Updated 13 July 2012
Silas KIPLAGAT, Kenya (1500m)
Born: 20 August, 1989, Siboh Village, Tot division Marakwet District, Rift Valley
Height: 1.70m (5’ 7”)
Coach: Moses Kiptanui
Manager: Gianni Demadonna
Few athletes if any have made a grander entrance into 1500 metres running than Silas Kiplagat.
Competing in his first ever track race outside Kenya in the three and three quarter laps race, Kiplagat clocked the tenth fastest performance of all-time (3:29.27) to win the 1500 metres race at the Monaco Diamond League meeting on 22 July 2010.
It was just not that he won, but the way he kicked for home with 250 metres to go, chasing Augustine Choge and Amine Laalou down the final straight to register the fastest time in the world in four years and improve his PB by five seconds.
But if the world of athletics was surprised, the confident young man wasn’t. Kenyan athletes are usually reserved but confidence radiates through the man.
“I knew I was in great shape and I knew I could run that fast,” he said after that race, “My coach was a three time World champion and I also train with athletes like Ezekiel Kemboi (World steeplechase champion) and Sammy Kitwara who have faith in me and as such give me confidence to believe in myself.”
The supreme self-belief has given rise one of the most intense rivalries witnessed on the track in recent times, pitting Kiplagat against Olympic and World champion, Asbel Kiprop in a bitter tussle over the mile king mantle.
While Kiplagat leads the career head-to-head stats 8-7 over all events and 6-5 in the 1500m, Kiprop has outsmarted his adversary when it matters, winning three major titles to the one Kiplagat holds, Commonwealth gold, a competition the lanky Beijing, Daegu and Nairobi African Championships gold winner declined to contest.
Their aggressive competition echoes the titanic metric mile contest between the English pair of Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett who dominated men’s 1500m running in the early 80s.
The third born in a family of six, Kiplagat was born in Siboh Village and went to Tot Primary school, where he completed his studies in 2003. The following year he joined Chebara High school for his secondary school education, graduating in 2007.
Incredibly, Kiplagat did not run at all when in high school. Instead, he was a keen football player, honing his skills as a striker with a soft spot for Leo Messi. “I loved football and would play as a forward. My favourite teams are Argentina and Manchester United.”
If anything, his life dream was to become a soldier. “I wanted to join the army and serve my country as a soldier but the opportunity did not happen,” he confided.
Upon completing his education, Kiplagat started training in the aftermath of the 2008 post election violence, inspired by close friend and neighbour Sammy Kitwara.
“Kitwara saw me training at home and took a liking to me, offering to take me with him to Eldoret where I would live with him as I continued training. He is my role model and I owe my career to him, because he brought me from nowhere to where I am now, believing in me when I was starting out.”
It was while training in the company of Kitwara that former three times World Steeplechase champion Moses Kiptanui, who coaches Kitwara, spotted Kiplagat training and advised him on which races to concentrate on.
“I wanted to run 10,000 metres and half marathon like Kitwara, and so was doing training suited to long distances, but Kiptanui told me that I should move to 1500 metres, pointing out that I had a lot of speed.”
Two months after Kiptanui’s advice and tutelage, Kiplagat made his debut, in April, on the local circuit at the Athletics Kenya meet in Kakamega in a time of 3:39.1. The following month he claimed his maiden win at the distance in Eldoret, winning in 3:45 to finish ahead of Nicholas Kemboi and Joseph Ebuya.
Bad luck then struck in the form of an ankle injury that would rule him out of the national championships. He soon resumed running, setting a PB of 28:00 in 10K in Tilburg, The Netherlands, in September.
A week later, he was in Rotterdam for the half marathon where he helped set the pace for his friend and mentor Kitwara, who went on to win in 58:58 – a new PB.
“That Kitwara ran 58:58 in Rotterdam and we were sleeping with him in the same room, eating the same food and training together was a huge motivation as he kept telling me that if he could do it why not me? It was great encouragement,” says Kiplagat.
Kiplagat started 2010 by running cross country on the advice of his coach.
“The coach had advised me to run in the cross country so as to build on my endurance by loading as much as I could, saying that it would help me later on in the season as I worked on my speed.”
A second place finish at the Prisons Championships and 17th position at the National Cross Country Championships on 20 February was followed by a tenth place finish at the “World’s Best” 10K race in Puerto Rico on 28 February.
Kiplagat made his comeback on the track on 20 March, winning the 1500 metres at the AK meet in Nyeri. He then came second in Nakuru (3:40.9) before winning the Prisons title at their championships in 3:41.1.
A second place finish behind Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop (3:34.28) at the national championships on 26 June saw him book a place in the African Athletics Championships squad.
It was also at the national championships that he met Gianni Demadonna, who promptly added him to his stable.
Having impressed on home soil, Demadonna sought to give him much needed experience of running in an international meet. “I was supposed to run in Tangiers, Morocco, before going to Monaco, but AK refused saying I should only run in Monaco.”
