Daegu, Korea - There has been no dancing from Usain Bolt so far in Daegu. But on Thursday night an unexpected deputy emerged on the blue track of the stadium: Ezekiel Kemboi surprised the spectators with a dance similar to the ones that Bolt uses to show. The Kenyan had just taken the World Steeplechase gold medal with a bursting sprint in the final 200 metres. The 29 year-old defended his title from Berlin 2009.
After a much slower approach than usual by the Kenyans Ezekiel Kemboi could rely on his sprint power and was well clear of the others when he crossed the line after 8:14.85 in lane seven! He could not give any specific reason why he drifted to the right so strongly in the final twenty metres of the race. But maybe he wanted to enjoy the moment of glory shortly before the finish that little bit longer. Throwing his arm up in jubilation he crossed the line.
So first there was a 200m sprint and then a dance. Was this a preview of the 200m men’s final scheduled for Saturday night?
“I have danced for my friend Usain Bolt,” stated Ezekiel Kemboi, who then took off his jersey, threw it into the stands and did the lap of honour with the Kenyan flag around his waist. “But also the Korean people are very friendly. I experienced this when I was walking around in the city. So I wanted to give something back to them and entertain them.”
Ezekiel Kemboi became only the third athlete in the history of the World Championships to defend the Steeplechase title. Former Kenyan Saif Saaeed Shaheen (Qatar) was one of them (Paris 2003 and Helsinki 2005) while before it was one of Kenya’s all time greats who even managed to collect three World titles in a row. Moses Kiptanui was the champion in Tokyo 1991, Stuttgart 1993 and Gothenburg 1995.
And fittingly, Moses Kiptanui is now the coach of Ezekiel Kemboi. Regarding the number of gold medals in World Championships Kemboi intends to move up level with Kiptanui.
“In Moscow in two year’s time I want to add another gold in the Steeple. Then I would have collected six World Championships’ medals in total.” Before his first gold in Berlin he had won three silvers in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
Ezekiel Kemboi is not the typical Kenyan long distance runner. First he did not need to run to school, second he is not a quiet guy. The son of farmer’s family he has six brothers and sisters. His first sport was football and he played in midfield – where there is of course plenty of running involved. Because of his interest in music he was the DJ at school parties.
He only started running after he had left school. After winning a race he was contacted by Paul Ereng, who became his first coach. Then he started writing to various European managers, asking them for a chance to compete in international races. Enrico Dionisi did contact Ezekiel Kemboi – and the Italian still is his manager today.
It was in 2002, when Kemboi won his first major medal. After taking silver at the Commonwealth Games, he was so moved by his success that he named his son after the venue: Manchester.
A year later Kemboi became the main contender of former Kenyan Saif Saaeed Shaheen, who had switched citizenships and was competing for Qatar. In an epic World Championships’ final he battled with Shaheen and eventually finished second behind his former team-mate. There was no Shaheen at the Olympics in Athens in 2004; Kemboi took the opportunity and won the Olympic gold.
It did not work well for him four years later at the Beijing Olympics, where Kemboi finished seventh. It was then when he approached Moses Kiptanui for help. And in the following year he took his first World Championship gold in Berlin.
As he had done in the German capital Kemboi competed with an unusual haircut. This time he had partly shaved his hair. “When I do this before a tough race I believe in myself,” explained the World Champion.
“I want to run for another ten years,” said Kemboi. “But I will not continue for much longer with the Steeplechase. My aim is to become a marathon runner. I need a different race,” he said and added: “After the season I will have a break and then we will decide about when to switch.”
It didn’t sound in line with his previous statement about desire to win another Steeplechase gold medal. But probably the marathon will be more of a long-term goal. In fact Kemboi had already talked about marathon running two years ago in Berlin.
Asked about his plans for this season he replied: “My next race will be in Zurich next week. There I plan to run a good time. I want to break my personal best of 7:55.76. Hopefully I can achieve 7:54 or 7:53 there.”
In other words Kemboi will try to break the World record, which still stands at 7:53.63 by Saif Saaeed Shaheen.
“There were no team tactics today. Everyone wanted to win the gold medal. But of course it will be different in a Diamond League Meeting like Zurich (where there will be pacemakers).”
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF