Leonard Kirwa Konsecha was not even the best Kenyan youth 800m runner a month ago after he finished third at the Kenya Colleges and Schools Triangular Championships, which acted as a trials for the IAAF World Youth Championships, but he showed what determination and a few weeks of dedicated training can do.
At the IAAF World Youth Championships in Lille, he blasted his way to a World Youth best of 1:44.08 to leave the former mark of 1:44.34, which had belonged to Bahrain’s Belal Mansoor Ali since 2005, to be erased from the record books.
“He had been practising to do that sort of performance during the three weeks of training camp in the Ngong Hills we have had between the end of our own Championships and starting here,” said the Kenyan team head coach Gekonyo Kariuki.
“He’s been doing repetitions going through 200m in 24.5 second and then 400s in around 50 seconds. We planned to go through the first 400 in between 50 and 51 seconds because we knew that if they went through in 54 seconds it was anybody’s race but we knew this young boy has a good finish and could probably stay strong on the second lap.”
Kirwa Konsencha, who hails from the Masai district of Narok and close to where the senior World record holder David Rudisha lives, clearly remembered what he had done in the training camp near Nairobi as he blasted through 200m in a staggering 24.60 before taking the bell in 50.85.
He then just kept poring on the pace over the second circuit, despite close attendance by Ethiopia’s eventual silver medallist Mohammed Aman, until finally putting his Rift Valley rival to the sword down the home straight.
Konsecha Kirwa’s splits would have done a race in the Samsung Diamond League proud, and he moved up to fifth place on the 2011 world rankings which are lead by his near neighbour, but the times became jaw dropping as spectators in the Lille Métropole stadium remembered that the young man in front of them was just 16.
“The hidden factor in this race was that our 400m hurdler Ken Kirui Tele is a good friend of Konsecha’s and they have rooms side-by-side where we are staying. In fact, they are the only ones from our team on that particular floor of the hotel.
“I am sure they were saying to each other last night ‘I will do better than you. No, I will do better than you.’ They are Masai, they are Moran [warriors], and that is the way of the Masai, to challenge each other like that.”
“Kirwa Konsecha will have said to himself ‘I can’t go home without at least a medal, I cannot let myself be defeated’ after seeing Tele had finished fourth just a few minutes before he went to his marks,” added Gekonyo Kariouki
The quietly spoken Kirwa Konsecha was a man of few words in Lille and the media struggled to get a longer sentence than the comment of “I am very happy.”
However, he did appear to also have learnt what has now become the required demeanour of World record holders and, following in the footsteps of his role model Rudisha, obligingly posing by the trackside clock for photographers and pointed out his new record numbers.
The question now, obviously, is where does Kirwa Konsecha go from here?
Curiously, the boys 800m is one of the very few events at the World Youth Championships where all of the former champions have failed to get a medal at a global championship in the senior ranks.
Nicholas Wachira - Kenyans now having won the boys 800m at four of the seven editions of the World Youth Championships - was the winner at the inaugural championships in 1999, went on to take the gold medal at the following year’s World Junior Championships but never got beyond the semi-finals in his two World Championships appearances and retired from the sport four years ago.
In similar fashion, 2001 World Youth Championships winner Qatar’s Salem Al-Badri went on to win a silver medal at the 2002 World Junior Championships but never appeared at a senior World Championships and is now no longer running competitively despite being just 25 and theoretically the age when he should be at the peak of his career.
Saudi Arabia’s 2003 champion Mohammed A-Salhi did make the 2007 World Championships final, finishing eighth, but his successor, Kenya’s Gilbert Keter, has also disappeared from view on the international circuit.
Perhaps Kirwa Konsecha can break the jinx and climb the podium at a senior World Championships. With his rate of progress getting a medal in Beijing in 2015 is obviously not beyond the bounds of the imagination.
However, first, he has the intermediate stage of the IAAF World Junior Championships, which next year will be held in the Catalan city of Barcelona and on the same track where his compatriot William Tanui once demonstrated his own warrior spirit and took the 1992 Olympic Games 800m title.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF