Ezekiel Kemboi

Athlete Profile

  • COUNTRY
    Kenya Kenya
  • DATE OF BIRTH
    25 MAY 1982
Ezekiel Kemboi celebrates after winning the 3000m steeplechase at the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 (Getty Images)

Personal Best - Outdoor

Performance Wind Place Date
1500 Metres 3:40.8 24 APR 2004
3000 Metres 7:44.24 Rieti (Guidobaldi) 09 SEP 2012
5000 Metres 13:50.61 01 JAN 2011
3000 Metres Steeplechase 7:55.76 Monaco (Stade Louis II) 22 JUL 2011

Progression - Outdoor

1500 Metres

Performance Place Date
2004 3:40.8 24 APR

3000 Metres

Performance Place Date
2012 7:44.24 Rieti (Guidobaldi) 09 SEP
2011 7:49.95 Arzana 30 JUL
2008 7:53.30 Marano 08 SEP
2006 7:57.11 Torino 06 JUN
2001 7:57.11 Torino 09 JUN

5000 Metres

Performance Place Date
2011 13:50.61 01 JAN

3000 Metres Steeplechase

Performance Place Date
2016 8:14.19 Beijing (National Stadium) 18 MAY
2015 8:01.71 Eugene (Hayward Field), OR 30 MAY
2014 8:04.12 Doha (Hamad Bin Suhaim) 09 MAY
2013 7:59.03 Paris Saint-Denis (Stade de France) 06 JUL
2012 8:10.55 Roma (Stadio Olimpico) 31 MAY
2011 7:55.76 Monaco (Stade Louis II) 22 JUL
2010 8:01.74 Zürich (Letzigrund) 19 AUG
2009 7:58.85 Doha 08 MAY
2008 8:09.25 Athína (Olympic Stadium) 13 JUL
2007 8:05.50 Athína (Olympic Stadium) 02 JUL
2006 8:09.29 Paris Saint-Denis 08 JUL
2005 8:09.04 Monaco (Stade Louis II) 09 SEP
2004 8:02.98 Monaco (Stade Louis II) 19 SEP
2003 8:02.49 Zürich 15 AUG
2002 8:06.65 Bruxelles 30 AUG
2001 8:23.66 Haniá 04 JUN
2000 8:48.0 Nairobi 22 SEP

Honours - 3000 Metres Steeplechase

Rank Mark Wind Place Date
The XXXI Olympic Games f DQ R 163.3b Rio de Janeiro (Estádio Olímpico) 17 AUG 2016
15th IAAF World Championships 1 8:11.28 Beijing (National Stadium) 24 AUG 2015
14th IAAF World Championships 1 8:06.01 Moskva (Luzhniki) 15 AUG 2013
The XXX Olympic Games 1 8:18.56 London (Olympic Stadium) 05 AUG 2012
13th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 1 8:14.85 Daegu (DS) 01 SEP 2011
IAAF/VTB Bank World Athletics Final 1 8:04.38 Thessaloníki 13 SEP 2009
12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 1 8:00.43 Berlin (Olympiastadion) 18 AUG 2009
6th IAAF/VTB Bank World Athletics Final 2 8:15.32 Stuttgart (Gottlieb-Daimler Stadion) 14 SEP 2008
The XXIX Olympic Games 7 8:16.38 Beijing (National Stadium) 18 AUG 2008
11th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 2 8:16.94 Osaka (Nagai Stadium) 28 AUG 2007
4th IAAF World Athletics Final 5 8:18.01 Stuttgart (Gottlieb-Daimler Stadion) 10 SEP 2006
3rd IAAF World Athletics Final 2 8:09.04 Monaco (Stade Louis II) 09 SEP 2005
10th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 2 8:14.95 Helsinki (Olympic Stadium) 09 AUG 2005
2nd IAAF World Athletics Final 2 8:02.98 Monaco (Stade Louis II) 19 SEP 2004
28th Olympic Games 1 8:05.81 Athína (Olympic Stadium) 24 AUG 2004
1st IAAF World Athletics Final 3 8:11.79 Monaco (Stade Louis II) 14 SEP 2003
9th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 2 8:05.11 Paris Saint-Denis (Stade de France) 26 AUG 2003

