Sammy Kitwara breaks the tape in 58:58 at Rotterdam (John de Pater) © Copyright
Sammy Kirop KITWARA, Kenya (10,000m, Half Marathon)
Born November 26, 1986, Sagat village, Marakwet District, Rift Valley Province, Kenya
Coach: Moses Kiptanui
Manager: Volker Wagner
Team: Kenya Police
Sammy Kitwara is outspoken, witty, eloquent (especially in his native dialect and Swahili, Kenya’s national language) and, above all, insatiably possessed with desire to serve his country as both police officer and athlete.
The 2009 World Half Marathon Championships, in Birmingham, belatedly marked his debut in his country’s colours, more than two years since a storming campaign at the Kenyan Cross Country Series, where four impressive victories out of six events elevated him to national fame in the run-up to the 2008 World Cross Country Championships, in Edinburgh.
However, his bid to deliver Kenya’s first World Half Marathon men’s individual gold since Paul Kirui in New Delhi 2004 did not materialise. Kitwara raced 61:59 for tenth having come to Birmingham as the number two (58:58) in the 2009 world list.
Following the Birmingham showing he described, “I do not know what happened when we started running. That was not the real Kitwara there. I hope I will get another chance to make it right.”
Kitwara returns to Nanning, China to join the field aiming to mow down Zersenay Tadese, the Eritrean World half record holder who has literary pocketed the World Half since the 2007 edition in Udine (then World Road Running Championships).
Kitwara comes to China ranked fourth in the 21km top list courtesy of his 59:34 year best performance at the Abu Dhabi half were he played bridesmaid to Ethiopia’s Tilahun Regasa (59:19) on January 7. It will be his latest attempt to medal for his country after missing the African Athletics Championships held in his home country at the back end of July.
He broke to Team Kenya’s rank last year at the back an acrimonious spat with Athletics Kenya (AK) that cost him a chance to compete at Berlin World Championships.
The drama began on June 28, when few people except his coach, three-time world 3000m Steeplechase champion Moses Kiptanui, and a handful of friends, expected Kitwara to grab his country’s coveted ticket for Berlin in the men’s 10,000m trials at Kenya’s notoriously competitive National Championships.
Facing a field that included deposed World 10km record holder and 2008 Olympic 10,000m bronze medal winner, Micah Kogo, Moses Masai (fourth in Beijing) and current all time 10km fastest runner Leonard Komon (2008 World Cross Country silver medal winner) Kitwara edged a thrilling four-way race for the line in 27:44.46. "I’m very happy. I have been struggling to make the Kenya team and I was not expecting to do that today,” Kitwara gasped to eager media as he basked in the limelight. “If it were not for my coach, I would not have made it."
Kitwara thought his moment had finally arrived, banishing disturbing memories of the previous year. On March 1 2008, Kitwara was widely tipped to make the national team for the World Cross in Edinburgh at the trials at Ngong Racecourse. However, his chance to wear the Kenyan strip for the first time ended in misery when he was not even among the top ten finishers in the 12km race.
Then, as a 21-year-old Police recruit, Kitwara had been the rave after winning four AK cross-country meetings in Nairobi, Machakos, Kisii and Meru. “So many managers came to me before that race seeking to know who I was,” Kitwara recalls. “After, only (Volker) Wagner came to me as I reflected on what I had done wrong since I believed I was going to make it. He told me I had run a good race and offered to sign me. That offer I could not refuse.
“Later on, the national coaches told me I had run too much on the demanding local circuit (high altitude) and burned myself out while chasing the winner’s jackpot. If I had an interest in travelling to Edinburgh, I should have run only two and conserved myself for the trials. That is what the big boys did.”
On July 4, Kitwara slumped to fifth (28:12.26) at the Olympic 10,000m selection event to see his Beijing Olympic dream die. However, it was not all gloom for Kitwara as he made significant waves on the international road running circuit shortly after he entered Wagner’s books that season.
He racked up seven victories in 2008 over 10km, 10,ooom, 20km and the Half Marathon. They included his year’s best Half Marathon (1:00:54, SB) in Rabat on April 20, preceded one week earlier by the Humarathon Half Marathon crown (1:01:14) on his debut over the distance. He also won the Paris 20km (57:42) on October 12.
At the beginning of 2009, Kitwara was overlooked for the World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan, after finishing seventh at the event’s trials. "After that disappointment, I retreated to serious training with my coach, Moses Kiptanui, to figure out how I could break into the team," Kitwara said. "We changed a few training methods and, most importantly, he encouraged me to have the mental strength to compete against the big names."
Kitwara prepared for the task of another crack at the national team by taking on Marathon World record holder Haile Gebrselassie over the Half Marathon distance on March 14 in The Hague. The Kenyan clocked a PB 59:47 at the City-Pier-City Half-Marathon, outkicking the Ethiopian legend (59:50). Two weeks earlier, he had set a course record and personal best 27:26 at the World’s Best 10km, in San Juan.
