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Updated 16 March 2009
Leonard Patrick KOMON, Kenya (3000m, 5000m, cross country)
Born 10 January, 1988, Korungotuny Village, Mt. Elgon District, Rift Valley
Coach: Juma Ndiwa
Manager: Bob Verbeeck
The penetrative gaze of Leonard Patrick Komon bears a flaming determination to beat all odds by literally running away from a life that promised so little early on. He prefers to keep short unkempt hair and, at first glance, appears uninterested in speaking to anyone. However, beneath that smokescreen lies one of the most talented emerging distance runners in Kenya.
Komon certainly put himself in the spotlight at last year’s World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh, where he finished second in the senior men’s race after running a superb race in adverse conditions. Only the great Ethiopian, Kenenisa Bekele, got the better of him.
Born into a polygamous family (he is the ninth child of his mother’s 12) of subsistence farming background, Komon has overcome insurmountable odds to become a fixture in the national Kenyan team since he burst through as a hot talent in 2006.
"Lack of school fees forced me out of secondary school,” he recalled. “I had to help in our farm, growing maize (corn), potatoes, cabbages and onions for sale for my father to sell the produce at Cheptais Market.”
Komon, who won junior 8km silver medal at the 2006 World Cross Country Championships, in Fukuoka, Japan, began his formative education at Chepkurur Primary School. As a youngster, he had heard on radio of the exploits of world marathon record breakers Tegla Loroupe and Paul Tergat as well as 2007 World Championships 5000m silver medallist Vivian Cheruiyot. Komon’s family could not afford a television set.
"That is why I decided that I wanted to run just like them and I didn't know that one day I would meet them or be on the same team with someone like Vivian," Komon said.
In 2001, Komon completed his education at Chepkurur, gaining admission at Cheptais Secondary School the following year. He participated at the 2001 National Primary Schools finals in the lakeside city of Kisumu, where he finished third in the 5000m.
In his first year at Cheptais, Komon continued training and represented his province at the 2002 National Secondary School finals, held in Kisii, where he came fifth in the 5000m. In 2003, a strike at Cheptais saw his institution banned from participating in all sporting activity, holding back Komon in his quest to gain a ticket in Kenya's junior team.
The following year saw the athlete, who is employed at the Kenya Airports Authority as a fireman, advance to the National Schools Cross Country Championships at Nairobi's Lenana School, where he finished the 8km race in 10th place.
"It was my first time to enter a city and I wish our handlers allowed us some time to see the tall buildings in Nairobi,” Komon said. “I had heard myths of people not knowing where they are, and not finding where they are going in the city, and wanted to experience that."
At the track secondary school nationals, Komon finished fifth in the event held in the coastal city of Mombasa, where he was amazed at the beauty of the Indian Ocean. On why he had not yet been selected in the national championships or trials to the various continental and world junior events thus far in his career, Komon stated: "Our district (Mt.Elgon) was not well known as a place to find athletics talent. We just used to participate in school championships and return to our school."
In 2005, Komon came sixth at the National schools Cross Country 8km race held at the Booker Academy in Mumias, Western Kenya and qualified for the 5000m at the National Schools track championships, in the Eastern Province town of Meru, but a bout of malaria ended his participation.
In the second term, lack of school fees saw him become a farm hand in his father's farm, his dreams of completing O' Levels shattered. But fortune smiled on the then 17-year-old when he was spotted and taken in by marathoner Steven Cheptot Matebo.
The marathoner, who won the 2005 Prague International Marathon in 2:10.42 and is an older brother to Edinburgh World Cross 10th finisher and 2008 Kenya junior 8km cross champion, Levy Matebo, first housed Komon and a few other talented runners in his residence before renting him a house metres away. "We would train under him and he catered for all our expenses,” Komon said. “I owe him a lot and his brother, Levy, is a very close friend and training partner."
Komon then took part in Athletics Kenya track meets at district and provincial level, qualifying for the National Championships, in which he finished 8th at 5000m. He then returned home for training as he eyed the next season, which he had set as the year he would make his breakthrough.
Taking fourth place at the National Championships, he gained his place in the team for the 2006 World Cross Country Championships in Fukuoka, Japan. "When I entered the plane for the first time, I was shaking and feeling scared,” he recalled of his maiden journey abroad. “I was very disturbed during the flight and my whole body felt paralysed. It was long and I didn't know where we were.”
Things were not any easier for the junior when he landed in Japan. "I had never seen sea food and it made me sick,” he said. “I was, however, focused on what we had come to do and that made the situation bearable."