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Updated 15 August 2016

 

Ezekiel KEMBOI, Kenya (3000m Steeplechase)

 

Born 25 May 1982, Matira, near Kapsowar, Marakwet District, Rift Valley Province

Coach: Moses Kiptanui

Manager: Enrico Dionisi

 

Ezekiel Kemboi can justifiably lay claim to being the best steeplechaser of all time. With two Olympic gold medals, four World titles, a Commonwealth gold as well as an All Africa Games crown, he certainly is the most decorated.

However, during his illustrious career, Kemboi has courted fame and infamy almost in equal measure.

 

Whether it is his ‘Emily Chepchumba’ dance at the Daegu World Championships or his hurdling celebration when he won his maiden steeplechase title in Berlin, Kemboi is a media darling and the consummate showman.

His antics coupled with a litany of enviable success in the water and barriers race – an event known as ‘Kenya’s race’ – has catapulted Kemboi from a teenage aspiring disc jockey to one of the most recognised runners – an admirable feat considering Kenyans rarely embrace their talented athletes.

 

The fame: Thus far in his career, Kemboi has won two Olympic gold medals, three World Championship crowns, three World silver medals, an All Africa Games title, a Commonwealth Games title, and an African Junior Championship crown.

 

The infamy: in June 2012, he was arraigned in court and charged with assault after a woman claimed that he had stabbed her. It took five days for Team Kenya chiefs to confirm his aspirations of being the first Kenyan male steeplechaser to win two Olympic gold medals.

 

In 2008, he had vowed he would not return home if he did not succeed in defending his Olympic title in Beijing and in 2009, he was disqualified before being re-instated at the 2009 Kenyan National Championships.

 

In 2013, he changed his travel plans to Moscow without informing the team officials until the day before they departed, while his spat with youngster Conseslus Kipruto at the Diamond League meeting in Eugene in June saw him disqualified. Then, as he crossed the line for his third successive World title in Moscow, Kemboi took a swipe at the boy who idolised him.

 

With the finish line in sight, Kemboi turned and wagged his finger menacingly at Kipruto who was holding on to the second medal. “I’m the King!” Kemboi explained his provocative gesture adding, “Kipruto is 13 years my junior, the time maybe he will take charge that is when I retire.”

 

The pair has since patched up their differences and even trained together ahead of the Beijing Worlds.

 

The third of seven children and the son of a farmer, unlike most Kenyan top athletes, Kemboi did not run in school. Extracurricular interests included football (midfielder), music (DJ at school parties), drama and debate. He started running on his own after leaving school, fixing on the steeplechase in emulation of fellow Marakwet athletes Moses Kiptanui and William Mutwol.

 

Kemboi attended Kapsowar Boys Secondary, completing in 1999. In April 2001 he entered an open Athletics Kenya meeting in Kakamega and won the Steeplechase in 8:56. "No strong guys were there," he says. He attracted the attention of IAAF/IOC coach Paul Ereng, who invited him to train at the then newly created High Altitude Training Centre in Eldoret.

 

After another local win, Kemboi wrote to several European managers. Only Enrico Dionisi wrote back. Kemboi flew to Europe in late May 2001 and ran five races in two weeks, lowering his PB to 8:23.66, and returned to Kenya for trials for the African Junior Championships in Mauritius. Finishing second to 2003 World Championships teammate Mike Kipyego, he then won in Mauritius (8:39.80) in spite of falling.

 

In 2002, the year he married Jane Jepchumba, Kemboi ran the steeplechase in two major championships: the Commonwealth Games, in Manchester, where he finished second (8:19.78) to teammate Stephen Cherono, and the African Championships, where he was fourth (8:27.14) behind Brahim Boulami, Wilson Boit Kipketer and Cherono (later awarded bronze after Boulami received a doping suspension).