Kitwara continued his good run, setting a course best 33.31 at the ING Bay to Breakers 12km in San Francisco on May 17 before winning the Abraham Rosa International (10km) in 28:32 a fortnight later. After his epic battle at Nyayo during Kenya’s selection where he was confirmed to the Berlin bound team, Kitwara packed his bags to feature at Peachtree Road Race (July 4) where he carried his winning momentum in a personal best 27:22.
To his and an entire nation’s consternation, AK led by their chair, Isaiah Kiplagat, came out seething. Kitwara and Gideon Ngatuny, the athlete forced to accept runner-up spot at the 10,000m trial, were unceremoniously stripped of their places in the team as AK named Masai and Kogo instead. Ngatuny had run and won the Sapporo Half Marathon a day after Kitwara raced in Peachtree.
"We cannot have athletes selected in our team competing in races for only $2,000 in prize money when they can earn $100,000 from IAAF and Nike for winning at the World Championships," Kiplagat charged at the time. "They will not compete for us and action will also be taken against their agents, coaches and managers." Their managers, Wagner and Gianni Demadonna, were indefinitely suspended as Kenya athletes’ representatives before the decision was rescinded upon appeal.
“It was my first time in the Kenyan set-up and I was not made aware what I did was wrong,” Kitwara said. “I ran Peachtree sparingly since I did not want to burn myself out with the World Championships coming up. When AK decided to drop me from the team, I told myself, that’s okay and, when they called me to let me know I was in the World Half squad, I was delighted since I love my country. If I hated my country, I would have gone elsewhere after what happened but I decided to wait for my chance.”
Watching the 10,000m Berlin final on television “thinking what I would have done at each stage of the race,” Kitwara dusted of his disappointment to run in the Rotterdam Half Marathon on September 13, where he breezed to a 58:58 victory, his career best.
“I’m not saying I could have beaten (Kenenisa) Bekele in Berlin but I could have finished at least 20m or 50m maximum from him since I had trained hard to keep up with him ahead of World Championships,” Kitwara said in reference to the Ethiopian who recorded a 5,000/10,000m double in Berlin.
“Now, I want to face (three-times champion in succession) Zersenay Tadese. I saw him chase Bekele in Berlin (where he settled for silver) and know what to expect. I missed the opportunity to race Bekele but my time has come to meet another great champion.”
Kitwara was born into a subsistence farming family of six where he was the only male child. Four of his elder sisters are married with the athlete supporting the education of their younger sibling.
He attended Embomir Primary and Kerio Valley Secondary schools, where he cleared his O Levels in 2004. In school, Kitwara, who hails from an area known to breed steeplechasers, veered off common practice to try his athletics in the 10,000m. “I never went anywhere,” he said. “At most, I used to go to District level; there was nothing much in my early running. I chose 10,000m since I just happened to like it.”
On completing high school, Kitwara was called upon to aid in his family’s upkeep. With sturdy hands, he sought menial jobs as a farm hand armed with a hoe at surrounding plantations including their own piece. “In 2007, I saw I was not making any progress in life and my family needed assistance,” he said. “That is when I chose to try to see whether the running talent in me could come to help me. I travelled to Iten but no one took me in for training. It was then my uncle, Geoffrey Kipkeu, came to my rescue and gave me money to travel to Eldoret and housed me.”
After months in training, Kitwara made his first mark at the Tegla Loroupe Peace Races, running as a ‘warrior’ from one of war torn communities (Marakwet) that neighbour each other in Northern Rift Valley. Victories in the Turkwel and Kapenguria legs of those peace races set him on the path that will see him line up among top international Half Marathon runners in Nanning.
Earlier this year, during the Lisbon half on March 21 where Tadese set the World record (58:23), Kitwara (59:47) gained first-hand experience of how it feels to watch the back of the Eritrean in only his second race over 21km this year.
10,000m: 27:44.46 (2009)
10km: 27:22 (2009)
Half Marathon: 58:58 (2009)
10,000m/10km: 2007: 28:11.60/-; 2008: 28:18.2/27:44; 2009: 27:44.46/27:22; 2010: -/27:11
Half Marathon: 2008: 1:00.54; 2009: 58:58; 2010:59:34
2009 1st Kenya Championships (10,000m)
2009 1st Rotterdam Half Marathon
2010 2nd Lisbon Half Marathon
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2009-2010
- Sammy Kitwara breaks the tape in 58:58 at Rotterdam (John de Pater) © Copyright
- The men's podium in Nanning - silver medallist Zersenay Tadese (ERI), winner Wilson Kiprop (KEN) and bronze medallist Sammy Kitwara (KEN) (Getty Images) © Copyright
- Sammy Kiprop Kitwara wins in San Juan (Rafael Luna) © Copyright
- Sammy Kitwara prevails in The Hague at the City-Pier-City, 14 March 2009 (Jiro Mochizuki/Agence shot) © Copyright