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Updated 16 March 2009
Iness CHENONGE Chepkesis, Kenya (3000m, 5000m, Cross Country)
Born: 1 February, 1982, Saboti, Trans Nzoia District, Rift Valley
Coach: James Kibet
Manager: Barnaba Korir (Golazo Sports)
Team: Armed Forces
At the age of 27, Iness Chenonge can be classified as a ‘veteran’ as far as Kenyan female runners are concerned. It is a well established fact that female athletes from one of the world’s most blessed cradle of distance runners peak whilst young. The 1997 10,000m world champion Sally Barsosio, 19 at the time, and Pamela Jelimo, who took Olympic 800m gold medal in Beijing last year at 18, are among numerous examples.
So, it is rather shocking that the gifted Armed Forces officer, who has been blazing the track, road and country in Kenya and overseas for almost a decade, will be making only her second appearance for her nation at a World Championships in Amman. Not that Chenonge has not donned the famed red, green and black running gear before as she competed for her country in the 2002 and 2006 Commonwealth Games, held respectively in Manchester and Melbourne.
But, for a runner who has competed at some of the globe’s biggest cathedrals of athletics, including the tracks at Oslo, Brussels, Stockholm and Monaco, in addition to making four appearances at the World Athletics Finals, having never appeared at a World Cross, World Championships or Olympics blotted the curriculum vitae of her otherwise rewarding career.
Chenonge’s odyssey in the sport that has become her mainstay in life, even contributing to her finding her true love, began in 2000 in her final year of school education at Kwanza Secondary. “I was a very keen lover of volleyball and netball but then I realised I could run after trying it in school,” Chenonge said. “I reached the provincials of the schools championships in the 5000m and 1500m races and became more interested in athletics.”
However, any further progression that year had to be put on hold as she concentrated on wrapping up her O Levels and, upon sitting for her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education main examinations, Chenonge joined a training camp in Kapcherop. Her first race culminated in a 10km road victory organised by Italian manager Dr Gabriele Rosa in Eldoret and, shortly after, Chenonge linked up with the camp run by 1995 World Half Marathon silver medallist, Shem Kororia in Kapsokwony, Mt Elgon.
The same facility has nurtured the likes of 2008 World Cross silver winner, Leonard Komon, 2008 Olympic 10,000m fourth place finisher Moses Masai and sister Linet, the women’s World Junior 25-lap record holder among other talented runners from the mountainous region.
In 2001, under Rosa, Chenonge made her first sortie in European road race and track competition. Her season returned times of 49:58 (Le-Puy-en-Velay 15km Road Race, southern France), 1:10:35 (Half Marathon, Aviero, Portugal), 15:45.63 (5000m, Maia) and 8:58.89 (3000m, Lisbon).
Chenonge’s highlight of 2002 was bagging 5000m bronze at the Commonwealth Games with a season best time of 15:06.6. She had made her competitive debut in a Kenyan strip a month earlier at the World Half Marathon Championships, in Brussels, but it ended in a disappointing 20th place finish (1:11:25). Her year’s top effort over 3000m was an 8:40.02 clocking in Zurich and a fourth place finish at the Lisbon Half Marathon, in 1:08:54, remains her PB for the distance.
That was the same year in which Chenonge paced Paula Radcliffe (Britain) to a blistering 2:18.56 victory at April’s Flora London Marathon. The winning time was only nine seconds shy of the then World record of 2:18:47 held by Catherine Ndereba.
Chenonge was not selected either for the 2003 World Cross, in Lausanne, or for the track and field World Championships, in Paris, after finishing 33rd at the Kenya Cross Country Championships and recording 16:15.1 for 5000m at the track trials. She raced in Europe where her best performances were 1:15:06 (5th, Lisbon Half Marathon) 9:01.84 (3000m, Rovereto, Italy) and 15:35.04 (5000m, Brussels). She sealed her campaign with ninth place at her first World Athletics Final, in Monaco, clocking 15:49.14.
Chenonge proceeded to military training in October in Lanet, graduating in June 2004 as a Physical Training Instructor. Upon being commissioned, she resumed her athletics career, running seasonal best times of 15:00.76 (5000m, San Sebastián) and 8:43.80 (3000m Stockholm). She made her second WAF showing with an improved seventh place (15:28.18) in the 5000m.
In 2005, Chenonge clocked 15:21.0 for fifth at the National Trials for the World Championships, in Helsinki, ending her interest of making the Kenya team for that event. Her top performances of the year were 8:42.38 (3000m, Oslo) and a first sub 15:00 5000m at her third successive WAF, in Monaco, where she ran 14:54.43 to finish just outside the medals.
At the trials for the 2006 Fukuoka World Cross Country in March, Chenonge placed seventh but was not selected in the Kenya provisional team since she had qualified for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne later that month. The Armed Forces runner had earned her ticket when she finished second (16:08.0) behind breakaway winner Isabella Ochichi (15:47.7) at the Melbourne Trials.
In Melbourne, Chenonge was unable to repeat her medal performance in Manchester, clocking 15:12.34 for sixth. Seasonal highlights included running a personal best 5000m (14:47.48) at the Bislett Games Golden League meeting in Oslo where she placed eighth. Her fourth appearance at the WAF brought another career best time (8:39.29, 3000m) for fourth.
By the end of 2006, having met fellow athlete Suleiman Kipses Simotwo, her future husband, on her numerous travels abroad, Chenonge was expectant with a daughter. The girl, Cayla Chebet, was born on 28 July 2007 and, later that year, the couple tied their nuptials in a quiet ceremony.
Simotwo, a quintessential journeyman athlete, specialising at 1500m, has competed far and wide but has represented Kenya only once, when he finished seventh (3:41.04) at the 2008 World Indoor Championships, in Valencia. “He has been very strong for me and I admire him for that,” Chenonge said. “He motivates me to perform and trains together with me and, being a man, it helps to improve my endurance and speed because I always try to beat him.”
Chenonge took a six-month break from competition to cater for the newborn and resumed training in early 2008, finishing 12th in the women’s 8km race of the Armed Forces Cross Country Championships. During the course of the year, she failed to qualify for the World Cross Country in Edinburgh, the African Athletics Championships, in Addis Ababa , and the Beijing Olympics. Her top performances of the year on the track were posted in the Herculis Super GP in Monaco (8th, 3000m, 8:57.54) and the Memorial Van Damme Golden League event in Brussels (13th, 5000m, 15:20.10).
Returning home in November to train for the cross-country campaign, Chenonge made her first competitive appearance at the fifth KCC/AK National Cross Country Series meeting in Nyahururu, in December, placing fourth in the women’s 8km. Buoyed by the performance, she returned to training in Ngong in preparation for the Armed Forces Cross Country Championships that were to mark her first race for 2009. She also switched manager signing up for Golazo early this year.
At that event (17 January), Chenonge placed fourth and was named in the Forces squad for the National Trials. On 21 February, in a performance that perhaps blew even her away, Chenonge chased winner Florence Kiplagat to the tape as the pair broke away from a star-studded field to finish second in the 8km race to earn an automatic ticket for Amman. Chenonge ran 28:31.8 against Kiplagat’s 28:31.4.
“I saw it as if a miracle had just happened,” Chenonge said. “I had tried many times to make it before and now, I had done it. My aim was just to finish among the top four and get selected but to come so close to win the race surprised me. All the hours of training finally paid off. My aim in Amman is to be among the medals. I believe that I am in the required form and I pray that on the day, God will bless me so that my body can be in shape to achieve my dream.”
And does she have anything else to attribute for her rich vein of form? “Since the birth of Cayla, I have felt stronger. I guess childbirth at one stage of a female athlete’s career is a good re-energising factor but it does not mean that young female runners should rush to have children. They should develop their careers first.
“I believe qualifying for Amman is the beginning of a successful phase of my international career and qualifying for the event will always lift me. After Amman, I will focus on Berlin (World Athletics Championships) or road racing, depending on what my body dictates to me, but it will not be the end of competing for Kenya.”
2000m: 6:00.88 (2002)
3000m: 8:39.29 (2006)
5000m: 14:47.48 (2006)
15km: 49:45 (2006)
Half Marathon: 1:08:54 (2002)
3000m: 2001 - 8:58.8; 2002 - 8:40.02; 2003 - 9:01.84; 2004 - 8:43.80; 2005 - 8:42.38; 2006 - 8:39.29; 2007 – 2008 - 8:57.54
5000m: 2001 - 15:45.63; 2002 - 15:06.06; 2003 - 15:35.04; 2004 - 15:00.76; 2005 -14:54.43; 2006 - 14:47.48; 2007 – 2008 - 15:20.10
Half Marathon: 2003 - 1:15:06; 2002 - 1:08:54; 2001 - 1:10:35
2002 3rd Commonwealth Games (5000m)
2002 20th World Half Marathon Championships
2003 9th World Athletics Final (5000m)
2004 7th World Athletics Final (5000m)
2005 4th World Athletics Final (5000m)
2006 6th Commonwealth Games (5000m)
2006 4th World Athletics Final (3000m)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008