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Updated 27 July 2009
Haron KEITANY, Kenya (1500m)
Born: 17 December 1983, Moi’s Bridge, Eldoret, Rift Valley Province
Coach: Amos Korir
Manager: Bob Verbeeck
Camp: Golazo Sports
Marital status: Single
Powerfully built but quick to offer anyone he interacts with one of his rich, dazzling smiles, Haron Keitany is living his dream of making significant steps in a career he opted to turn to after initial plans to earn a living engaged in a white collar job failed to turn out as expected.
The imposing runner could illuminate the men’s 1500m final in his first global track championship as he seeks to become the first Kenyan to be crowned World champion in that distance and add to the African title he collected in Addis Ababa in 2008.
“My ambition in life after school was to pursue higher learning in university,” Keitany said. “After my KCSE (Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education) exam results came out, I had attained a grade of C that was not enough to see me admitted in campus (University). That made me return to the village to become a farmer where I used to help my family cultivate maize and herd cattle.”
The sixth born in a family of ten, Keitany was schooled at Ndabarnach Primary School, in Moi’s Bridge, before joining Arnesen’s Secondary in Uasin Gishu District for his O Level education where he left in 2003. After a year spent eking out a living as a subsistence farmer, the then 20-year-old, who had not participated in any form of athletics in a marked departure to most of his compatriots who have excelled in the sport, decided to seek alternative means of sustenance.
“It was tough for me after school in 2004, working so hard at the farm, but what I earned was not enough to fulfil my goals. I had to go back and start afresh. I wanted to be financially stable and athletics was the only way,” Keitany recalls.
At the beginning of 2005, Keitany started juggling his farm work with training with a number of village friends who shared in his aspiration to become a successful athlete and six months later (August), he participated in a 5000m race in Eldoret to mark his first competitive appearance. “After that, my friends convinced me to run 1500m, saying I had the height, speed and endurance to make it in that race,” he said. “I returned home to train thinking of making a career in that event.”
After winning a local race in Eldoret in 3:47.0 in December Keitany was convinced his future in athletics lay in the classic Mile. In January 2006, Keitany made his first trip to Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, where he won the 6th and last AK build-up meeting for the Commonwealth Games trials in 3:41.5 in his second 1500m race held at the country’s biggest sporting arena, Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, running for Spears Club.
“I was already worried since it was my first time to the city and the whole idea of travelling to Nairobi scared me,” he said. “The tall buildings, the many cars, I thought I would get lost. I had never seen such things before.” He returned to the same venue in February, as a virtual unknown, where he sealed victory in 3:41.83 to earn selection for the Commonwealth Games, in Melbourne, in March.
“While we were training for Melbourne, I suffered an ankle injury,” Keitany reflected. “I did not compete and Ismael Kombich ran in my place.” His Commonwealth no-show would not be the last time that injury would influence Keitany’s fate ahead of major competition. Prior to the Games, Keitany had no manager and provisional talks with one athlete representative came to nothing after his Melbourne setback.
“Things did not work out with him there and I travelled for treatment in Sydney where I stayed for two months,” Keitany said. “I was disappointed after not competing because I wanted to make a big impression at the Commonwealth Games.” Unable to shake off his injury, Keitany ended his 2006 campaign and returned home to continue his recovery process.
At the start of 2007, Keitany resumed training gradually and, in the middle of the year, signed up with Golazo Sport, his current representatives, who organised his first two races in Europe in July. However, it was a development that saw him miss the trials for the Osaka World Championships (July 4 and 5).
Keitany competed in his only event over 800m in Naimette-Xhovemont, Belgium, that yielded a 1:50.46 effort for 12th (July 25) and three days later recorded tenth place in Heusden (3:37.75, SB) in his preferred race. However, the ankle injury recurred forcing him to cut short his season.
The 2008 campaign was Keitany’s breakthrough year in world athletics. Like most runners, post election violence in Kenya at the end of 2007, which ushered in 2008, disrupted his preparations. Many of the build-up events, especially in the athletics heartland of Rift Valley and Eldoret where Keitany lived, were cancelled.
After the cessation of chaos, Keitany resumed action in the 1500m trials for the African Championships in Addis Ababa and ran 3:39.81 to finish third behind Gideon Gathimba (3:39.32) and Geoffrey Kipkoech (3:39.64). Initially, only the top two were selected for Addis but injury, this time to 400m runner, Ezra Sambu, which ruled the sprinter out of the continental event, opened up a slot in the squad and Keitany was brought in.
“We decided to give the position to a race where we had medal chances and the men’s 1500m was a good choice,” Kenya’s head coach at the time, Julius Kirwa, explained.
“Although he did not finish in the top two, Keitany had potential.” In the final in Addis, Keitany repaid his coaches’ faith abundantly when he clocked 3:43.47 to become African champion on May 4. “I had a slight hamstring injury and I thought I could not make it but, being the first time running for Kenya, and winning, I felt very happy and confident that good things were to come,” he recounted.