And so on he left for the Principality.” It would be my first 1500 metres in Europe and my concentration was on the race as I wanted to prove that I can do it.”
With Kemboi and Kitwara as training mates, advice was in plenty. “They told me that the track would be faster, that I would be able to run a good time, explaining what to expect and how to react to different situations.”
In the race, Kiplagat kept his cards close to his chest. “I was studying how the other athletes were running because they are more experienced while I was making my debut.”
And then with 250m to go, Kiplagat launched his attack, “My coach tells me that I should kick from 250 metres and when we reached that point, I made my move. I knew I would catch Choge because he was slowing down,” he adds with a smile.
But was he really expecting to run 3:29?
“I was not expecting it because my manager had told me that running under 3:32 would be fine but I promised him that I would do my best and keep up with the leaders.”
Now that he was in the top ten in the all-time best, Kiplagat planned to go one better.
“My running 3:29 tells me that I can run better and I want to try to run 3:26 in Brussels or Rieti. I know it’s possible, because even Bernard Lagat was telling me that I can make it, so I will definitely try and see if I can get close to the record.”
But before World record attempts, there was the small matter of the African title, where he was up against Asbel Kiprop who was the odds-on favourite.
“Saturday’s final will be like an Olympics final, but I believe in myself. Asbel is the favourite, but then again, everyone said he would win in Berlin but he didn’t, so it will be very tough and everyone will have a chance to win,” said Kiplagat before the Nairobi final.
But to his bitter discovery, the confident runner got a taste of how cruel championship running can be when his insistence on sticking to the inside lanes saw his route to the medal in the continental final blocked as he finished fourth in 3:36.74 (1 August).
“I ran very badly and I’m disappointed by not getting a medal. In future, I will not allow myself to be boxed in, I will seek to move into a good position and leave myself room as we come for the finish,” Kiplagat, with his pride wounded, said following that performance.
Still not recovered from the heartbreak, he placed sixth at his next Diamond League outing in London (3:52.32/14 August) but he quickly rediscovered the winning formula, recording back to back victories at the Berlin DL (3:30.61/22 August) and Villeneuve d'Ascq (3:35.50/24 August) events.
A second finish (3:31.97/29 August) in Rieti completed his DL campaign and he accepted the invitation to represent his country at the Delhi Commonwealth Games.
“I took it because I wanted a chance to correct what I did wrong in Nairobi. I really wanted to win for my country but now, here is another chance and this time, I will do all I can to bring this gold home,”
In the absence of Olympic champion Kiprop from the Delhi party, Kiplagat was the outright favourite and at the 12 October final he played the role to perfection, delivering his country’s first gold at the Club Games in the metric mile for 12 years.
But as cocky as ever, the freshly decorated champion expressed, “I’m not happy, winning in 3:41.78 is not good, the race was too slow! I wish Asbel was here, I needed someone to challenge me and make the pace fast!”
After he toned down, he added, “Well, but I’m happy I have brought this medal home, we had stayed for more than ten years and the wait is over.”
At the start of the 2011 season, Kiplagat was advised by his coach and mentor to skip the cross season and focus on track, with the World Championships the top aim.
He made his indoor running debut in Stuttgart, where he placed second at the Sparkassen Cup 3:37.32/5 February (PB) and ninth in Liévin (3:41.12) three days later.
Upon starting his 2011 DL with a second finish in Doha (3:32.15/6 May), the next string of results (4th Shanghai, 9th Hengelo) did not suggest the explosion of form Kiplagat would attain as the Daegu Worlds beckoned.
He bounced back to form by taking second place in the Mile in Eugene, Oregon (4 June) where he completed the race in a career best 3:34.50 in an event where 2008 African champion, Haron Keitany charged past Kiplagat in the homestretch for victory in 3:49.09.
Kiplagat was to respond in style at the Kenyan Trials for Daegu, when he handed Kiprop a first defeat at the Nyayo National Stadium in three years to book his place for Korea in 3:31.39 (16 July), a soil record performance that was the showing of the three-day meet.
With eight of the world top 30 lining-up for the start of the men’s 1500m final, Commonwealth champion, Kiplagat even had the luxury of monkeying with the opposition, where the showboat turned back to face his rivals and wagged his finger at them in a demonstration of ‘I’m the winner’ before closing the line to confirm it.
“I told you I was in good form. Now, it’s off to Monaco then return to train for Daegu. My aim is adding the World Championship gold to my Commonwealth title, but that is not for me to say whether it can happen. For now, I’m so happy,” the new Kenyan titleholder said.
Returning to Monaco, where he made his name, Kiplagat stormed to the 3:30.47 world lead (22 July) before collecting the DN Galan title, in Stockholm, (3:33.94/29 July) to send a clear signal to his rivals he was ready to go for glory in Korea.
“Just like I brought the Commonwealth title after so long, I believe I can win my country the first 1500m title. My aim is to follow my coach and win a world title; he won three, the first one would be okay for me,” he underlined his brief for Daegu.
