Updated 1 May 2008
Willy Rutto KOMEN, Kenya (3000m Steeplechase)
Born 22 December, 1987, Marakwet
Height: 172 cm (5’ 8”); weight: 64kg
Manager: Jos Hermens
Team: Kenya Police
Willy Rutto Komen’s rise as Kenya’s emerging steeplechase star is back on track after a nasty fall at the national trials for the World Championships in Osaka last year derailed his storming progress.
With no family heritage in the sport, the 20-year-old, who hails from Kapyego, Marakwet, from a subsistence farming family of five brothers and four sisters, burst onto the scene in 2005 when he ran 8:35.82 to clinch the 3000m Steeplechase gold at the Africa Junior Championships. The high school student finished five seconds clear of silver medal winner, Nahom Mesfin, to show early signs of his power. Three years earlier, Komen, who hails from an area that produces many steeplechase stars, had run his first 3000m over barriers.
“It came naturally through my spirit, not because others were doing it,” the man who idolises retired steeplechase great, Moses Kiptanui, said. “It felt so good jumping over the hurdles and I knew then that this was the race I wanted to run.”
Apart from emulating Kiptanui, the newly conscripted Kenya Police constable (March 18) is on a mission to stretch Kenya’s world dominance in the event. “Kenya has been good since we started the steeplechase and we have to follow that tradition,” Komen said. “Now it is my turn to help maintain it.” Asked why Kenya dominates the event so comprehensively, Komen said: “Because we believe and have been winning since we started. It’s Kenya’s event.”
Komen started out as a 400/800m runner while at Tebe Primary School in Kapyego Division (1993 to 2001) where he managed to qualify to the provincial level of the national championships. He joined Kapcherop Secondary School (2002 to 2005) for his O Levels. He first got noticed in 2004 when he competed at the competitive national championships and came second in the 3000m Steeplechase (8:33.0) behind 2007 world marathon champion Luke Kibet (8:32.8).
“I qualified for the final but I was needed at school, so I had to run back so that I could avoid punishment,” he said. “I finished second and that was my call to run the steeplechase."
The next year saw him crowned the African Junior steeplechase champion, in Tunisia (8:35.82) after being handed the national strip for the first time. He carried his winning habit into 2006 when, in Beijing, he added the World Junior title to the African crown, setting a championship record of 8:14.00.
The following year saw the World Junior champion named to the All Africa Games squad. Prior to that, Komen ran a PB of 8:12.46 at the World Athletics Tour Golden Spike meet in Ostrava, Czech Republic, where he finished third behind Paul Kipsiele Koech and Reuben Kosgei.
Amid the heat and diet problems that plagued the Kenyan contingent at the 9th All Africa Games, Komen rose above all to win his country gold, clocking 8:15.11 in a modest-pace tactical race. In the process, he upset Olympic champion Kemboi, who had to be content with silver in 8:16.93. “He has not talked to me since,” Komen said of Kemboi three days after his shocking victory that left the Athens winner smarting.
Komen became part of Kenyan tradition when he became the ninth successive winner from his country to win the All Africa Games title. The sequence had started with Henry Rono in 1978.
Komen entered the national trials for the Osaka confident of bagging a place in the national team. After starting well in the first two laps, he tripped and fell. Although he picked himself up he was in excruciating pain and pulled out 300m later. “It was only an accident and it all comes as part of the game,” he said. “I suffered a knee injury and I could not continue. I felt disappointed not to go to Japan.”
However, Komen recovered to take part in the Brussels Golden League meeting, where he finished third in his new PB of 8:11.18 before joining the Kenya Police Training College in Kiganjo, 160km from Nairobi, to be trained as constable officer. During the Christmas and New Year break, he returned home to Marakwet, an area that was severely affected by post-election violence that erupted after disputed December 27 presidential elections.
“It was a big problem since, where I come from, we were hit severely and had to stay indoors all the time,” he said. “My training was affected and I could not travel to Kiganjo.” When matters cooled in the second week in January, Komen returned to the Police College and stepped up his training.
At the national trials for the Africa Athletics Championships, Komen ran 8:22.20 to finish third and make the national team. “I expect to perform well and make the Olympics qualifying time in Addis Ababa,” he said. “I will try my best to make the Olympics team to make up for my disappointment at missing Osaka.” After Addis Ababa, he plans to participate in the Doha, Hengelo and Rabat GPs to build a head of steam before the Kenyan national Olympic trials in July.
Komen’s burning desire remains to be famous and be a star like his biggest idol Kiptanui. He will do extraordinarily well to accomplish even half of his hero’s achievements. “I want to strive to follow in his footsteps,” Komen said. “I want to be famous like other Kenyan steeplechasers.
“After Beijing (World Juniors) I met Kiptanui and he told me that he had seen me run and that I could run under 8 minutes. If a great champion like him can say that to me, maybe I can make it because he has a lot of experience. He has given me the belief that, if I train hard, I will make it.”
For an athlete who has never lost in any major final he has taken part in his short career as a junior, the Addis Championships and the Olympics in Beijing will offer him a stern test as he mixes it with the big boys.
1500m: 3:40.0 (2007)
3000m Steeplechase: 8:11.18 (2007)
3000m: 7:50.34 (2007)
3000m Steeplechase: 2004 8:33.0; 2005 8:35.82; 2006 8:14.00; 2007 8:11.18.
2005 1st African Junior Championships (3000m Steeplechase)
2006 1st World Junior Championships (3000m Steeplechase)
2007 1st All Africa Games (3000m Steeplechase)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008