Created 21 July 2012
Sally Jepkosgei KIPYEGO, Kenya
(1500m, 3000m, Mile, 5000m, 10000m)
Born 19 December, 1985, Barsombe Village, Marakwet District
Height: 1.63m; Weight: 46kg
Camp: Oregon Track Club based in Eugene
Coach: Mark Rowland
Manager: Chris Lane/Total Sport
Married to Kevin Chelimo
Sally Kipyego, a track star and scholar rolled into one, has ascended to the top of the female distance running but she has not had her climb laid on a silver platter despite being born in the same household with two accomplished runners as brothers.
Elder siblings, Christopher (2:12:17) and Michael Kipyego (2:06:48) are established athletes and plying their trade as marathoners, so the last born in a family of seven (three brothers and four sisters) did not have to look far for inspiration to take up and excel in running as a profession.
But that is not Sally’s way of doing things since the record-setting college runner in the
The odds were stuck against her considering she hails from an area where female circumcision and cattle rustling are customary and when she was four years old, her father died, leaving her mother alone to raise the children.
The family was poor and her mother was often sick and upon turning 11, her brother's friend was injured in a bicycle accident. She ran almost nine kilometres to the nearest clinic but the doctor was drunk and kicked her out. The incident motivated her desire to become a nurse so she could help provide better healthcare.
“My mum raised us all. She is one incredible woman and I’m forever grateful for us. She never needed to say one word and you knew she believed in you. I love her and I’m so grateful for her since it was not easy.”
Her superb adaptation of the American accent is one of the obvious distinctions that set her apart from her peers, as she has studied, trained and lived in the United States for the better part of the last eight years.
Sally also graduated from the Texas Tech University with a nursing degree in another divergent trait from typical Kenyan female athletes, having taken her education as keenly as the quest for achievement in athletics.
For the past four years, Sally has been blissfully married to Kevin Chelimo, in a departure from the widespread practise of overseas based athletes tying nuptials with citizens of their adopted states.
She has also resisted the urge to take up the stars and stripes of her second nation to stick with the red, green and black of her country of birth, notwithstanding the yawning ten-year gap between her first and second appearances in the Kenyan team after a string of failed attempts that would have sapped even the most indefatigable of spirits.
“I’m running for Kenya now. Changing citizenship is very complex, very personal at times. It does not have to do with patriotism like many people think. If you got a better job outside Kenya for you and your family, like a lawyer for example getting a job in London, what would you do? Immigration has to be personal and different people choose it for different reasons,” the philosophical athlete posited on the subject.
Born in Marakwet, a hub for steeplechase runners, Sally – whose brother and big influence Michael is a former World Junior gold medallist (in 2002) and the 2008 African silver winner at the water and barriers race – was not interested in that event when her young legs started running as a pupil at Kaptung Primary School.
“It was just a normal afternoon run in primary school where every kid is supposed to run. We would get out at 4 o’clock and do a cross country for 20 or 30 minutes where I would be among the top five. Some girls were faster than me. I was in Standard 7 and 8 and at point, I didn’t really think I was that good but I had an older brother, Mike, who became really successful when he was young, represented the country when he was in Standard 8 and he was an inspiration,” she explained the Genesis of her athletics calling.
“When you are in the village and you don’t get the opportunities to travel even to Eldoret, it is encouraging for a young girl that I can maybe fly one day. Seeing my brother flying out of the country was a huge motivator and I thought okay, this is maybe one way of getting out and seeing the world. It encouraged me to open my eyes and see something greater than my immediate environment could offer.”
That was in 1999 and in 2000, she was invited by Boniface Tiren, a reputed distance running coach based in her Marakwet home area, to join his training camp.
Her progression shifted gears and in 2001 Sally made the Kenyan team for the World Cross in Oostende, Belgium where she went on to finish the junior race in eighth place.
However, having joined Moi Girls Kapcherop for her secondary education, her promising career was brutally cut short as she describes.
“I ran very well that year, but in 2002, I got injured, I had a stress fracture to my left tibia which I did not know. I stopped running completely for about three years and when I came back, it was after finishing high school in 2003.
“In 2004, I started to get back to running; I was doing 18:00 and 19:00 for 5000m and it was horrible. I was in really bad shape, healthy at that point, but I had lost all fitness; I had to start from the ground again,” she narrated.
Ever ambitious, Sally sought scholarship to the US to pursue further education as well as an athletics career and her prayers were answered when she was accepted by South Plains College in Levelland, Texas at the end of 2004 to be a Human Sciences major.
“I was fortunate to get the scholarship and in January 2005, I travelled to the US and I started running, I wasn’t running fast, I was running 17:00 for 5000m, it was nothing special, it just progressed one year after another and I was getting better every year,” Sally added perhaps in understatement for the resounding collegiate career she was to craft in America.
Three wins in three starts inside a month marked her freshman year in 2005.
