Updated 13 July 2012
Thomas Pkemei LONGOSIWA, Kenya (5000m)
Born: 14 May 1988, Kapchila Village, West Pokot District, Rift Valley Province
Coach: Moses Kiptanui
Manager: Gianni Demadonna
Team: Kenya Prisons
In one of the mysteries in Kenyan athletics, Thomas Longosiwa has developed the knack of making the distance powerhouses’ team to major event while not featuring anywhere in the seeding; he has competed at the Beijing Olympics and Daegu World Championships and in 2012 achieved another remarkable return to the biggest sporting festival despite not medalling at any of his previous outings as a senior runner. Nor has he ever set an outdoor world lead or record in his preferred 5000m race, one of the toughest to make the Kenyan squad, but he has become a regular at the expense of more decorated runners.
“I cannot explain, it’s only God who can, since in this country the competition is very stiff. I’m always happy to represent my nation and I’m working hard to reward Kenyans with the performance they deserve.”
He is the antithesis of steeplechaser Paul Kipsiele Koech, who in spite of recording world leading performances and excelling in the meetings circuit over the years, has found the formula of breaking into the Kenyan sides elusive, while Longosiwa has perfected the art of qualifying for major events.
But the path to being a mainstay in the country’s squad in recent times has not been restricted to his extraordinary ability to punch his ticket to big events.
Two years after being acrimoniously ejected from the team for the 2006 World Junior Championships, in Beijing, just days before departure for the event following allegations of age cheating, Longosiwa returned to the Chinese capital in the Olympic team of a country that treated him as a pariah.
“I was locked up for a day before being taken to court, where I was released on a Sh20,000 (USD308) bond,” Longosiwa recalled. “I explained my case and, after investigations, I was unconditionally released.”
On that fateful day, Longosiwa was found in possession of two passports with varying dates of birth, an occurrence that saw him labelled an age cheat by the media as he was led out of the team’s camp in handcuffs in full glare of cameras.
Until that moment, he was living a success story. Longosiwa attended Kapresech Primary School for his formative education, where his athletics talent blossomed. He finished second in the 10,000m at the 2004 National Primary School Championships and sixth at the Kenyan Junior Championships.
During his primary education, Longosiwa met with a teacher, Lokema, who became his biggest benefactor after noticing his talent, sponsoring him to travel to athletics competitions. “I come from a region that is rocked by frequent violent clashes (cattle rustling) and Lokema came to my aid,” Longosiwa said. “He would give me money to travel anywhere and he was like a father to me.”
According to him, he knew little about the scale of trouble his new found guardian would land him in. After excelling at the 2004 Primary School Championships, Lokema saw an opportunity to take the teenager abroad and secured him a passport that, according to the athlete, “did not bear my real names or birth details.” Longosiwa added: “I did not even know where he got those details but, upon inquiry, he told me not to worry for I would travel overseas soon. By then some international athletes had expressed interest in me. Longosiwa joined Kapenguria’s Siyoi High School for his secondary education in 2005 but failed to make the national team for that year’s Africa Junior Championships in Tunisia.
The following year, Longosiwa qualified for the national team for the World Juniors and he said: “In my innocence, I decided to ask Athletics Kenya to process me a genuine passport to change the names and details in my other one.”
What ensued turned his world upside down when immigration officials realised he had two passports. Led by the then Sports Minister, Maina Kamanda, and in the full glare of the country’s media, Longosiwa was led out of the camp handcuffed three days before departure to China.
A day later, another athlete, Emmanuel Chamer, who was in the 10,000m men’s team, also owned up to authorities that he possessed two passports, ending his prospects of travelling to the World Juniors as well. Longosiwa said that the authorities went with him in tow to the village chief in search of Lokema, but he had vanished. In the end, his second passport was returned to him and he could now start reconstructing his career.
Athletics Kenya Secretary David Okeyo explained: "As far as I can remember, Longosiwa had DNA tests conducted at Kenyatta National Hospital to ascertain his age and, when the immigration department found that the date he provided was accurate, they decided to issue him with a second passport and nullify the first."
Longosiwa said: “All along, I was not disturbed by the ordeal, because I knew that I was innocent. What the whole thing made me learn is that the greatest enemy one can have is someone close to him.” Longosiwa started featuring in local road races but the ghosts of his ordeal shadowed him whenever he ran. “Everyone kept saying I cheated, but I bore it because I knew the truth and what I wanted to accomplish,” Longosiwa said. “I had chosen athletics to help my family escape poverty and I had no other choice but to make it work.”
In 2007, Longosiwa ran 13:49.6 to be crowned the national 5000m champion in June, whereupon he was selected in the Kenyan team for the All Africa Games in Algiers. “I had the heart to bring gold but a bout of typhoid limited my contribution,” said Longosiwa, who finished sixth at the pan-African event.
