19 MAR 2003 General News 19 March 2003 – Monte

Lausanne focuses on the Africans – Limo, Yuda, Bekele and Masai biographies

Richard Limo wins World 5000m gold in 2001 (Getty Images)Richard Limo wins World 5000m gold in 2001 (Getty Images) © Copyright

MonteCarloUkraine’s European champion Sergiy Lebid and Deena Drossin, the women’s victor in the American trials, among many others will ensure that even without the appearance of Paula Radcliffe (concentrating on the London Marathon) and Sonia O’Sullivan (injury), the 31st IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Lausanne-La Broye (29-30 March) will be more than just a six course banquet of African distance running.

However, the reality of today’s distance running hierarchy means that however hard the rest of the world’s runners try to mount a challenge, African nations will continue to hold sway in Lausanne over the men’s and women’s short and long course events and the two junior races

To reflect this situation, and as part of the IAAF’s “Focus on Africans” project, we are pleased to offer you in-depth biographies of some of those African runners who, injury and selection permitting, will play a major role when the IAAF World Cross Country Championships celebrate their 30th Anniversary in Lausanne.

Thanks to detailed research work by John H. Manners, we are now pleased to present a first batch of biographies -  Richard Limo of Kenya , who was fourth in that same race, Tanzania’s John Yuda, the 2002 long course silver medallist - UPDATE: 24 March, Yuda has withdrawn due to injury, Ethiopia’s  Kenenisa Bekele, the reigning double World champion, and Edith Masai of Kenya, the women’s 2002 short course World champion.

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Richard Kipkemei LIMO (LEE-moh), Kenya (3000/5000/10,000m/cross country)

Born 18 November 1980, Cheptigit, near Kaptagat, Uasin Gishu Dist., Rift Valley Prov., Kenya

Married Rose Tarus of Lelboinet, Keiyo Dist., 2000. Children: Brian Kiprop (2000), Marion (2002).

Lives mainly in Cheptigit. Based in Nijmegen, Netherlands, during track season.

Manager: Jos Hermens.  Coach: Joseph Chelimo.

Keiyo (Kalenjin). Sixth of seven children. Father, ex-farm worker, now a farmer with 17 acres

Finished Chepkosom Primary Sch. 1994. Cert. in electrical wiring, Elgon View Polytechnic 1996.

Did not run in school. Intrigued by Fila training camp established near his home in 1994. Began training alone October 1997. Two months later started tagging along with athletes in camp. Successful almost immediately in local cross country races, and in February 1998 won junior race at National Championships and attracted attention of manager Hermens. Second in junior race at World Cross.

Set world junior record at 3000m (7:36.76) in Europe that summer, but missed Kenyan trials for World Junior Champs. Entered Commonwealth Games trials in hope of belated selection for junior team but selected for Commonwealth and African Championships instead. In Dakar, drafted to fill spot in African Ch. 3000m steeplechase and took silver as novice behind compatriot Bernard Barmasai. A month later in Kuala Lumpur, won bronze in Commonwealth 5000m behind Daniel Komen and Tom Nyariki.

Repeated as Kenyan junior cross winner and as World Cross runner up in 1999. Set junior world best at 2M (8:13.47) in May, but not selected for Kenyan World Championships team in spite of 3rd place finish in 5000m at trials. Chosen for All-African Games 5000 instead; came 6th in furious sprint finish off slow pace. Suffered similar experience the following year: qualified 2nd in 5000 for 2000 Olympics, but finished 10th in last-lap scramble in Sydney final.

Discouraged after dismal 32nd at 12 km, in muddy 2001 World Cross (hamstring injury), but bounced back after physiotherapy, winning 5000 at World Ch. trial with impressive finish. Entered Edmonton WC final as coach Mike Kosgei's designated winner. Benefited from pacemaking by teammate Sammy Kipketer. Battling kickers who had finished 1-2 in Sydney, Million Wolde and Ali Saidi-Sief, Limo accelerated off final turn to claim gold in 13:00.77.