Despite his new-found success, he is yet to meet the apple of his eye. “I’m still single but eventually I will find the one, for now, it’s all about the world title,” he remarked.
However, after qualifying for the final on second gear with third finishes in the heats and semis, Kiplagat had not reckoned on the pent-up hunger for gold in the lanky legs of Asbel Kiprop, who beat him into second place as Kenya completed a first Worlds 1-2 with the silver winner clocking 3:35.92.
“I do not know how he beat me. I was very ready for the race but in the end, I started kicking when he was already gone. Next year, I will take the Olympics title from him, this I promise,” Kiplagat charged as his compatriot lapped his victory.
He wound up his largely satisfactory campaign with a second finish at the Samsung Diamond League final in Zürich (3:33.56/8 September), losing the Diamond Trophy to the winner, Nixon Chepseba, before winning the Milan meeting in 3:33.28 (18 September).
At the turn of 2012, Kiplagat hit the indoor circuit with a win in New York (One Mile) on 28 January, where he raced 4:00.65, before stepping up the distance to 3,000m where he returned 7:41.02 for third in Boston (4 February).
Kiplagat then set a national indoor record over One Mile on 11 February, stopping the clock at 3:52.63 in Arizona, followed by a third finish in his speciality in Liévin, France on Valentine’s Day where he returned 3:35.26.
His fine start to the season prompted his inclusion in his country’s squad for the Istanbul World Indoors, where he will compete in the 1500 with team manager, Barnabas Korir, explaining, “Kiplagat is a fighter and you know he will deliver for the team.”
“I always go to an event to win and this time, that has not changed. My bigger goal is the Olympics but gold in Turkey will be a good start,” Kiplagat stressed.
But a slight ankle strain saw him struggle to finish fifth in his heat in Istanbul before returning 3:47.32 for sixth during the 10 March final.
“I felt it pull during one of the practise sessions and I decided not to apply a lot of pressure on my leg since I knew the bigger race was to come.”
Retreating to his training base without fuss, he returned to the track with vengeance when the outdoor season kicked off with the Doha Diamond League meet on 11 May, where the first instalment of Kiplagat vs. Kiprop in 2012 was served.
And what a huge helping of 1500m it turned out to be! Having dusted off the other contenders, including Diamond League winner Nixon Chepseba and two-time World Indoor 800m titleholder, Abubaker Kaki of Sudan, who stepped up the distance, the sworn adversaries staged one of the most thrilling of finishes.
Kiplagat laid the hammer down when he nosed in front as he crossed the 1200m mark in 2:50.40 as the meet best of 3:30.77 set by Daniel Kipchirchir Komen in 2005 who at that point had ceased being a factor looked set to be smashed.
Kiprop took the lead at the start of the home straight, but momentarily lost his balance after Kiplagat touched his heel and passed the Olympic champion.
Kiplagat brushed off the despairing finishing burst of Kiprop who nonetheless realised his dream of dipping under 3:30 when he stopped the clock in a personal best of 3:29.78 as the Commonwealth winner set the world leading 3:29.63, his second career sub 3:30 in a sparkling showdown.
The winner turned round to offer his greetings post race but the Daegu champion who was visibly angry begrudgingly accepted as yet another touch paper to their simmering battle was lit but to his credit, Kiprop downplayed the incident by brushing it off when prodded.
There was no dispute the next time the pair clashed in the One Mile race of the 2 June Prefontaine Classic, where Kiprop delivered a dominant 3:49.40 win as Kiplagat slumped to 13th (3:53.73) but having been separated in the semis for the Kenyan Olympic Trials, the Daegu bridesmaid repeated his triumph over his rival by winning in 3:37.6 as the Beijing winner stormed down the homestretch to dip in third (3:38.3) to barely hold on to his title defence.
“I’m not very happy about winning the Trials but I’m happy for qualifying for the Olympics,” the ever smug Kiplagat shrugged. “I won here last year and I went on to take silver but the most important thing is to work on my calculation that is what I lost in Daegu.”
“This race was not as tough as last year; people like Choge and Haron Keitany were not there so it was all about calculation and to make sure you have the position.
“It almost 100 percent that gold will come to Kenya but I don’t to who, we can win all the medals and improve on Daegu where we went 1-2. My concentration is to train for the Olympics, I will not work on speed and endurance, I will work on calculation, that is where he (Kiprop) has been beating me,” he bluntly stated in reference to his archenemy.
1500 metres: 3:29.27 (2010) / 3:35.26i (2012)
One Mile: 3:49.39 (2011)
3000m: 7:49.94 (2010)
10K: 28:00 (2009)
1500m – 2009-3:39.1; 2010-3:29.27; 2011- 3:30.47; 2012- 3:29.63
2010 4th African Championships (Nairobi) 3:36.74
2010 1st Commonwealth Games (Delhi) 3:41.78
2011 2nd World Championships (Daegu) 3:35.92
2012 6th World Indoor Championships (Istanbul) 3:47.42
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2010- 2012