Barely recovered, Longosiwa then sought to qualify for the 2007 World Championships, in Osaka, but clocked 13:59.3 to finish seventh and miss a ticket to Japan. There were also positives however, as he was recruited by the Kenya Prisons team after his national championship winning exploits, and his new manager, Gianni Demadonna, took him to Europe to compete in World Athletics Tour events.
He competed in Stockholm (third 3000m, 7:35.64), Zurich (seventh, 3000m, 7:43.69), Rieti (winner 3000m, 7:32.79 PB) and Brussels (fifth 5000m, 12:91.95 PB) before making his World Athletics Final debut in Stuttgart, where he finished eighth in the 5000m (13:42.39) and fifth over 3000m (7:50.62).
The start of 2008 saw Longosiwa’s cross country season hampered by the post-election violence that affected most Kenyan athletes. “It destroyed all my plans,” he said. “I travelled to Italy for training but the winter conditions made it difficult for me to prepare for the cross country.”
Longosiwa then decided to focus fully on the Olympic Games in Beijing and he began working to getting shape to contest a place in the Kenyan team. On 5 July, Longosiwa faced an imposing field and kept in touch with the leaders until the bell, where Edwin Soi and Eliud Kipchoge surged for the top two automatic places leaving Longosiwa to settle for third in 13:34.1.
He was named to the team after being granted the wild card entry to Beijing (only the first two spots automatically qualify at Kenyan trials) ahead of the recently-minted African 5000m silver medallist Isaac Songok, who finished fifth.
“By the grace of God, my wish was granted,” Longosiwa said. “I was very pleased to make the team after all I have been through.” And why has he been so keen to represent a country that treated him as an outcast instead of taking the route taken by some of his compatriots to change citizenship? “Kenya will always my country and love,” he said. “I have no hard feelings about what happened since it will add no value to my life if I harbour hard feelings.”
At the biggest sporting festival on earth, Longosiwa booked his place for the medal race by finishing fourth in his heat before fading to 12th (13:31.34) in the final.
The plan by then head coach, Julius Kirwa, was to deploy Longosiwa to exhaust Kenyan-born American Bernard Lagat and Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, the main threats for the top medal, and he was marked to run the first half of the 12 ½-lap race at a pace of 62.60 seconds per lap.
That would have allowed Edwin Soi and Eliud Kipchoge, his teammates, to go for the victory, but the plan backfired when Longosiwa failed to make it to the front in the entire final as Bekele soared to his Beijing double. “I tried to run but my body was bringing issues. The humidity did not favour me but I was proud of participating in my first Olympics,” Longosiwa later rued.
Fifth (13:18.80) and fourth (13:35.96) finishes in Shanghai and Daegu respectively closed his campaign.
Longosiwa’s fluctuating fortunes spilled into 2009, where he failed to make his country’s teams for the Amman World Cross and Berlin World Championships.
He opened his campaign with fire in his belly, coming one second short to compatriot Wilson Kiprop at the Villa Lagarina Cross in Rovereto after a frenetic chase for the line before opening his track season with a runner-up finish (7:45.28/3000m) at the Dakar GP.
His next showing, in Doha, was rewarded with a massive 3000m lifetime best of 7:30.09 which was to be the Number 3 mark of the year, when he held on for second behind Kipchoge (7:28.37).
That and his season best in 5000m of 13:03.43 at the Berlin ISTAF meeting in June were the highlight performances of his year as he missed selection to make the World Championships team after finishing fourth (13:50.2hA) at the Trials. He finished the season with a tenth place (8:07.63/3000m) at the last World Athletics Final, in Thessaloniki.
Longosiwa had a lukewarm 2010 as he struggled with typhoid and malaria, failing to make his nations’ teams for the African Championships and Commonwealth Games.
"Nothing would mean more than competing for my country and I hope to have recovered fully in time for the Trials. It’s going to be difficult this time around with top athletes burning to run for Kenya, but I will give it my best," Longosiwa said after winning the Kenya Prisons 5000m in 13:42.1 in May, that would be sole victory of the entire campaign.
A seventh-place finish at the Trials put paid to his hopes of featuring in Nairobi 2010. His 5000m (13:05.60) and 3000m (7:33.89) SBs were raced at the Stockholm and Berlin meets in August, his most successful month.
After struggling to shine the previous two years, in 2011 Longosiwa made a dramatic if unexpected return to the Kenyan team when he finished behind World Youth 3000m titleholder, Isaiah Kiplangat Koech in the men 5000m Trials for the Daegu World Championships.
Nothing suggested Longosiwa would be in the frame for qualification, with limp displays when the track season started. Ninth finishes in Doha (3000m/7:33.93) and Rome (5000m/13.06.62) followed by a DNF in Eugene and 16th (13:31.20/5000m) in New York DL meets did little to inspire confidence Longosiwa would make the harsh Kenyan Trials for Daegu.