In her sophomore 2006 Sally, who had transferred to Texas Tech University, having applied for and got a slot to start studying nursing, started making waves on the NCAA circuit by bagging her first national cross country title in November, the first Kenyan to achieve the feat.
A month later; she was voted the nation's top collegiate female cross country athlete, her efforts winning her the 2006-2007 (Cross Country) Honda Award given annually to the top women athletes in 12 NCAA-sanctioned sports. Competing for the Texas Tech team, Kipyego won all the six circuit XC races she competed in that season.
She was additionally named the Big 12 Women's Newcomer of the Year as well as the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Female Cross Country Athlete of the Year besides also excelling on the track with wins over 1500m and 5000m at the National Junior College Athletic Association Championships (JUCO).
Kipyego’s 2007 season was even more fruitful, as her winning range spanned from 1500m to 10,000m.
Sally won four NCAA titles namely; the 3000m (9:02.05) and 5000m (15:27.42) Indoor double in March as well as a maiden outdoor 10,000m title in 32:55.71 although the distance double attempt ended in a second finish (15:24.22) over 5000m in June before she successfully defended her national NCAA XC title in November.
Her achievements on the collegiate circuit earned her second consecutive Honda Award (2007-2008, Cross Country) and USTFCCCA Female Cross Country Athlete of the Year.
However, her effort to make the Kenyan team for the Osaka World Championships, where she opted to contest the 25-lap race, was snuffed by a ninth finish (34:40.2/15 June) in Nairobi.
Kipyego truly exploded on the American scene in 2008. She first confirmed her 5000m indoor title in March (15:31.91), then won her seventh national title at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 5000 m with a 15:15.08 meet record on 13 June before sealing a third successive NCAA Cross Country triumph on 1 November, as she became the first runner since the creation of the conference to win three consecutive conference titles.
Her dominance in US college athletics was total, earning her an unprecedented third Honda Award (2008-2009, Cross Country) and no less than USTFCCCA Female Athlete of the Year Awards as she trusted the titles for Cross Country, Indoor Track and Outdoor Track.
In 2009, Kipyego wrapped her trail-blazing college career by winning the 5000m national crown at the Indoor championships (15:51.14/13 March) that was a record-equalling ninth NCAA individual title.
Her dream to feature at the Berlin Worlds at the Kenyan Trials went up in smoke when she finished seventh (16:02.75/25 July) in the 5000m.
“By the end of 2009, I was in top 30 in the world and to a lot of people it does not mean a big deal but for me it was a huge thing. Knowing where I came from four year before, it was a huge step. After graduating, I had to make a choice between being a full-time nurse and a fulltime athlete. I was fortunate to get a contract from Nike and in my heart, I felt I had unfinished business in running and I felt I needed to give it a shot one more time,” Sally summed.
The next phase of her career saw her put nursing on hold and take a leap of faith where after doing some research, she decided to join the Oregon Track Club and their coach Mark Rowland, an Olympics bronze winner in the steeple at the 1988 Seoul Games.
“I knew nothing much about the coach, I talked to him on the phone and I knew nothing else other than he was a great athlete and coached a few people. I moved from Texas to Oregon which is far, I knew only about two people there. That is the best decision I ever made in my career because the places I have gone from there are amazing. I have taken huge steps and seen things that I never thought possible,” she highlights.
Sally credits her glittering NCAA career for providing the spark she needed to believe in her ability and inform her decision to launch a professional running career.
“In 2006, when I won the first title, that was the first step, the huge beginning for me because it started an amazing career. I did not think I was capable, but when I won the first title, it changed my mentality completely and I started going to every race to win. It was an honour to achieve what I did and at the end of my college career at Texas Tech, I had become the first person to win the Cross three times and I would not have traded that for anything since a lot of things happen behind the scene.”
By that time, Sally had already met and wed her soul mate, a fellow Texas Tech student, Kevin Chelimo. We met at the beginning of 2005 and at that time, we weren’t dating, we were just friends. We started dating at the middle of that year and eventually, the relationship took its course and when the time was right, we decided oh yeah! Let’s get married!” she added with a big chuckle.
Her pro career kicked-off in 2010 with eye-catching performances starting with a second place at the Boston Indoor Games with an indoor personal best of 14:52.67 over 5000m on 6 February, followed by a third finish at the Millrose Games mile (4:32.30).
She won her first outdoor 5000 m of the season at the Mt. SAC Relays and was in the top four of the event at the New York, Eugene and London legs of the 2010 IAAF Diamond League, before coming fifth in the final at the Memorial Van Damme with a new best of 14:38.64 on 27 August to wrap up her campaign.
Sally finally cracked the Kenyan team in 2011 when she earned the ticket to compete for her country for the first time in a decade at the Daegu World Championships. Having come to Kenya from her Oregon base a month prior to the selection event, she trained in Iten and on 15 July, her plan worked when she ran 31:57.8 to finish behind Vivian Cheruiyot in the 10,000m final to seal her place.