The next winter trained hard for Kenya's 2002 World Cross trials and won 12 km with similar home-straight acceleration. Pushed past his peak in strenuous pre-World Cross training camp, finished a disappointing 4th in Dublin 12 km. Skipped Commonwealth trials but selected for African Ch., where he took silver off slow pace, losing a sprint duel to compatriot Paul Bitok. Low-key Grand Prix season culminated in 10,000m PB (26:50.20) behind Sammy Kipketer in Brussels. Limo and Kipketer shared rare distinction of ranking among year's top 10 in 3000, 5000 and 10,000 (Track & Field News).

Preparation for 2003 World Cross comparatively relaxed -- aiming just to make team. Qualified in 6th at 12 km in Kenyan trials. Plans this time to use camp to bring him to peak in Lausanne.

Yearly Progression 3000/500010,000: 1998 - 7:36.76/ 13:21.59; 1999 - 7:34.32/ 12:58.15; 2000 - 7:37.12/ 12:58.70; 2001- 7:32.23 / 12:56.72 (Zurich GL/world leader); 2002 - 7:38.28/12:57.52/ 26:50.20 (Brussels GL)
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Most of Kenya's top runners emerge from the county's well-established schools athletics system. Richard Limo is an exception. He had nothing to do with athletics in school, other than in PE class, where he found others were better runners than he was. His career is an accident of geography.

His parents' farm is about a kilometer from a rustic colonial-era hotel that was chosen as a residential training base by a Fila-sponsored club in 1994.  "I used to watch the runners from the camp," says Limo. "There were young guys, my age, my size. I thought, 'Why don't I try this?'" Late in 1997 he began running very early in the morning to avoid being seen. After two months, he approached some of the members of the camp and was permitted to join their training runs. "It didn't cost them anything," he says. "If I came last, it was my own fault."

After a month struggling to keep up, he could run with the Fila athletes, and in another month he felt ready to enter local races. By late February 1998, barely five months after his first training run, he won the junior race at the Kenya National Cross Country Championships, and his career was launched. For those who argue that the dense concentration of world class runners in Kenya's Rift Valley is the result of the snowballing effect of numerous nearby role models, Limo is clearly a case in point.

After his first major international win, in the 5000 m at the 2001 World Championships, he grew reflective about his success and determined not to squander his good fortune. "I want to stay a long time in athletics," he said after his victory. "If you look at history, the people who have lasted long, like Kipchoge Keino, they didn't run many races. Now that I am a champion, I can choose my races carefully and take time for rest and recovery. That way I can have a long career."  Wisdom of the ages from a 20 year old.

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STOP PRESS - 24 March 2003 - Yuda withdrew from the championships in Lausanne, due to a recent Achilles injury which had restricted his training.

John Msuri YUDA (YOO-dah), Tanzania (5000/10,000/road races/cross country)

Born 9 June 1979, Kwapakacha, Kondoa District, Dodoma Region, Tanzania

Former mechanic. Lives mainly in Dodoma. Often trains in Nyahururu, Kenya, with KIM group. Based in London for European competition

Manager: Duncan Gaskell, KIM. Coaches: Jimmy Beuttah, Sammy Nyangincha

Mrangi (same tribe as '80s marathon great Juma Ikangaa). Eldest of two children of father's first of three wives. Father a farmer with 15 acres of maize and ground nuts.

Finished primary school at Mlimwa Primary, Dodoma. Apprenticed as mechanic in Dodoma.

Began running in primary school, with regional success in 5000 m. Later, inspired by radio reports of Kenyan triumphs, started training in early morning before going to work as mechanic. Attached himself to local training group; advanced through regional meets to 2000 National Championships—5th in both 5000 and 10,000. Twice approached Max Iranqhe, leader of elite, residential running club in Arusha, for permission to join. Admitted provisionally in July to train for Mt. Meru marathon in August. Finished 5th (2:20:12). Joined club for cross country training.

Entered 2001 Kenyan Cross Country Championships—25th in 12 km. Proceeded to World Cross in Ostend,  where he ran both men's races—14th in 4 km and 27th in 12 km. Signed by KIM in Belgium and taken to Europe for road races. On successive weekends won 10 km races in Poznan and Wurtzburg, then finished 2nd to Rodgers Rop's world best at 25 km in Berlin [1:13:56, 3rd All-Time]. Moved to US for a month and won three more road races. After more road success in Australia, won Tanzanian half-marathon and finished 3rd (60:12) behind Haile Gebrselassie and Tesfaye Jifar in World Half Marathon in Bristol.

Prepared for 2002 World Cross with six cross country races in Europe, winning four. Took silver  behind formidable Kenenisa Bekele in 12 km at Dublin World Cross. Six weeks later, after two road wins and a 4th at Stramilano Half-Marathon, collected his second successive bronze in the World Half-Marathon, this time in Brussels behind Paul Kosgei and Jaouad Gharib. Won Tanzanian championship at 10,000 and launched international track career with a pair of national records in Golden League races (13:03.62 for 5000 m in Rome; 27:06.17 for 10,000 m in Brussels) and a bronze at 10,000 in the Manchester Commonwealth Games. Closed season with superb PR at half-marathon distance (60:02), finishing second behind Kosgei in Great North Run.

Preparation for 2003 World Cross has included five European cross races, but with fewer wins than last year. Does this mean Yuda is still weary from his astonishing total of two dozen races in 2002? Or has he just been relaxing for the past three months, getting ready for Lausanne?

Yearly progression 5000/10,000/half-marathon:  2001 - --/--/60:12;  2002 - 13:03.62 NR (Rome GL) / 27:06.17 NR (Brussels GL) / 60:02 (Gt. North Run)
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John Yuda is such a fixture in the elite ranks of world distance running that it's difficult to believe his international career is barely two years old. In the summer of 2000, while his current rivals were preparing for the Sydney Olympics, Yuda was still a part-time amateur runner, training in the morning before going to work as a mechanic, and repeatedly pleading to be accepted into Tanzania's most elite running club. His first overseas trip was to the 2001 World Cross Country Championships, and six months after that, he was bronze medalist at the World Half-Marathon. He now boasts medals from major international championships in cross country, road racing and track.

Yuda has invested some of the winnings from his prolific racing, mainly in his hometown of Dodoma, where he has bought two cars and a house that he sometimes shares with his mpenzi (girlfriend), Hawa Hussein, a young international runner of longer experience than Yuda himself. (She was 20th at 4 km in the World Cross as long ago as 1998, and was 6th at 5000 m in the 1998 Commonwealth Games.)  Yuda is also building a two-story commercial establishment in the running center of Arusha that he expects to turn into a small hotel and tavern. And to help him make his way in the world, he is supplementing his limited formal education by studying English on his own from teach-yourself books.

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KENENISA Bekele (KEN-en-EE-sah  beh-KAY-lay), Ethiopia (5000 m)

Born 20 June 1982, Bekoji, Arsi Province, Ethiopia (five km from Derartu Tulu's home village).

Lives mainly in Addis Ababa. Based in Nijmegen, Netherlands, for European competition.

Manager: Jos Hermens. Coach: Dr. Woldemeskel Kostre and Tolosa Kotu

Oromo. Second of six children. Father a farmer, raising wheat, barley and tef (Ethiopian staple grain), as well as 20 cattle and 40 sheep.

Finished eight years of school in two different primary schools. Currently taking night courses aiming to complete secondary school.

Began running competitively in 1997, his seventh year of school, winning local school cross country championship. The next year won provincial champs and represented province in national junior champs, finishing 6th. Offered place in club team sponsored by Mugher Cement factory, whose members include Tesfaye Jifar, Tesfaye Tola and Gezahagne Abera, and whose coach is Tolosa Kotu, national marathon coach.

Qualified for junior team for 1999 World Cross in Belfast, where he finished 9th. Later that year won silver in 5000 m behind Kenyan Pius Muli at World Youth Championships in Poland. In 2000 he fell ill at time of WCCC trials and failed to make the team, but later in the year came second to another Kenyan, Gordon Mugi, in the 5000 m at World Junior Champs in Chile.

In final year as junior, completed astonishing double at 2001 World Cross, finishing 2nd in men's 4K on day 1 and returning the next day to add overwhelming 33 second victory in junior race. Stricken with abdominal pains during the 5000 at the Rome Golden League meet, which served as Ethiopia's World Championships trial. Finished 4th among Ethiopians (16th overall in 13:15.39) and failed to make the team.

In 2002, a similar pattern: an even more extraordinary double at World Cross, winning both long and short course races (first man in history of championships to do so), again by intimidating margins. But track season again curtailed, this time by knee injury that precluded competition until November. Started modestly with 3rd place in Great Ethiopian Run. Then came series of five straight cross country wins in two months on European circuit, with average victory margin of 27 seconds -- interrupted by trip to Japan for Chiba Ekiden, where Kenenisa's second-stage (5 km) 13:07 broke stage record by 9 seconds and broke race open for Ethiopian team. Missed 2003 Ethiopian World Cross trials because of illness (food poisoning), but now fully recovered and awaiting decision of team selectors.

Kenenisa's dominant performances naturally bring to mind another Ethiopian athlete, and many in Ethiopia are eager to anoint him Haile's successor. But Kenenisa demurs at the comparison. "I have a long way to go," he says, "before achieving half of what Haile has managed to accomplish." The $60,000 he collected for last year's two cross country victories, an enormous sum in Ethiopia, has made little change in his life. He continues to live modestly with his younger brother, also an athlete, in a rented house in Addis Ababa. He has no car, though he is learning to drive, and he has bought a mobile phone. He says he's simply saving his money and hopes one day to buy his own house in the capital. It's a safe bet, however, that these limited horizons are about to undergo a very rapid expansion.

Yearly progression 3000/5000:  1999 - 8:09.89/ —; 2000 - 7:46.95/ 13:20.57; 2001 - 7:30.67 (WJR)/ 13:13.33;  2002 - injured

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Edith Chewangel MASAI (mah-SIGH),Kenya (3000/5000 m)

Born 4 April 1967, Chepkoya, near Kapsakwony, Bungoma District, Western Province, Kenya.

Divorced mother of Griffin Sakit (born 1990)

Lives mainly in Nairobi. Based in Trier, Germany, during track season.

Manager/coach: Dorothee Paulmann.

Kony (Kalenjin). Third of four children of father's first of four wives. Father a farmer with 60 acres.

Completed second year at Kibuk Secondary School 1988. Joined Kenya Prisons Service 1990 as wardress; promoted to corporal, then sergeant 2001.

Began running in primary school. Among top placers in primary schools nationals at 800m and 1500m for three years; 2nd in 800m in secondary schools nationals 1988. Recruited into Prisons Service as an athlete but did not begin serious training until after divorce in 1999. Placed well in several Kenyan cross country meets that year and next. Prisons colleague Jacob Losian, running in Europe, persuaded fledgling manager Paulmann to give Masai a chance. Arrived in Germany at end of August, 2000. Ran 11 races in three months, consistently placing well. Returned to Kenya for cross country, winning Prisons Championships 4K and finishing 2nd to Rose Cheruiyot at 4 km in 2001 Kenyan World Cross trials.