However, he found form from somewhere, running solidly in the 12 ½-lap final to finish a surprise second in 13:22.89 to grab the second automatic slot for South Korea.
Even he did not know where that came from. “I was not expecting this; there we so many international athletes who had run fantastic times such as 12:50s and I had a 13:06 coming here. I’m so happy to God, since I caught a cold just three days to this event and my body has not been responding well to training. I was praying so hard to be in my best form, I will continue praying so hard to medal in Korea. I believe in my abilities and a return to good form,” he reflected on his bolt out of the blue Daegu qualification.
“For the last two years, I have been struggling with malaria and typhoid but I’m feeling better. I will continue to work hard and make most of this chance God has given me in Daegu,” he noted.
A season best in 5000m was then scored in Monaco, where he dipped under 13:00 for the first time since 2007 as he came home in 12:56.08 for fifth as he warmed for the World Championships. In Daegu, after sealing his place in the medal race he returned 13:26.73 for sixth in the final.
Again, he alluded to team instructions as the cause of not going for the podium, offering, “I’m always willing to sacrifice my ambition for the team,” although none of his teammates medalled.
As if to illustrate his point, Longosiwa crowned his season with a second-place finish in the Diamond League final, in Brussels, where he raced to 12:58.70 to trail the Diamond Trophy winner, Imane Merga of Ethiopia (12:58.32) to the line in a flying finish.
“I was in good shape and I believed that I could have done better in Daegu but as an officer, I have also learned how to take orders for the greater good of the squad,” he emphasised.
Only one goal was in his mind at the turn of 2012. “This year, it’s all about the Olympics. I discussed with my coach and my training partners, Silas Kiplagat and Ezekiel Kemboi and decided it would be a good thing if we all went to London.”
He opened his year indoors, where for the first time in his career, he was credited with a world leading mark in his first race of the season, in February, when he overcame the challenge of his compatriot, Kiplangat to take the top honours in the 5000m event in Düsseldorf with a majestic 12:58.67 PB.
Four days later, he ran 7:34.81, another career best, over 3000m, in Liévin, for fourth followed by a fifth-place return (7:37.07) in Stockholm.
In the open arena, he was the runner-up in the Diamond League event in Shanghai (13:11.73), where he bowed to only to Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet, after having launched his campaign in Doha with a fifth finish in 3000m (7:33.68).
Again he placed fifth in his third DL showing (13:03.88), in Eugene, that preceded the Kenyan London 2012 Trials, where he clinched third (13:11.11) behind Kiplangat and Soi to seal his place for his second successive Olympics.
His training partners, Kiplagat and Kemboi, who had already confirmed their slots in the 1500m and Steeple events, were trackside during the 5000m with the latter cutting his media engagement short, “To wait for our friend, Longosiwa,” with the pair escorting their mate to a muted lap of honour after his performance.
“I cannot say that I’m happy. I’m so thrilled, especially since I did not let my camp and coach down. This time, I will give my all to ensure that I come back with a medal like my training partners and if that happens, there will be a huge party.”
Upon returning to the meetings circuit, Longosiwa was rewarded with yet another PB in the 12 ½-lap race of 12:49.04 at the 6 July DL event in Paris, another indication of his improving form.
“I just have to work on my finishing because nowadays, guys have perfected going so fast in the last lap and I need to be able to do the same. I pray to God for my dream to come true.”
3000m: 7:30.09 (2009)
5000m: 12:49.04 (2012)
10,000m: 28:11.3 (2006)
10 Kilometres: 27:56 (2004)
5000m: 2006: 13:35.3hA; 2007: 12:51.95; 2008: 13:14.36; 2009: 13:03.43; 2010: 13:05.60; 2011:12:56.08; 2012-12:49.04
2004 6th Kenyan Junior Championships (10,000m) 28:54.6hA
2006 6th Kenyan World Junior Trails (10,000m) 28:11.3hA
2007 1st Kenyan Championships, Nairobi (5000m) 13:49.6hA
2007 6th All Africa Games, Algiers (5000m) 13:17.48
2007 7th Kenyan World Championships Trials, Nairobi (5000m) 13:59.3hA
2007 5th World Athletics Final, Stuttgart (3000m) 7:50.62
2007 8th World Athletics Final, Stuttgart (5000m) 13:42.39
2008 3rd Kenyan Olympic Trials, Nairobi (5000m) 13:34.1hA
2008 12th Olympic Games, Beijing (5000m) 13:31.34
2009 4th Kenyan Championships, Nairobi (5000m) 13:50.2hA
2009 10th World Athletic Final, Thessaloniki (3000m) 8:07.63
2010 7th Kenyan Championships, Nairobi (5000m) 13:40.23A
2011 2nd Kenyan Championships, Nairobi (5000m) 13:22.89A
2011 6th World Championships, Daegu (5000m) 13:26.73
2012 3rd Kenyan Olympic Trials, Nairobi (5000m) 13:11.28A
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008-2012