later, where silver placer from Delhi Mercy Njoroge and African Championships bronze Lydia Rotich took it out on the Nyayo National Stadium track. At the bell, Rotich was the closest to the leader with Njoroge a few paces behind. Sensing an upset, Rotich nosed ahead just before the final water jump but as they came to the homestretch, Chemos pulled level before surging for the last hurdle and easing to a 9:32.0 victory.
“I cannot say that I am the favourite since I do not know where the Russians have been this season and Ethiopians are getting stronger but I will focus on maintaining my shape for Daegu. Winning the World Championship gold would be a dream, it would make me so excited,” she said after sealing her place.
She then checked her shape in London, where she out-duelled Ethiopia’s Hiwot Ayalew in yet another demonstration of her dogged will to win.
Chemos was the favourite in Daegu, having gone through the entire track season unbeaten, but the championships seemed to take a toll on her and in the final, she could only manage bronze in 9:17:16 behind Yulia Zaripova and surprising Tunisia Habiba Ghribi. It was the second bronze at the Worlds for the mother of one.
A few weeks later, she sealed a second Diamond League Race win despite finishing fifth at the Diamond League final in Brussels in 9:21:41.
Chemos started 2012 with her usual cross country run, finishing second in a 7km race in San Sebastian in January. A 4:20.0h in 1500 metres in Nakuru in March was followed by a win at the Shanghai leg of the Diamond League (9:15:81) in May.
In early June, Chemos won in Eugene (9:13:69) and then a week later, she wrote her name in the record books as she tore the field to set a new PB and African record of 9:07:14 in Oslo.
Clearly in the form of her life, she breezed through Kenya’s Olympic trials to book a ticket for the Olympic Games in London, where history awaits should she go all the way and win gold bettering Eunice Jepkorir’s silver in Beijing four years ago.
“My aim in the sport is to become famous,” Chemos says. “I know I will make money if I continue performing well but I will not go to buy big cars or expensive clothing. I intend to use all my earning to improve the lives of my parents and invest in real estate. Growing up in a big family with parents who relied on farming was not a charming life. It was difficult, especially when three of us were in secondary school, and anything I can do to make my family’s life easier through the sport will be my aim.”
An alumnus of St Claire’s Girls High School in Maragori, Western Kenya, Chemos helped her seniors cultivate their maize and onion farm for one and a half years after clearing her O-Level education in 2003 before joining Kenya Police College in Kiganjo.
Her daughter Lavine remains her inspiration. “She is always telling me, mummy, mummy, I want you to win and when I return after winning, she is so happy. One of the best moments was when she appeared with the dad after I won in Nairobi at the mixed zone, I was not expecting that and had to carry her as I did the interviews,” Chemos gushed.
3000m: 8:43.92 (2009)
3000m Steeplechase: 9:07.14 AR (2012)
3000m Steeplechase: 2009: 9:08.57; 2010- 9:11.71; 2011-9:12.89; 2012- 9:07:14 AR
2008 4th Kenya National Championships, Nairobi (800m) 2:08.33A
2008 7th Kenya Olympic Trials, Nairobi (800m) 2:09.59A
2009 2nd Kenya National Championships, Nairobi (3000m SC) 9:41.00A
2009 2nd Kenya World Championships Trials, Nairobi (3000m SC) 9:35.94A
2009 3rd World Championships, Berlin (3000m SC) 9:08.57
2009 2nd World Athletics Final, Thessaloniki (3000m SC) 9:20.19
2010 1st Kenya National Championships Nairobi (3000m SC) 9:34.28A
2010 1st African Athletics Championship Nairobi (3000m SC) 9:32.18A
2010 2nd Continental Cup, Split (3000m SC) 9:25.84
2010 1st Commonwealth Games, Delhi (3000m SC) 9:40.96
2010 1st Diamond League Race (3000m SC)
2011 1st Kenya National Championships, Nairobi (3000m SC) 9:32.0hA
2011 3rd World Championships, Daegu (3000m SC) 9:17.16
2011 1st Diamond League Race (3000m SC)
2012 1st Kenya Olympic Trials, Nairobi (3000m SC) 8:32.75A
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2009-2012