Updated 22 August 2007
Wilfred Kipkemboi BUNGEI, Kenya (800m)
Born 24 July 1980, Kabirirsang, near Kapsabet, Nandi District, Rift Valley Prov., Kenya.
1.72m/60kg. Native language: Nandi (Kalenjin). Eldest of four children of father's third of three wives. Father formerly a foreman on large tea estate, now a farmer with 28 acres.
Lives mainly in Kabirirsang. Based near Verona, Italy, during track season.
Finished secondary school at Samoei High School, Nandi Hills, 1998.
Married Priscah Ronoh 2004. Sons Wilfred Jr. (2005) and Bill (2007).
Manager: Gianni Demadonna. Coach: Gianni Ghidini.
Wilfred Bungei led the annual world lists at 800m from 2003 to 2005. His 2002 PB, 1:42.34 (No2 in the world that year), is the fifth fastest in history—which puts him in interesting company: two of the four men ahead of him, world record holder Wilson Kipketer (1:41.11) and African record holder Sammy Koskei, (1:42.28), come from his neighbourhood in Western Kenya. So three of the five fastest 800m runners in history were born within five kilometres of one another.
If a single spot can be described as the centre of Kenyan running, it is probably Bungei's village of Kabirirsang. The tiny hamlet, about 12 km east of the district capital Kapsabet, is the birthplace of the multiple world record setter Henry Rono. Two or three kilometres west is Kapchemoiywo, Kipketer’s childhood home, and also of the legendary two-time Olympic gold medalist Kipchoge Keino. About 3 km east of Kabirirsang is Arwos, home to World Cup winner Koskei, and to Olympic silver medallists Peter Koech and Ben Kogo.
For Bungei, the heritage of Kabirirsang is not just in the landscape or the air, but in his blood. Rono is his mother's first cousin, and his grandfather is the brother of Kipketer's grandmother. (The two runners are thus second cousins.) Bungei’s training “family” is comparably illustrious, including not only 2005 World bronze medallist William Yiampoy but also the number 2 man on the 2004 and 2005 world lists, Youssef Saad Kamel, formerly Gregory Konchellah, who is himself the son of Kenya’s two-time World champion Billy Konchellah.
Bungei began running in primary school at 200m and 400m then, in secondary school, he tried the Decathlon with some success, and then the 800m. In his final year he finished 3rd in the 400m and 2nd at 800m (behind William Chirchir) at the schools nationals. He was 2nd again at 800m behind Chirchir in Kenya's trials for the 1998 World Junior Championships and again at the Championships in Annecy, where he was spotted by manager Gianni Demadonna.
Bungei began his international career after the 1998 World Juniors. He stepped up his training in 1999; taken on by coach Gianni Ghidini. He finished 5th in Kenya's 2000 Olympic trials and later that year ran a PB 1:44.23 in the Zurich Golden League B race. He finished 2nd to training partner William Yiampoy in Kenya's trials for the 2001 World Championships, then took an unexpected silver behind Andre Bucher in the Championships in Edmonton (1:44.55). Ten days later he lowered his PB to 1:42.96, finishing 3rd in Zurich.
Bungei notched another impressive PB in 2002 (1:42.34, No.5 all-time) and began 2003 with 3rd in a tactical World Indoor Championships final (1:46.54) behind David Krummenacker and Wilson Kipketer. He won Grand Prix races in Hengelo, Seville, Ostrava, Dortmund and Lausanne before being felled by malaria during the week of Kenya’s trials for the World Championships in Paris, missing selection. But he recovered in time for wins in the Brussels Golden League (1:42.52, 2003 world leader) and World Athletics Final, in Monaco.
In 2004 Bungie left no doubt about Olympic selection, clocking two sub-1:45s in 24 hours to win the brutal Kenyan trials. He slipped to 7th a week later in Rome, but regained form with wins in Madrid and Zurich, both in world-leading times (1:43.72 and 1:43.06, respectively). In Athens, in the early rounds, he took the lead early and controlled the pace, but in the final he allowed Djabir Said Guerni to set the tempo for the first lap, which turned out to be too slow to burn off the fast finishers.
Bungei led up the back straight but was unable to hold off the kickers near the finish, winding up a deeply disappointed 5th (1:45.31). The remainder of the season included one win in a fast paced race (Brussels 1:43.48) and two losses in slower contests (Berlin, 2nd in 1:45.27, and the World Athletics Final, 6th in 1:46.45).
In December 2004 Bungei married the former Priscah Ronoh of Kapsabet in a ceremony that was the social event of the year in his district. More than 5,000 guests, including most of the 2004 Olympic 800m finalists, joined the celebration. The wedding delayed Bungei’s training for 2005 and curtailed his indoor season, but outdoors he began confidently with three sub-1:45s, including 1:44:11 to win the Kenyan trials for the World Championships, in Helsinki.
In Helsinki, though, Bungei suffered another tactical breakdown in the final, going out very fast, then relaxing too much in the second 200m and allowing the kickers to gather. Leading into the final straight, he ran out of steam and was passed by three men, including teammate Yiampoy, and finished a dismal 4th (1:44.98). Five straight wins on the international circuit—Zurich, Rieti (1:43.70 world leader), the World Athletics Final, Shanghai and Daegu—retrieved the season, and the birth of a healthy son in October put his losses in perspective.
Early in 2006, Bungei recorded three wins and two 2nd places on the indoor circuit—both losses to Russia’s Olympic champion Yuriy Borzakovskiy, who would be running in front of a home crowd at the World Indoor Championships, in Moscow, later in the winter. But in Moscow, at last, Bungei ran a superb tactical race, allowing the pace to lag for the first 400m but then cranking it up just enough to hold off his principal rivals, the kickers Borzakovskiy and Mbulaeni Mulaudzi of South Africa, and win his first global gold medal.
The Russian and the South African remain his chief opponents this year in Osaka. During his long 2006 outdoor season (13 races), Bungei traded wins with Borzakovskiy, but lost four times to Mulaudzi. Then he finished behind the South African one more time in 2007, at the Rome Golden League. But Bungei had run just three outdoor races before Rome, partly because an injury in June sidelined him for three weeks. Rome, where he finished 6th in 1:46.59, was largely a test of his fitness. His masterful win in the Kenyan trials for the World Championships two weeks later was a better indicator of his readiness for Osaka.
1998 - 1:47.21; 1999 - 1:45.14; 2000 - 1:44.23; 2001 - 1:42.96; 2002 - 1:42.34; 2003 - 1:42.52; 2004 - 1:43.06; 2005 - 1:43.70; 2006 - 1:43:31; 2007 - 1:44.14
1998: 2nd World Junior Championships
2001: 2nd World Championships
2003: 3rd World Indoor Championships,
2003: 1st World Athletics Final
2004: 5th Olympic Games
2005: 4th World Championships
2005: 1st World Athletics Final
2006: 1st World Indoor Championships, 1st
Prepared by John Manners for the IAAF.’Focus on Athletes’ project. © IAAF 2007.