 

He also competed in five European meetings, winning three - Strasbourg (8:20.95), Paris Golden League (8:10.11) and Brussels Golden League (8:06.65 PB).

 

In 2003, before the World Championships, in Paris, Kemboi ran 11 races and won seven - including Kenya’s National Championships and the brutally competitive World Championships trials (8:12.55 at 1700 metres altitude).

 

Each of the four races he lost were won by Saif Saeed Shaheen, his former teammate Stephen Cherono, who had changed allegiance by picking up Qatar citizenship. In the most telling of those four races, at the Zürich Golden League meeting, Kemboi lost by 0.01 second in a then PB 8:02.49.

 

Going into the Paris final, Kemboi had never beaten Shaheen, the world's top-ranked steeplechaser for two years.

 

The race started strangely, with Shaheen and Qatari teammate Abdullah Saifeldin Khamis sprinting to a 50-metre lead from the gun, baffling the Kenyans. By mid-race, as Khamis began to fade, Kemboi sprinted after Shaheen and passed him in less than a lap. There followed the most extraordinary duel anyone can remember in a championship steeplechase. The lead changed several times before Shaheen pulled away from the exhausted Kemboi to win by less than a second (8:04.39 to 8:05.11).

 

Kemboi closed his season with a gold medal at the All Africa Games in Abuja (8:12.27).

 

Until the Olympics, 2004 was a surprisingly low-key season for Kemboi. Apart from his decisive win at the Kenyan Olympic trials (8:16.5 at altitude), he won two other races (Lausanne and Paris) and finished second twice to Shaheen (Ostrava and Zürich).

 

With Shaheen ineligible to run in Athens, Kemboi started as favourite, and the race went very much according to form, with the three Kenyans sweeping the podium led by Kemboi who won gold in 8:05.81, (0.3 seconds shy of Julius Kariuki’s Olympic Record).

 

He spent much of the ensuing weeks being feted in Marakwet and returned to competition in the World Athletics Final (WAF), where Shaheen, who set a brilliant World record 7:53.63 shortly after the Olympics, took out his frustrations with a six-second win, in spite of Kemboi’s determined effort (8:02.98 SB).

 

2005 seemed like a replay of the previous two years - creditable performances in Europe, a win at the Kenyan trials and another second to Shaheen in the Helsinki World Championships. 2006 brought the Commonwealth Games, another championship for which Shaheen wasn’t eligible, and Kemboi won in 8:18.17. Seven races on the GP circuit yielded three wins, two more losses to Shaheen and a disqualification at the African Championships in Bambous, Mauritius, for improper hurdling.

 

In 2007, with another World Championships to consider, Kemboi ran sparingly, but showed good form when it counted, finishing second to teammate Willy Komen in the All Africa Games, in Algiers (8:16.93), but comfortably winning the Kenyan trial (8:17.52 at altitude) and recording his best time in three years (8:05.50) in winning the Athens GP.

 

In view of his superb record in global championships, and the absence of the injured Shaheen, Kemboi was rated the clear favourite in Osaka. However, just as Komen had stunned him in Algiers by sprinting away in the last 200m for gold, another youngster, Brimin Kipruto (then 22) who had won silver behind him at the Athens Olympics, out-kicked Kemboi for the top medal (8:13.82 against 8:16.94). Richard Mateelong romped home for bronze to complete a medal sweep for Kenya.

 

“It does not matter who won gold as long as it came to Kenya and we won all the medals – that is fine by me,” Kemboi said. 

 

The year that Kemboi set out to defend his Olympic title, in Beijing, saw him skip all competition to reserve his energy for the Kenyan trials that he barely won from Kipruto in 8:13.56. However, protests led by legendary 1972 Olympic Steeplechase champion, Kipchoge Keino,  accusing Kemboi of illegal hurdling at the early part of the race, and Athens Olympics bronze medal winner, Paul Kipsiele Koech, who charged that the winner had pushed him as he came into the last 150m, greeted his triumph.

