Updated 3 March 2008
Suleiman Kipses SIMOTWO, Kenya (1500m, 3000, 800)
Born 21 April, 1980; Kaptama division, Mount Elgon District
Camp: Kenya Police
Occupation: Police Constable
The last born in a family of six, Suleiman Simotwo was born in Kaptama division, in the Mount Elgon District of Kenya's Rift Valley Province, and is the quintessential Kenyan journeyman athlete. Simotwo, which means 'born under a Simatwet tree' in his local dialect, has travelled far and wide but he has yet to represent his country in seven years of activity.
Now, though, he will don the famous green, black and red Kenyan vest for the first time at the 2008 World Indoor Championships, in Valencia, six years after his maiden attempt to run for his country.
Simotwo joined Kongit Primary School in 1986 for his formative education and began running in 1994, then as a class seven pupil. "I was not serious and did it for fun, competing in 400 and 800 metres," he said. The following year, Simotwo started featuring in the 800m and 1500m while in his final year at Kongit before joining Kapsakwon Secondary School for his O-Level education.
"I continued running but was still not very serious about it, though I made it to national school events every now and then,” Simotwo said. “I would take part in relays at times." The only athlete in his family, Simotwo cleared secondary school education in December 1999 after his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations but was to remain inactive for the next year.
"I had a bad year in 2000 since I could not make it to run anywhere since I had no sponsor and had to remain at home," Simotwo recollected. A close friend, veteran 400m multiple national champion Ezra Sambu, changed Simotwo's destiny when he inspired the 20-year-old to join Kenya Police.
He was recruited at the Kiganjo Police Training College in 2001 and, then an instructor at the institution, Sambu mentored Simotwo to develop as an athlete. "Edith Masai and Shem Kororia inspired me to run,” he said. “They gave me hope that I could go and make it while Sambu edged me on.”
The recruit however, did not run much as he kept to his training regime until he was conscripted to Police service as a constable, a rank he holds to date. In 2002, he resumed running in local athletics meetings and won the 1500m at the National Police Championships (3:42.2) in May 31. "That win showed me that I was back and that I could really win and I stepped up my training," he said.
In February 2003, Simotwo finished 15th at the National Cross Country Championships 4k race at Ngong' racecourse. His first race outside Kenya followed in April, in the Reduit Air Mauritius meeting, in which he won the 3000m (8:10.76) before starring in the Riederich, Germany, meeting in May by clinching a 1000m victory in 2:21.98.
A succession of victories in low-key meetings in Germany and France culminated in a win over 1500m in early June in Cottbus (3:39.12) but he win-streak ended at Rehlingen when he ran quicker, 3:36.99, but could manage only fifth place in the race won by in-form compatriot Isaac Songok (3:35.01).
He was to suffer further disappointment when his bid to break into the team for the World Championships, in Paris, failed as he finished seventh over 1500m at the National Championships (3:42.7) and seventh again at the National Trials (3:43.62) Both races were won by Songok.
However, two consecutive victories in August, in what was becoming his favourite hunting ground, Germany, bolstered his growing confidence as a grand prix athlete. He took top honours at the Bayer Leverkusen 1500m race (3:36.98) and sealed victory over 3000m at the Königs Wusterhausen, Stadionfest (8:02.08). After a succession of further races, which included placing eighth (7:48.38) over the 3000m in the Golden League in Berlin, he conclude his season by finishing fourth over 2 miles (4:59.06) in the Naimette-Xhovémont GP in Belgium.
2004 did not start well for Simotwo as he finished 58th in the short course race at the National Cross Country Championships. However, he roared back with a 3000m victory (7:57.49) in Rechberghausen, Germany, in early May. Two victories on the stroll - (3000m, 7:58.65) in Pliezhausen and (1000m, 2:19.61) in Heidelberg - set him up for another attempt to qualify to represent his country, this time for the Athens Olympics.
After several races in Kenya and Germany, Simotwo lined up for the National Championships but could manage only fourth in his semi-final (3:47.8). That effectively snuffed out his Olympic and national team representation hopes since the performance knocked him out of the National Championships cum Africa Championships Trials.
Shattered, Simotwo travelled to Germany in search of better fortunes and, on August 1, he claimed a 1500m victory (3:34.48) at the Bayer meeting in Leverkusen. He also won races at the meetings at Neustadt (3000m, 7:57.43) and Königs Wusterhausen (1500m 3:39.41).
