Wilson Kiprop wins the Kenyan 2012 Olympic 10,000m Trials in Eugene (Kirby Lee - Image of Sport) © Copyright
After winning the Kenyan Olympic trials in Eugene last Friday (1 June) Wilson Kiprop hopes to restore his nation’s dignity in London.
"I feel good about it," Kiprop says of his victory in 27:01.98. "For now I can’t say anything because the task ahead of me is bigger than what I did (on Friday night). I have to go back to Kenya and we have to plan how to score this goal. It is a hard task. We have the Ethiopians competing with us and they are always strong. We have to come together to see what we will do in order to obtain that gold medal that has been away for forty-four years."
The sight of Kiprop overhauling Moses Masai with thirty metres remaining was a huge surprise to athletics aficionados. Best known as the 2010 IAAF World Half Marathon Champion he was not one of the favourites. On paper, at least, Eliud Kipchoge, seemed the pick of the group thanks to his superior personal bests at the shorter distances. Kiprop also worried about his rival’s form.
"For sure in the last kilometre almost all the people were there," the 25-year-old Kiprop recalls. "What came across my mind was to remain calm. Everyone was strong. I knew everyone was strong in the last lap. I decided I would hold and sprint in a different way.
"(Kipchoge) was coming to win. For him he is used to running 5000m and always the preparation for 5000m is faster than for 10,000m. And so he would be fast the last lap but fortunately he was locked out."
Kipchoge actually suffered a stitch and dropped from second at the bell to a well-beaten 7th place.
Teamwork an important part of the London gameplan
The entire group of Kenyans that travelled to Eugene spent two months together in a mandatory Athletics Kenya training group in Eldoret. Kiprop points out that, although this is unusual for Kenya, it is something which the Ethiopian national team does regularly. It is also an indication of just how seriously the Kenyan coaching staff is taking this challenge.
Assuming the Kenyan 10,000m trio remain fully fit Kiprop doesn’t discount the possibility of them working together to ensure a Kenyan captures the gold medal. Moses Masai and Bitan Karoki finished second and third in the Eugene trials. Masai was also the bronze medalist at the 2009 World Championships at this distance. Kiprop hopes they will agree that together they can win the gold medal for Kenya.
"It is possible," Kiprop says quietly. "I remember the 2010 African championships. We talked together, we planned how to get the gold medal for the African championships. At long last I was the gold medallist in the African championship.
"It also applied last year. I was to go to World Championships but unfortunately in the last week of preparation I was injured and unable to be there. We were making plans, teamwork that would help us there. This time around we are trying to plan what will help."
One man who never doubted Kiprop’s ability to come through in the very difficult trials was his Italian coach, Renato Canova.
"I am not surprised," Canova said in Eugene. "Don’t forget after running 2:09:09 at the 2010 Prague Marathon we prepared him for the Half Marathon. He won the Kenyan 10,000m championship in 27:26.93 at altitude which is a world record at altitude. Then after he won the African championships in 27:32 last year he was injured."
The coach also points to Kiprop’s 2010 World Half Marathon victory as an indicator of his ability. And, earlier this year, he also ran 59:15 in the Berlin Half Marathon.
From modest and difficult beginnings
Like many of his countrymen his was not an easy path. As a young child his parents experienced difficulties in their marriage and his father abandoned the family.
"School fees were a problem," Kiprop reveals. "And as you know in Africa there are many people dying of hunger. So in our home there was no food at that time. So I decided to go for manual jobs in order to get money for me and my family. I have three brothers and three sisters with me. They live with me.
"My mother passed in 2002. She died of stress. We remain. When she died we were still young. At that time, I was just starting training for running in 2001. In fact I never attended many lessons because of the problem of school fees. So I went to school sometimes; sometimes I went for manual jobs."
For much of his teenage years Kiprop worked a construction job hauling rocks around a building site in a wheelbarrow. He attended school when he could afford it though putting food on the table for his siblings was his focus. He had also started running thirty minutes a day.
Today the money he has earned from athletics helps pay fees for his family who remain in school. Clearly he is proud he has helped steer them through a very difficult period.
"They are very proud of me because they understand the situation I went through," he declares. "It was not me going through it alone. They went through the same as me. They were younger, in fact. I was trying to explain to them, 'if you get a chance please study’, because life is not easy."
Canova is hoping to convince Kiprop to run a fast 5000m in Europe before the Olympics. Dipping under 13 minutes would do wonders to boost his confidence in the London Olympics when he will likely face Mo Farah, the Bekele brothers, Tariku and Kenenisa and other great distance runners who can close in the 53 - 54 second range. But Kiprop’s preference is to maintain his current training regime at home in Eldoret.
Should he be successful in London he has no plans to retire. The pure enjoyment of running motivates him and will, he says, for the foreseeable future.
"For me I am a multipurpose runner," he says. "I can run track. I can run Cross Country. I can prepare for the Marathon. There is no place I can say I don’t enjoy. I have to plan to run and I enjoy it. I enjoy running. It is my leisure but at the same time it earns me my living.
"For sure I can continue as long as my body responds to running I will continue. I will not say now that I’m going for five years then I stop or I am going for ten years then I stop. I will go for fifteen years if possible.
"If you just think about retiring then your mind is already telling you to quit. Because this is our type of life and we have to enjoy it fully. The interest is not to earn money and then quit. You have to do your part and then money will follow you. This is something that you have to plan not just rush and say I’ve got this money so I can now stop."
Money may not be the motivator but that Olympic 10,000m gold medal certainly is. And we can expect Kiprop to give every ounce of energy in attaining the goal because it is that important to him. With a little help from his friends it would be that much easier.
Paul Gains for the IAAF