 

Athletics Kenya (AK) nonetheless named Kemboi in the team alongside Kipruto and Mateelong. As the team departed for China, he made the most infamous comment of his career that far. “I’m going to Beijing to defend my gold,” he said. “If I don’t win gold, I will never return to Kenya.”

 

In the Olympic final, Kemboi shockingly slumped to seventh (8:16.38), his worst performance at a major championship.

 

When asked why he returned home, Kemboi offered a wry smile replying: “Those are the kind of things we say to make the game a bit interesting. Kenya is home, I don’t have another.” Later, he was to disclose, “After two laps, I felt my stomach churn and I started feeling sharp pain. Up to that point (he had taken the lead), I was feeling very good but afterwards, I said to myself I would do all I could to finish.” His second WAF silver (8:15.32), this time behind Kipsiele Koech, wrapped up his season.

 

Disappointed with his 2008 showing, Kemboi turned to Kenya’s greatest steeplechaser of all time, Moses Kiptanui, for help, “He has really improved my technique on how to jump and also on how to control my race, when to cruise and when to turn on the heat,” he explained.

 

In his opening race of the 2009 season, in Qatar on 8 May, Kemboi made a major announcement of intent in another World Championship year, when he dipped under 8 minutes for the first time, posting a personal best of 7:58.85 and the eighth best mark of all-time.

 

At the final of Kenya National Championships ten days later, Kemboi, slipped and fell after the water jump as they went to the bell and faded to ninth. An incensed Kemboi threw his running jersey to the ground in anger after the race. Initially, he had been disqualified, but was then reinstated, after being accused of jumping outside the hurdle.

 

He came third at the Kenyan Berlin trials and was subsequently named to the team. “I’m tired of silver, silver, silver at the World Championships,” he exclaimed. “This time Kemboi should win the gold, it’s only fair to me. It will be tough but I will struggle to win this gold that has escaped me,” he said.

 

In Berlin, Kemboi lined up against three other Kenyans in the final.

 

Ever the free spirited lad in the Kenyan camp, he showed up for the race spotting a new haircut inspired by a German friend. “I wanted to be different from the rest. A friend of mine from Germany gave me this design and he told me in the morning that if I got my hair like this I would win.”


Kemboi moved for the kill at the bell, before accelerating on the back straight; a clean clearance at the water jump increased his lead as he went on to win in a new Championship record of 8:00.43.

 

“It’s my time to celebrate, that is why went to dance with Mateelong. After three silvers in a row in 2003, 2005, 2007 at the World Championships now I have won gold and am a great man,” said Kemboi.

 
Always unpredictable, Kemboi then declared he would move up to marathon! “In the next two years I will move up to marathon. I have run Steeplechase for eight years and I think I need to change because what I was missing was a World Championship gold and now I have got it.”

 

After Berlin, Kemboi won in Zürich before wrapping up the year with victory at the World Athletics Final in 8:04.38.

 

The Doha Diamond League meeting, in May, was the location for his first race of the 2010 season and he recorded another victory in 8:06.28.


Always at the centre of drama, Kemboi was celebrating having qualified for the final at the National Championships, in June, when he was struck by a hammer thrown by one of the competitors, injuring his foot and ruling him out of the final. Athletics Kenya officials however threw him a lifeline, handing him a wild card after getting word from the team’s physiotherapist that he would be fit for the continental event.

 

A third-place finish in 8:03.79 at the Paris Diamond League mid-July proved that he had fully recovered and could look forward to winning the one medal missing from his impressive collection. However, Mateelong had his own ambitions, of holding on to his continental crown, which he duly accomplished in 8:23.54, leaving Kemboi to settle for silver in 8:26.13.

 

Circuit speedster, Kipsiele Koech (8:17.70 to 8:19.95) then defeated him at the London DL Grand Prix but six days later, he turned in a season best performance of 8:01.74 to return the favour at the Zürich DL meet as his conqueror in Nairobi, Mateelong, came home fifth.

