Updated 6 March 2011
Sylvia Jebiwott KIBET (HSC), Kenya (1500m/3000/5000/ 10,000, Half Marathon, Cross Country)
Born 28 March, 1984, Kapchorwa, Keiyo District, Rift Valley Province
Camp/Team: Kenya Police; trains in Iten and Trento
Manager: Gianni Demadonna
Hailing from a family with a rich distance running pedigree, it was no coincidence that world 5,000m silver medallist Sylvia Kibet, a police officer by profession, took up athletics. With an older sister, veteran distance runner Hilda Kibet, and a cousin, the mercurial 2007 World Cross Country and triple Road Running champion (2006-2008), Lornah Kiplagat (now a Dutch national), Kibet did not need to look far for inspiration.
"I always wanted to run and realised from when I was young that I had the talent,” Kibet said. “I started taking part in school competition. Also my elder sister (Hilda) was an athlete so it was easy for me to start."
And so it proved when the talented runner, who was born in Kapchorwa village, Keiyo district, in Kenya's Rift Valley, burst into the international limelight as a 15-year-old in 1998, winning the African Youth 3000m gold medal, in Uganda, while still a student at Kapchorwa Primary school.
In 1999, Kibet joined Sing’ore Girls’ Secondary School - a school that has produced its fair share of top Kenyan female athletes (World 800m champion Janeth Jepkosgei and World 5,000m silver medallist Vivian Cheruiyot to name two) - and months later she powered to 1500m silver at the first IAAF World Youth Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland (4:24.43).
In 2000, Kibet won bronze over 3,000m in the African Youth Championships before choosing to concentrate on her studies. For the next two years, she did not compete but, having completed her O-Levels, she returned in 2003. The lay-off had a telling effect and she had to work extra hard to get back into shape, running only two road races in France.
"I had added a lot of weight so it took quite a while to shed and I opted to just run in road races to get back to shape," Kibet said. It was also in this year that she married Erastus Limo. Then she missed the whole of 2004 as she took time off to start a family and gave birth to Britney Jepkosgei.
The dictates of culture have seen numerous budding female athletes take a break to start a family after a resounding impact on the world stage as juniors. Kibet is thus the typical multitasking African woman combining motherhood with wife duties, while training as a police officer and being an athlete. Then, in 2006, Kibet reminded everyone of her immense talent as she earnestly embarked on making up for lost time, competing internationally on both track (1500-10,000m) and road (10km and half marathon) with success.
She started her second comeback in late 2005 and finally made a competitive return in January 2006, placing 7th in the women's short course race at a cross country in Eldoret. In March she finished 10th in the 4km race at the National Cross Country Championships and followed up by winning the Ndakaini Half Marathon on the outskirts of Nairobi.
Kibet then moved to the European road races and maintained her winning form, registering three successive victories in April, starting with a personal best 1:11.37 at the Villa Lagarina Half Marathon in Italy, followed by a 10km (32:34) in Gualtieri, Italy and the Nice Half Marathon (1:11.51). In July, she placed fourth in the Naimette-Xhovémont 5000m (15:07.90) and sixth in the Helsinki GE Money GP's 10,000m (31:39.34) before collecting her first senior major international honour – a 5000m bronze at the African Championships in August (15:57.14).
Later that month, Kibet ran her 5000m season's best of 15:02.54 for 12th place at the Golden League meeting in Brussels. A week later, in the Berlin Golden League meeting, Kibet ran 15:09.95 to finish sixth. Then, in her first World Athletics Final, in Stuttgart, she ran a personal best 3000m (8:40.09) for fifth. A fifth place finish at the Shanghai Golden GP women's 5000m race (15:06.81) closed her track campaign for the season.
In the 2007 National Cross Country Championships, in Mombasa, Kibet finished second place behind Lornah Kiplagat but, come the national trials, she could manage only 17th position. Kibet wiped away any disappointment by setting her 10km road race best of 31:44, in Marseilles, in May, before attacking what was to be her best track season so far.
At the National Championships in June, used to select Kenya's team for All Africa Games in Algiers, Kibet won the 5000m (16:05.67). In Algiers, Kibet produced a wonderful run to take bronze in 15:06.39. She kept in touch with the leaders until the final lap when she was edged out in the race for the line. Overwhelming favourite and 2004 Olympic champion, Meseret Defar, from Ethiopia, claimed gold in 15:02.72 with compatriot Meselech Melkamu scooping silver in 15:03.86.
Shortly after landing from Algiers, where harsh weather and poor diet ravaged the Kenyan contingent, she was in Nairobi for the national trials for Osaka. Shorn of ample recovery time, she finished third in the 5000m (15:54.89), behind Vivian Cheruiyot (15:53.70) and Priscah Jepleting Cherono (15:54.03) to seal her ticket to Japan.
In Osaka, Kibet ran a personal best of 14:59.26 but was edged out of the medals by bronze winner Cherono. She then began preparing for her second World Athletics Final, in Stuttgart, where she took silver in a personal best (14:57.37) behind compatriot Cheruiyot (14:56.94). The following day, Kibet finished fifth in the 3,000m (8:46.10).
In 2008, she took her first tentative steps in indoor running on the advice of her manager Gianni Demadonna. "He proposed to me to run indoors, saying he thought I would do well, and after I tried the first three races and I realised that I was ok with it," Kibet said.
Kibet’s first indoor race was on 3000m at the Sparkassen Cup, in Stuttgart, on 2 February, where she took third in 8:54.18, behind the imperious Defar. Six days later, in the PSD Bank meet in Düsseldorf, Kibet claimed her first 3000m indoor victory in 8:52.53. Then, on 10 February, Kibet set a then national 1500m record of 4:07.46 while clinching victory at the Karlsruhe meeting.
Her rapidly improving performances that season saw Athletics Kenya grant her a ticket to participate in the World Indoor Championships in Valencia and she was given a wild card for the national trials for the World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh. But, finishing 18th at the trials on March, 1 she said: "I was using the race as a final build up for World Indoors as well as representing my Police team.”
In Valencia, she returned 8:56.14 to finish the third in the 3000m heats before she set the then national indoor record of 8:41.82 (since bettered by Vivian Cheruiyot’s 8:30.53 PB in Birmingham in 2009) at the finals for fourth place on 8 March.
In spring, Kibet hit the World Athletics Tour, where she ran 4:10.07 (sixth, 1500m) at the Doha Super Grand Prix in May and the next month raced to victory in 15:05.09 (5000m) in the Berlin Golden League meeting. That was followed by 12th placing (5000m, 15:12.13) at the 6 June Bislett Games in Oslo where the World record of 14:11.15 was set by Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba.
At the 5 July Kenyan Beijing trials, she finished third (5000m, 15:37.07) to get an automatic Olympic ticket since second placed runner, Lucy Wangui Kabuu (15:35.09) had already sealed her place by winning the 10,000m final a day earlier.
She then went for the Paris Golden League meeting for her last pre-Olympics build up where she took third (15:09.23, 5000m).
“Making my first Olympics was a dream that I thank God for. My aim is to perform well and bringing a medal back home would be a bonus,” Kibet said heading for the Olympic Games. With Tirunesh and Meseret in the race, it’s going to be tough but we have a good team and anything is possible if you believe in yourself,” she added.
In Beijing, Kibet came second in her heat in 15:10.37 to book a place in the final three days later, where she had again to be content with fourth place finish in 15:44.96.
Frustrated at failure to make the podium, Kibet turned her attentions to the Brussels Golden League meeting with a sixth place finish in 15:01.58. She saved the best for last by running a season’s best time of 15:00.03 while finishing sixth at the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart, where she also finished sixth (8:50.55) in 3,000m.
Done with the track, in December she turned her attentions to the road, clocking seasonal bests in 15km (Heerenberg, 49:54) and 10km (Houilles, 31:50).
In 2009, Kibet was on fire, setting five personal bests. After an eighth place finish at the World Cross Country Championships trials in March saw her miss the Amman team, she placed second in the Nice Half Marathon in April, running a new PB of 69.51. In May, she set another personal best in 10km road race as she won in Marseille in 31:40.
Her great form continued in Utrecht Netherlands where she set another new PB of 30:47.20 in 10,000 metres on 14 June.
At the national athletics championships, Kibet finished second in 1500m setting a yet another PB (4:08.57). Kibet was now on a roll and on 3 July, she set a new personal best in 5,000 metres after stopping the clock at 14:37.77 as she finished fourth in Oslo.
She then returned home for the Berlin Trials. With only the first two athletes guaranteed a place in the squad, Kibet laid down the gauntlet by taking the lead midway and pushing hard with Cheruiyot shadowing her every step.
The final lap was a spectacle as Kibet strongly resisted Cheruiyot’s finishing burst until the last ten metres when she finally caved in to finish second in 15:25.42.
“I hope to improve on my performances and bring something big home. I have run my 10,000m and 5,000m personal bests this year and I feel I’m in the best shape of my life,” Kibet said. “I have prepared well for Berlin and it’s a matter of time before I get good reward. It’s not going to be Sylvia ‘fourth’ Kibet this time,” she added.
True to her word, Kibet qualified for the final with 15:17.77 for second in her heat and at the medal event, she was only just beaten by a searing finish from Cheruiyot, who raced to her world global title. Kibet’s sustained kick in the last 200m however, took her past a despairing Meseret, who had conceded her title to Cheruiyot, to win the second medal in 14:58.33 against the Ethiopian’s14:58.41.
It was Kenya’s first 1-2 performance at the event in the history of the Worlds and judging from her celebrations later, Kibet’s silver showing was as good as victory. “I have never been so happy in my life...I can’t believe it...no fourth anymore!” she exclaimed as together with Cheruiyot, she paraded their ‘bling’ to the world.
“I could not have done it without her encouragement throughout the race. She kept up with my pace and its great winning gold and silver for Kenya,” Cheruiyot said in tribute to her compatriot.
A ‘customary’ fourth (5000m/15:26.50) and sixth (3000m/8:46.46) at the Thessaloniki World Athletics Finals wrapped up her season and upon return home, a huge party was thrown to celebrate her silver medal in Berlin.
On 12 December, Kibet was recognised as a recipient of Head of State Commendation (HSC) award conferred on her by Kenya’s President, Mwai Kibaki for “delivery of outstanding or distinguished service to the nation in various capacities and responsibilities,” to mark the country’s 46 years of self-governance.
On 20 February, 2010, she was promoted to the rank of corporal at Kenya Police in recognition of her achievement.
Kibet opened the 2010 campaign in sensational fashion by setting new career indoor bests, first over 3000m with 8:41.24, recorded while winning in Karlsruhe (31January) then in 1500m, where she lowered her national record to 4:05.33 (Stockholm, 10 February).
Both performances placed her number five on the seasonal indoor list and being the only other Kenyan in the 3000m top ranking, Athletics Kenya selected her to compete at her second successive World Indoors at the distance. She was paired with Cheruiyot with another 1-2 mooted.
She duly qualified for the final, with 8:48.60 for second in her heat, before sealing another ‘usual’ fourth place (8.52.16) at the 13 March final where she admitted, “I did not fire as I was expecting to.” Her effort to stake a claim a place in the Bydgoszcz World Cross in Poland was stillborn after an 11th placing at the National Championships knocked her out of contention.
Her summer season was however another excellent one, although a sprained ankle prevented her from competing at the trails for the African Championships, hosted by her nation.
In addition to the two lifetime bests in the indoor circuit, Kibet steamed to another five personal bests on track and road between 9 May, when she raced 31:20 over 10km in Glasgow for her top mark over the distance, to 5 September, where she stopped the timer in 15:10 in London that was 2010’s third fastest 5km.
PBs were also chalked in her favoured 5000m (14:31.91/23 May) at the Shanghai DL meeting, an effort rated sixth on the world year list, 1500m (4:07.87/6 June) in Morocco and over 3000m (8:37.48/22 July) in Monaco (eighth fastest in 2010).
Her consistent good form saw her rewarded with selection for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, where another searing last-lap finish in the 5000m final after a pedestrian 11 and a half laps saw her yet again play second fiddle (15:55.61/12 October) to the in-form Cheruiyot.
“What is most important is we came here for the clean medal sweep and we achieved it. Vivian is at another level at the moment and I’m working hard to match the same performance in future,” Kibet said in acknowledgement of teammate Iness Chenonge coming in for bronze to complete Kenya’s first medal shut-out over the distance in the history of the Games.
“I have never been to a World Cross before and from what I have done here, I will return to train for the Trials. I will not compete indoors since I want to have the experience of being at the World Cross as preparations for Daegu,” she disclosed at the time.
True to her word, Kibet made her first 2011 competitive appearance at the 8 January 7th KCB/AK National Cross Country meet in Iten where she finished third. “I will now wait for the trials,” she stated after the race.
On 19 February, Kenya’s line-up to Punta Umbria World Cross was unveiled and her fifth place finish in the women’s long race was repaid by selection for Spain after fourth finisher, Sharon Cherop, who had bagged the last automatic berth, declined the call-up to concentrate on Boston Marathon.
“It was a very difficult race but I’m happy I made it and realised my mission of being in the cross country team for the first time. I will put more effort in training to ensure my first appearance remains memorable,” she gushed.
1500m: 4:07.87 (2010)
3000m: 8:37.48 (2010)
Two Miles: 9:16.62 (2007)
5000m: 14:31.91 (2010)
10,000m: 30:47.20 (2009)
10km: 31:20 (2010)
Half Marathon 1:09:51 (2009)
1500m: 4:05.33 (2010)
3000m: 8:41.24 (2010)
1500m: 1999: 4:21.35; 2006: 4:11.50; 2008: 4:10.07; 2009: 4:08.57; 2010: 4:07.87
3000m: 2006: 8:40.09; 2007: 8:43.09; 2008: 8:45.36; 2009: 8:43.93; 2010: 8:37.47
Two Miles: 2007: 9:16.62
5000m: 2006: 15:02.54; 2007: 14:57.37; 2008: 15:00.03; 2009: 14:37.77; 2010: 14:31.91
10,000m: 2006: 31:39.34; 2009: 30:47.20
1998 1st African Youth Championships (3000m)
1999 2nd World Youth Championships (1500m)
2000 3rd African Youth Championships (3000m)
2006 3rd African Championships (5000m)
2006 5th World Athletics Final (3000m)
2007 3rd All Africa Games (5000m)
2007 4th World Championships (5000m)
2007 5th World Athletics Final (3000m)
2007 2nd World Athletics Final (5000m)
2008 4th World Indoor Championships (3,000m)
2008 4th Olympic Games (5,000m)
2008 6th World Athletics Final (3,000m)
2008 6th World Athletics Final (5,000m)
2009 2nd World Championships (5000m)
2010 4th World Indoor Championships (3,000m)
2010 2nd` Commonwealth Games (5000m)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008-2011