Updated 5 March 2008
Paul Kipsielei KOECH, Kenya (3000m, 3000m steeplechase)
Born 10 November 1981, Cheplanget, near Sotik, Buret Dist., Rift Valley Province, Kenya.
Farmer; grows tea and vegetables on a dozen acres near Sotik shared with brothers.
Married to Irene Koech. Three children.
Manager: Golazo Sports.
1.68m/ 57 kg. Native language: Kipsigis (Kalenjin). Youngest of eight sons. Parents, now deceased, were farmers. Several of seven older brothers were schoolboy athletes.
Completed Cheplanget Secondary School 1999.
Paul Kipsielei Koech began running in secondary school with modest success. After leaving school in 1999, he trained on his own before work on the farm. Showing some progress, he was encouraged - and materially supported - by his brothers, several of whom had been schoolboy athletes. They urged him to train with professional athletes in Ngong, near Nairobi, and pursue a professional career. “Perhaps they saw me as the last chance for someone from our family to become an international runner,” says Koech.
After a nearly a year training in Ngong, he did well enough in the 2001 National Cross Country Championships to attract an invitation from a running club in Sweden. Arrangements in Sweden, however, “did not work out how I wanted,” and Koech accepted an invitation from his friend Kipkirui Misoi (an 8:01.69 steeplechaser in 2001) to go to Germany and join a small group managed by James Templeton.
The new arrangement appeared to work well. In the span of a week in August and September, Koech notched three remarkable novice PBs: 3:38.87 for 1500 in Leverkusen, 7:42.14 for 3000 in Rieti and 8:15.92 for the steeplechase in Berlin. His new arrangement also had a built-in advantage: “I work very hard now that I am with Misoi as we are very competitive in training,” he said.
2002, Koech’s second season as a professional, saw him reach true world class in the steeplechase: 11 races on the European circuit, 10 under 8:20, three under 8:10, including a PB 8:05.44 for 3rd in the Zurich GL. His name began to appear in the Kenya press, causing confusion with Koech’s namesake, the two-time National Cross Country Champion and 1998 World Half Marathon Champion (and #5 All-Time at 10,000m). On several occasions Koech saw reports of his exploits accompanied by photos of the older man. He therefore took to including his birth name, Kipsielei, as a standard part of his moniker.
By the end of 2003, Paul Kipsielei Koech was the more prominent of the two: 12 major steeplechases, seven under 8:10 and one under 8:00. But in the most crucial race, Kenya’s World Championships trials, Koech slipped badly, finishing a distant 5th. Having missed selection for Paris, he came back to run 8:00.42 for 2nd (by 0.36 seconds) in Brussels and a 7:57.42 PB for 2nd in the World Athletics Final in Monaco. In both races he was edged by the world champion, Saif Saeed Shaheen of Qatar, the former Kenyan Stephen Cherono. They would not face each other again until after the Olympics, in part because Shaheen was forced to sit out three years of Olympic ineligibility following his switch of nationalities.
In 2004, during the build-up to the Olympics, Koech ran four races in Europe, all under 8:06, including a world-leading 7:59.65, but in the Kenya Olympic trials he faltered once again, finishing 11th and seemingly off the team. Kenya’s selectors, however, judged that Koech’s series of marks warranted a spot on the team, and Koech confirmed the correctness of their decision with big wins in the Rome GL (7:59.65) and Stockholm Super GP (8:03.10).
In Athens, concerns about Koech’s ability to perform under pressure disappeared in an easy Kenyan sweep of the medals. Koech wound up with bronze (8:06.64). Ten days later, in Brussels, he finished a distant 2nd (8:02.07) to Shaheen’s world record (7:53.63), but defeated the former record holder, Brahim Boulami, just back from a two-year doping ban. Shaheen won again at the World Athletics Final in Monaco, with Koech edged for second (8:03.21) by Kemboi.
In 2005 Koech repeated a familiar pattern – a couple of solid early-season steeplechase performances (2nd in Hengelo, 1st in Seville) followed by misfortune at the Kenya trials, this time for the World Championships in Helsinki. Koech finished 5th, but once again was named to the team by selectors, who went with the same steeplechase squad that had swept the medals in Athens (Kemboi, Koech and Brimin Kipruto). Koech again validated his selection with impressive performances in Rome (7:56.37 PB, 2nd behind Shaheen) and Stockholm (1st in 8:08.56), but this time he could do no better than 7th (8:19.14) in the big meet final. He bounced back ten days later with 3rd in Zurich (8:11.79), and then a win in the World Athletics Final (8:07.91).
2006 was a year of oddly mixed fortunes. Koech won five of his seven races, including the African Championships (8:11.03) and the World Athletics Final (8:01.37) and finished 2nd to Shaheen in the World Cup. But his grand prix season was cut short by a dispute with his manager, with the result that he competed in only four GP races, winning three.
With Shaheen injured for the whole of 2007, Koech emerged as the world’s top-ranked steeplechaser in spite of his missing the biggest race of the year, the World Championships, in Osaka. Once again he seemed jinxed at the Kenyan trials, this time failing to finish and not being selected for the team (Kenya swept the medals without him). But otherwise his season was nearly perfect, winning six of the seven GP steeplechases he ran, plus the World Athletics Final, and recording the season’s top four marks, with a best of 7:58.80 in Brussels.
2008 is only Koech’s second season of indoor competition. He ran a 3000m in Birmingham in 2007 and recorded a PB 7:33.46, better than his outdoor best. This year he has run two races in preparation for the World Indoor Championships, in Valencia, a 7:36.24 3000m in Stockholm, in which he finished 2nd to Bernard Lagat, and an 8:06.48 two miles in Birmingham, in which he finished 2nd to Kenenisa Bekele’s new world record (8:04.35). Koech pushed the Ethiopian through the bell and notched a Kenyan record and the third fastest indoor two mile in history. He seems more than ready for Valencia.
1500m: 3:37.92 (2007)
3000m: 7:33.46i (2008)
3000m Steeplechase: 7:56.37 (2005)
2 Miles 8:06.48i (2008).
5000m 13:11.26 (2005)
3000m/3000m St: 2001 – 7:42.14 /8:15.92; 2002 – --/8:05.44; 2003 – 7:38.48 /7:57.42; 2004 – 7:39.40 /7:59.65; 2005 – 7:33.93 /7:56.37; 2006 - --/7:59.94; 2007 – 7:33.46i /7:58.80; 2008 – 7:33.46i.
2003 2nd World Athletics Final
2004 3rd Olympic Games
2004 2nd World Athletics Final
2005 7th World Championships
2005 1st World Athletics Final
2006 1st World Athletics Final
2006 2nd World Cup
2007 1st World Athletics Final
Prepared by John Manners for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008