 

The trio of Kemboi, Mateelong and Olympic champion Kipruto turned up on their nation’s duty at the Commonwealth Games, in Delhi he again came second to Mateelong in 8:18.47.

 

Kemboi started the 2011 outdoor season with a series of competitions mainly outside his favourite event in Italy in May, posting a personal best in 10km race (28:38).

 

He also appeared in five races in his specialty leading up to the World Championships, winning two and placing on the podium in the remainder, with a resounding personal best of 7:55.56 at the Monaco DL meet on 22 July, in the race where his rival Brimin Kipruto came only one hundredth of a second off Shaheen’s 2004 World record, while Kemboi’s effort moved him up to sixth in the all-time lists.

 

At the Worlds, in Daegu, Kemboi easily won his heat to make the 1 September final, where he was never far away from the leading pack and with 200 metres to go he unleashed a ferocious finishing kick pulling away from the rest of the field to win in 8:14.85.

 

Such was his margin of victory that he started his celebrations well before the finishing line. He then peeled off his running vest before embarking on the Emily Chepchumba jig in front of a capacity crowd.

 

“Am happy to have defended my title in Daegu. I wanted a faster race but when I realised it was slow, I decided to wait and attack in the last 400 metres. But I changed my mind and waited till the last 200 metres because there were some strong guys in there.”

 

Never shy of stealing a headline or two, he said the jig was a tribute to ‘his friend’ Usain Bolt who a day earlier had been disqualified from the 100 metres final. “Always when I shave my hair, it means I’m ready for war. It was a tough race, the final and I had to dance after winning for my friend Usain Bolt. If Bolt had won the 100m, he would have danced well and I did it for him,” the ecstatic Kemboi announced.

 

Kemboi had a relatively quiet 2012, running in only two races before heading to London for the Olympic Games. He finished fourth at the Golden Gala in Rome in 8:10.55 in May. Then at Kenya’s Olympic trials, he pulled up right next to leader Brimin Kipruto before waving him to go on and win while he came in second in 8:12.82.

 

Off the track however, he hogged the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Four days after the trials, his presumed date in Eldoret with Anne Njeri Otieno ended up with the 26-year-old restaurateur in hospital, nursing injuries including a stab wound to the chest and the steeplechase star accused of inflicting them.

 

Arraigned in court the following day, he denied the charges and was released on bail, pending hearing in September. He maintains he was a victim in the incident and not the transgressor; a theory that was backed by Team Kenya CEO, Stephen Arap Soi, as it was confirmed that he would keep his place in the team.

 

In London, Kemboi made history by becoming the first Kenyan (and the second athlete ever after Finn Volmari Iso-Hollo in 1932 and 1936) to win the steeplechase twice at the Olympics when he triumphed in 8:18.56. It was a cagey race during which he showed his tactical flexibility staying back till the final 250 metres when he made his move before accelerating away after the final water jump.

 

Such was his margin of victory that he wandered towards the outer lanes finishing in lane eight.  “It signified that am moving towards road running,” he quipped dryly afterwards.

 

To his credit, he did give the road a go, finishing fourth in an 8.5km race in Amatrice, Italy, in mid-August and he was again fourth in a 10km race in Castelbuono, Italy, in September.

 

Even better news followed in October when Njeri Otieno, who had filed the assault case in June, voluntarily withdrew the charges saying that she had instead chosen to focus on her studies.

 

Never far away from controversy, he kicked off 2013 in dramatic circumstances after he shoved Kipruto in the final few metres of the steeple in Eugene in June and was disqualified as a result.

 

Kemboi redeemed himself in Paris in July, dipping under the 8:00 barrier for only the third time in his career as he won a season’s best time of 7:59.03.

 

Given a bye to Moscow as he was the reigning champion, Kemboi did not do much at the trials, finishing sixth before entertaining fans with his trademark dance afterwards.

 

In Russia, Kemboi cemented his status at the greatest steeplechaser of his generation by emulating his countryman Moses Kiptanui and securing a hat-trick of World titles with yet another supreme competitive performance winning in 8:06.36.