“I’m really thrilled, humbled and beyond everything, so excited because this has been a long journey and it finally happened, I finally made the team. This time, I came to Kenyan for a month since every time I came down her from the US, the altitude is too hard from me coming from sea level and that has made a huge difference today,” she flooded out in joy moments after the race.
Again, she followed Cheruiyot home in 30:50.04 for the second medal at the first track final of the Worlds on 27 August and it was hard to tell whom among the two Kenyan top girls was happier – the gold or silver winner.
“If there is anything that performance gave me it was the belief that I can compete and be among the best. It opened new doors for me, since I knew thereon; I could never fear going out to the track and doing my best, I should never fear any of the talented girls out there but to respect them,” the elated bridesmaid told. To get the silver was way out there for me. Even the announcer did not get my name right when I listened to the clip after the race. To go there as an underdog and return home second was confirmation I can be the best. Few apart from my husband, coach and friends believed I was in such good shape.”
Career bests in 10,000m (30:38.35/1 May) and 5000m (14:30.42/8 September) that were ranked first and third in the year lists were also accomplished in what ranks as her best period of her career thus far.
Her 2012 charge in the Olympics year saw Sally raise her bar when she qualified to double for her nation at the 30th edition in London 2012.
Six straight wins on the American indoor and outdoor circuit, as well as 3000m personal bests at both tracks,
of 8:47.91 indoors in January and 8:35.89 in June in Eugene placed her among rank favourites for a slot in the Kenyan Olympics squad.
A third finish in the 10,000m (32:26.82/15 June) saw her named in the 25-lap squad as Cheruiyot and African Cross winner, Joyce Chepkirui led her to the line.
“I only had little time to get used to the conditions having travelled to the States to fulfil my contract obligations with Nike and I hope to have a better run next week,” she explained as she disclosed for the first time her Olympics double aspirations.
‘Normal order’ was restored a week later (23 June) when she was led by the double Daegu champion to the finish in 16:09.29 to fulfil her dream of competing at the two distance events in London.
“The Olympics, when you go back to history, are tougher. I go back and like knowing my competitors and I watch tons of races and I have watched many finals in the 5000m and 10,000m and I have discovered from that research, the Olympics are a different game and to medal is much tougher. I achieved incredible things last year and this is the same calibre of women going to the Olympics or even better and anything can happen. Its athletics and people from out of nowhere can come; who expected Nancy Jebet Langat to win the Olympics? I cannot count somebody out, who expected I would get silver last year?” she stressed. I’m a dreamer, if you asked me two years ago if I was to go to the Olympics to do the double, I would have just smiled and remained optimistic, you never know,” Sally tells of her chances.
The Worlds silver medallist adores her mother as well as three-time World steeplechase champion Moses Kiptanui, whom she rates among her top role models in athletics. I got to hear the guy talk in 2001 and Kiptanui is smart, he is very serious, very focused and he is brilliant. The likes of Rose Cheruiyot and Sally Barsosio went to such heights and I had a newspaper with their pictures and I wanted to be like them.”
Her favourite food is Chapati and chicken stew and she is an avid lover of Kenyan gospel music and when training, the late King of Pop Michael Jackson keeps her going since “His beats pumps me up,” as well as Beyonce.
“I’m all about education, I love Oprah a lot and I’m an open minded person who is spiritual, not religious and when I come here, I buy gospel DVDs from artistes like Emmy Kosgei and Sarah Kimani. I’m involved with the Shoe 4 Africa and we are building a Sally Kipyego Shoe 4 Africa in my village and I would like to do more coming back and encouraging children to go to school. I like surrounding myself with visionaries.” She and her spouse are also engaged in a number of investment projects in Kenya.
1500m: 4:06.23 (2011)
One Mile: 4:29.64 (2009)
3000m: 8:35.89 (2012)
5000m: 14:30.02 (2011)
10,000m: 30:38.35 (2011)
5000m: 2005- 16:34.90; 2006- 16:13.39; 2007-15:19.72; 2008-15:11.88: 2009-15:09.03; 2010-14:38.64; 2011-14:30.42; 2012-14:43.11
10,000m: 2007-31:56.72; 2008 -; 31:25.45; 2009- 33:44.7A 2010- ; 2011-30:38.35; 2012-32:26.82A
2001 8th World Cross Country Championships (Junior race)
2006 1st NCAA Cross Country Championships
2007 1st NCAA Indoor Championships (3000m)
2007 1st NCAA Indoor Championships (5000m)
2007 2nd NCAA Championships (5000m)
2007 1st NCAA Championships (10,000m)
2007 1st NCAA Cross Country Championships
2008 1st NCAA Indoor Championships (5000m)
2008 1st NCAA Championships (5000m)
2008 2nd NCAA Championships (800m)
2008 1st NCAA Cross Country Championships
2009 1st NCAA Indoor Championships (5000m)
2009 2nd NCAA Indoor Championships (Mile)
2011 2nd World Championships in Athletics (10,000m)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2012