Keitany travelled to Europe, chalking victory (3:35.24) in Dessau, Germany, on May 30 and returning second (3:49.70, June 4) in his first ever One Mile, run in Oslo. He then placed fourth (3:37.78, July 4) at Kenya’s Trials for the Beijing Olympics. The selectors overlooked him for Beijing in favour of podium finishers, Augustine Choge, Asbel Kiprop and Nicholas Kemboi.
“I regret the fact I did not rest after Addis to give my hamstring enough time to recover for the trials,” Keitany said. “Missing the Olympics that I had spent a whole year training for all of a sudden made me feel very bad. Following my experience in Melbourne, I tried to adjust and recover quickly for competition.”
Ten days after his Olympic dream was snuffed out at the trials, Keitany won in Rethimno (3:38.84, July 14) then placed seventh in his second Heusden outing (3:36.17, July 20) before returning home and watched Bahrain athlete, Rashid Ramzi, win the Olympic title ahead of his friend, Asbel Kiprop.
At Zurich’s Weltklasse Golden League meeting (August 29) Keitany made a big statement of his status as a burgeoning talent when he ran a year’s best of 3:32.06 to humble the freshly minted Olympic champion. With his infectious smile back on his face, Keitany stated: “When I beat Ramzi that day, I knew that, if I had gone to Beijing, I would have won a medal since he was the top 1500m in the world at the time. It also made me believe in myself even more.”
En route to his first World Athletics Final in Stuttgart, Keitany posted third (3:33.62, September 2) and seventh (3:36.80, September 5) at Lausanne’s Athletissima and Brussels’ Memorial Van Damme before out-kicking Olympic silver medallist, Kiprop to gold in the World Athletics Final (September 14) with a 3:37.92 effort. “It was my first time to beat Asbel, an athlete I respect much, and ending the year as a winner went a long way in wiping out the disappointment of missing Beijing,” Keitany said.
The 2009 World Championship year opened with a foray into indoor running for Keitany who chalked up victory at the Russian Winter meeting 1000m event on February 1 and followed it up with a hat trick of successive wins at 1500m in Gent (3:33.96, February 8), Valencia (3:35.17, February 14) and Athens (3:34.83, February 25). His winning time in Gent is his indoor 1500m career best.
Keitany opened his outdoor season with a strong second place finish behind Olympic 1500m finalist Choge (3:30.88) in Doha where he timed 3:30.90 (May 8) before losing to Kiprop, but setting a personal best, in the Mile at Eugene, Oregon (3:48.78 against 3:48.50, June 7).
In the second clash of the season against Choge, Keitany once again fell just short, but stormed to a personal best and second fastest mark of the year of 3:30.20 in the Berlin Golden League meeting, where his compatriot shot to a world lead (at July 26) with his career topping 3:29.47 on June 14. With Choge and Kiprop missing, Keitany clinched the Mile race in Ostrava with 3:49.57 (June 17) to end his pre-World Championships Trials build-up. At Kenya’s selection event on July 25, Keitany, Choge and Kiprop competed in the same field for the first time and duly produced a memorable race.
After Olympic finalist Kemboi had pushed the pace as the runners headed for the bell, the favoured trio edged ahead and, as they came for the home stretch, Kiprop engaged a devastating breakaway that left Keitany and Choge locked in a furious battle for the second automatic Berlin slot. Kiprop won in a Kenyan soil record 3:32.82 with Keitany (3:33.59) turning the tables on Choge (3:33.86) to clinch second. “With 50m to go, I remembered how Choge beat me on the line in Doha when I was already celebrating victory and I had promised myself before the race not to let my chance go,” Keitany said.
“Representing a country as big as Kenya in Berlin, with 35 million (at home) watching, means a lot to me and we will not let them down. This is the only chance we have as Kenyans to sweep one-two-three and bring back our first World Championships 1500m gold medal since the team is very strong,” Keitany noted after selection alongside Kiprop and Choge.
“Before the Trials, I was a bit nervous and I asked my friends (Kiprop, Choge and Kemboi) to push the pace higher since I do not enjoy slow races. We became friends as a result of competing against each other and learning to accept defeat when beaten by them.”
Although he has ambitions to make history in Berlin, Keitany would not mind any of his team-mates beating him to the top medal, promising a fast final. “The competition among us is very healthy and we could run under 3:30 if we all make the final,” he said.
He idolises former Marathon World record holder, Paul Tergat, Sydney 2000 Olympic champion, Noah Ngeny, and 1500m World record holder, Hicham El Guerrouj from Morocco. “My aim is to break his record one day,” Keitany discloses.
800m: 1:50.46 (2007)
1500m: 3:30.20 (2009)
Mile: 3:48.78 (2009)
1000m: 2:16.76 (2009)
1500m: 3:33.96 (2009)
1500m: 2005: 3:47.0; 2006: 3:41.5; 2007: 3:37.75: 2008: 3:32.06; 2009: 3:30.20.
One Mile: 2008: 3:49.70; 2009: 3:48.78
2006 1st Kenyan Trials for the Commonwealth Games
2008 1st African Championships
2008 1st World Athletics Final
2009 3rd Kenyan Trials for the World Championships in Athletics
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2009