Bronze at 4 km in World Cross in Ostend signaled international breakthrough. Followed with 68:27 half-marathon on slightly downhill course in Lisbon and world-leading (flat course) 67:53 in Nice. Won 5000m at Kenyan World Championships trials in Kenyan all-comers record (15:24.4) but just missed qualifying mark and was not named to team. Big wins in Oslo (14:46.06, outkicking Olympic Champion Gabriela Szabo), Stockholm (14:45.86) and Monte Carlo (8:34.79 for 3000) put her on Kenyan team and among favourites in 5000 at Edmonton, but bout of malaria in late July left her weakened before the final, in which she finished 7th. A PB at 3000 (8:31.76) in Zurich a week later showed she was recovering, but too late.

After a few races on European cross country circuit, cruised to convincing win at 4 km in 2002 Kenyan World Cross trials. Did much the same at Dublin World Cross itself, winning gold at 4 km by 6 seconds. On 2002 GP circuit, carried on three-way rivalry with Berhane Adere and Gabriela Szabo over 3000 and 5000, Masai winning at 5000 in Rome and Stockholm and setting African record (8:23.23) behind Szabo and Paula Radcliffe in blazing Monaco 3000. Won Kenya Commonwealth Games trials 5000 and took silver behind Radcliffe's Commonwealth record at Manchester Games.

So far this season, two wins and a close 2nd  on European cross circuit, then successive 2nd place finishes in the Kenya Prisons and Kenya World Cross trials 4 km races, where she seemed to be running to qualify. Those who saw her run in Dublin know what she can do when she wants to win.

Yearly progression 3000/ 5000:  2001 - 8:31.76/ 14:45.86;  2002 - 8:23.23 (AfR)/14:48.14
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Edith Masai became a serious runner when she became a single mother. She had been a successful schoolgirl athlete and had been recruited into Kenya's Prisons Service as a runner, but as the married mother of a young son (Griffin, born 1990), she had little sporting ambition and trained just enough to keep her position on the Prisons team. When she split with Griffin's policeman father in 1999, however, she realized she would have to become more self-reliant. "I had no one to assist me," she says. "I had to do something." Her only skill was running, so she began to do more of it, without coaching but with strong motivation to be a good provider for her son.

Her story resonated with Dorothee Paulmann, herself a divorced mother of about Masai's age. Paulmann ran competitively and had been a national-class triathlete in Germany. In 2000, when she heard about Masai, she was a university language teacher tentatively trying her hand as an athletes' manager, based on friendships with a few African runners. She bought Masai a plane ticket, and when the shy Kenyan arrived in Germany, the two quickly formed a bond. Masai lived in Paulmann's house, and they traveled together to competitions. Masai's diffidence and her limited English appear to have been no barrier in this friendship. What the two women share is more important: ambition in the service of similar family commitments.

Friends in Kenya say Masai's newfound success has hardly changed her. She has bought ten acres and built a new house near the western Kenya town of Kitale, where her son is in boarding school, but she still lives most of the time in simple Prison staff quarters in Nairobi. "She is not like some of the other wealthy runners," says friend Benjamin Itok. "She has no car. She travels by matatu [crowded public minivans]. She dresses in ordinary clothes. She will talk to anybody. You would never know she is a world class athlete. She is just a natural Kenyan woman."

A note about the name "Masai": It is not a tribal designation, but it does have to do with the well-known Kenyan tribe. Edith's people are the Kony, a branch of the Kalenjin living on the slopes of 4300 m Mt. Elgon. In fact, by some accounts, it was what the Masai called these people, "il Kony," that gave the mountain its name, and the people became known, mistakenly, as Elgon Masai. Edith shares her surname with Andrew Masai, a leading masters runner on the US road circuit. The two are not related, but they come from the same village, and their fathers were initiated together. Both men were given the name Masai at that time to commemorate an ancient victory of the Kony over the Masai. Among other Kalenjin groups, the corresponding name is usually the more familiar "Barmasai."


All biographies prepared by John Manners for the IAAF "Focus on Africans" project. Copyright IAAF 2002-2003.