After establishing himself in the European Grand Prix and Permit Meet circuit, Simotwo approached 2005 with his indefatigable quest to represent Kenya. The burning ambition for the police constable was to wear national colours at the World Championships in Helsinki.
Among his build-up races for the trials, Simotwo took silver over 1500m (3:35.5) at the Africa Athletics Confederation (AAC) Permit Meet in Nairobi behind budding talent Augustine Choge and defended his Kenya Police Championships 1500m title (3:41.5) He then stormed to an unexpected national title when he won the 800m (1:45.5) at the National Championships.
Buoyed by that show, he arrived at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, Kenya's biggest sports stadium, for the World Championships Trials in June. Possibly sensing his moment had arrived, he entered his favoured 1500m race in his latest bid to make the national team but to no avail after finishing fifth (3:38.0) in a race won by Daniel Kipchirchir Komen (3:36.7).
In his true character, Simotwo did not dwell on his dismay for long, packing his bags to continue his European circuit adventures. As if to erase his disappointment, he clocked 3:34.12 in charging to 1500m victory at the Athletissima Super GP in Lausanne.
Climaxing a succession of races at some of Europe’s top meetings, Simotwo earned his maiden invitation for the World Athletics Final in Monaco by finishing third in the Golden League meeting in Berlin (3:31.85) behind two of his countrymen, Kipchirchir Komen and Songok. In Monaco, Simotwo placed fourth (3:33.71). Two months later, on November 28, he married.
With the Commonwealth Games as the major international championship of 2006, Simotwo’s interest in the national team never wavered, but he missed out on this too, and his forays abroad saw the police officer take part in numerous events in his usually packed calendar. Making his indoor debut that winter, his performances included second place in the Sparkassen Cup, in Stuttgart, in 3:35.24, which remains his indoor 1500m PB. It was also the third fastest 1500m world indoor time of 2006 as only Kipchirchir Komen (twice) ran quicker.
In May, in Hengelo, Simotwo recorded his first outdoor victory of 2006 (1500m, 3:36.88). In the Dream Mile, at the Bislett Games, in Oslo, he was fourth (3:52.77), although slower than he had been in 2005 when finishing seventh (PB3:50.82). He recorded two more fourth places, at the Paris-St. Denis 1500m race (PB 3:31.67) and at Lausanne's Athletissima 1500m B race (3:32.44). But he suffered a sluggish end to the season and began to look ahead to the 2007 All Africa Games, in Algiers, and World Championships, in Osaka. Could he finally make the Kenyan team grade?
Simotwo’s season began with second place at 1500m in the Qatar Super Grand Prix in Doha (3:31.98) but, after a handful of further races in Europe, he suffered a tendon injury just two weeks before the National Trials and was ruled out.
He took a break in August but resumed his European tour in September, climaxing in his second appearance at the World Athletics Final, this time in Stuttgart, where he won his greatest honour (as at February 2008) a bronze over 1500m (3:38.36).
With post-election violence in Kenyan disrupting the training schedule of most athletes at the beginning of this year, Simotwo started his 2008 European campaign early. On February 9, he ran 3:43.93 (10th) on the Valencia track that will stage the World Indoor Championships. Four days later he recorded the third fastest time in the world this year in Athens (3:35.46) when finishing second to Kipchirchir Komen.
Based on his European running pedigree as well as his vast experience, Simotwo finally got the nod from AK up to represent the country at this year's World Indoors. "I have really tried so hard but almost always ended up fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh,” He said. “I am really happy that I finally got the chance to run for my country. It will be a big challenge because it's my first championships and I want to give it my all.”
800m: 1:45.5 (2005)
1500m: 3:31.67 (2006)
Mile: 3:50.82 (2005)
3000m: 7:48.38 (2003)
800m: 2004: 1:51.5; 2005: 1:45.5; 2006: 1:47.94
1500m: 2003: 3:36.17; 2004: 3:34.48; 2005: 3:33.24; 2006: 3:31.67; 2007: 3:31.89; 2008: 3:35.46i
3000m: 2003: 7:48.38; 2004: 7:57.49
2005 1st Kenyan Championships (800m)
2005 5th World Athletics Final (1500m)
2007 3rd World Athletics Final (1500m)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008