 

Amid reports from the Kenyan camp he had been excluded from the team tactics planning, it was a ruthless display by the 33-year-old, who secured not only his third straight gold but also plundered a remarkable sixth successive steeplechase World medal.

 

In 2014, after opening the season with a world leading 8:04.12 victory in Doha on 9 May, Kemboi’s mission was adding a second Commonwealth Games title in Scotland.

 

But in Glasgow, the former World junior champion, Jonathan Muia Ndiku, shocked him and circuit leader, Jairus Birech, the breakout star of the year, to the top medal as Kemboi settled for bronze in 8:93.17. 11 days later, Kemboi was beaten to the same position at the African Athletics Championships in Marrakech, Morocco in an 8:39.30 performance. Birech reversed the finishing order from Glasgow to beat Ndiku to the gold.

 

Having started the 2015 campaign on fire with a brisk 8:01.71 world leading in Eugene on 30 May, before finishing fourth at the Kenyan Trials on 1 August, where he finished fourth (8:24.42) with his place for Beijing Worlds assured. Birech won the Trials with 2008 Olympics champion, Brimin Kipruto and namesake Conseslus completing a fearsome quartet that Kemboi immediately underlined they would go for the unprecedented 1-2-3-4 in China.

Back in Beijing and keen to make up for the 2008 display in the Bird’s Nest, Kemboi again ran conservatively before putting on the afterburners with 250 metres to go to win his fourth World crown in 8:11.28.

 

Kemboi’s 2016 started with typically pedestrian performances in the Diamond League. His seasonal best is a 8:14.19 run in the World Challenge meeting in Beijing in May. But when the Trials were held on 1 July, he easily made the Kenyan team in third place to book a fourth appearance at the Olympic Games. 

 

Personal Bests

1500m: 3:40.8hA (2004)

3000m: 7:44.24 (2012)                      

5000m :13:50.61 (2011)

10km: 28:38 (2011)

3000m Steeplechase: 7:55.76 (2011)

 

Yearly Progression

2001 - 8:23.66; 2002 - 8:06.65; 2003 - 8:02.49; 2004 – 8:02.98; 2005 – 8:09.04; 2006 – 8:09.29; 2007 - 8:05.50; 2008 - 8:09.25; 2009 - 7:58.85; 2010-8:01.74; 2011-7:55.76, 2012- 8:10.55; 2013-7:59.03; 2014-8:04.12; 2015-8:01.71; 2016-8:14.19

 

Career Highlights

2001    1st        African Junior Championships, Réduit

2002    4th        African Championships, Radès

2002    2nd       Commonwealth Games, Manchester

2003    2nd       World Championships, Paris

2003    3rd        World Athletics Final, Monaco

2003    1st        All Africa Games, Abuja

2004    1st        Olympic Games, Athens

2004    2nd       World Athletics Final, Monaco

2005    2nd       World Championships, Helsinki

2005    2nd       World Athletics Final, Monaco

2006    1st        Commonwealth Games, Melbourne

2006    DQ      African Championships, Bambous

2006    5th        World Athletics Final, Stuttgart

2007    2nd       All Africa Games, Algiers

2007    2nd       World Championships, Osaka

2008    7th        Olympics Games, Beijing

2008    2nd       World Athletics Final, Stuttgart

2009   1st         World Championships, Berlin

2009   1st         World Athletics Final, Thessaloniki

2010    2nd       African Athletics Championships, Nairobi

2010    2nd       Commonwealth Games, Delhi

2011    1st       World Championships, Daegu

2012    1st       Olympics Games, London

2013    1st        World Championships, Moscow 

2014    3rd        Commonwealth Games, Glasgow

2014    3rd        African Championships, Marrakech

2015    1st        World Championships, Beijing

 

Prepared by James Wokabi, Mutwiri Mutuota and John Manners for the IAAF "Focus on Athletes" project. © IAAF 2003-2016