In Fukuoka, Komon took the silver medal behind compatriot Mangata Ndiwa. Both youngsters made a spirited dash for the tape after they dropped Ethiopian challenger, Tariku Bekele, leading Kenya to the team title. Komon was soon recruited by Italian agent, Gianni Demadonna, who opened doors for him to participate in European GP meets competing in 3000m and 5000m races.
On track, Komon ran his 3000m season’s bests (7:37.69) when placing sixth in Monaco’s Herculis Super GP on 20 August, and a 5000m PB (13:04.12 for fourth) at Memorial Van Damme GL event on 25 August.
“I was very pleased with my performances that season and it made me confident that I could do even better things in future,” Komon said. “I returned home to train for the cross country championships that were to be held in Mombasa."
Finishing third (26:14) at the Trials, he went on to place fourth (24:25) during the World Cross, helping Kenya to the team title with a perfect 10 points score.
"It was too hot and that limited my ability to do well,” he said of the race. “I felt disappointed not to win a medal, as I had planned, but it was consoling to stand there and be given the team title.”
Among the highlights of his 2007 track season, Komon ran his two mile PB (8:22.56 for 9th ) at the Hengelo FBK Games in May, recorded his season’s best time (13:04.79) over 5000m with a 5th finish at the Golden Gala in Rome on 13 July.
He made a second successive showing at the Herculis Super GP in Monaco on 25 July where he ran his year’s 3000m best mark (7:39.07) for eighth.
Komon began 2008 with a successful campaign on the European cross country meets, which saw him clinch victory in Elgoibar and come third in Sevilla, both Spain, then top it with another victory in Hannut, Belgium. He then finished seventh at the National Championships and Trials to book a place in the provisional national team for Edinburgh. He was subsequently named to the final squad.
"I was impressed by his stamina and willingness to listen to instructions in camp," head coach Julius Kirwa said of the reason he picked Komon for the Edinburgh team.
Unlike most athletes, Komon's build-up for Edinburgh was not affected by the post election violence that left 1,200 dead and 300,000 displaced in his home country.
"We moved to the high altitude area of Marakwet in November and, fortunately, the region was not affected by the fighting, although moving to other parts became difficult,” he disclosed.
In Edinburgh, Komon performed heroics that led him to be christened ‘The Fighter’ when he chased Ethiopian running machine Bekele to the line. His brave effort fell three seconds short of stopping Bekele from being the first six-time long race World Cross champion, but a new national icon was nonetheless born.
With the silver medal proudly dangling in his neck, Komon made foray into the grand prix circuit with a 3000m (7:34.06) race at the Doha GP before making his competitive debut in the European arena over 10,000m (26:57.08 for fourth) in Hengelo, his season’s best performance in the 25 lap race.
He then chalked his first European track victory in the Znamensky Memorial in Russia (5000m -13:17.48, SB) before returning to train in the national pre-Olympic trials camp in Eldoret. At the Beijing selection event, Komon left a few gasps when he dropped out of the 10,000m race.
“I had a slight groin strain ahead of the event that flared-up during the race,” Komon explained that incident then. “Not risking further injury, I decided to pull out.”
Nonetheless, Komon was named as a reserve in the Beijing team and was among those extras that travelled with the team to China. His experience there was not flattering.
Because they had travelled as reserves, they could not access the Olympic village or find anywhere to train. “We were booked into a hotel and we were not allowed to even go to the stadium to watch the races or train with the team,” Komon said. “It was very frustrating for us.”
After the Beijing debacle, Komon flew to Switzerland to train and made an appearance at the Zürich Golden League meeting where he came 10th at 5000m (13:35.52) before finishing 12th over 10,000m at the Brussels GL ( 27:54.10).
Komon returned home to train for the Amman World Cross and launched his build-up in Europe with a series of races in Spain in November, finishing second in Atapuerca, first in Quintanar and again victorious in Soria before placing eighth in Llodio at the end of November. In January this year he returned to Spain and was third at the Elgoibar meet before finishing sixth in Sevilla.
Back for the trials, Komon took to the field at Ngong on February 21 but, in the latter stages of the long race, the World Cross silver winner suddenly fell off the pace while holding on to fourth (last automatic place for selection) before coming home in 20th position.
“I felt a stitch that considerably slowed me down but I am happy that I was given the wildcard,” Komon said in reference to being handed an Amman ticket by AK’s selectors. “My task now is to live up to the expectations.”
He still finds time in his burgeoning athletics career to execute his duties as a fireman at Kenya Airports Authorities. He hopes to douse the flames of Ethiopia’s challenge at the World Cross.
Komon, who changed his manager to Bob Verbeeck in January 2008, wants to emulate former World Marathon record holder Paul Tergat's achievements and sees himself nurturing talent in the future.
"I was a beneficiary of someone who took me in and trained me and I will train others in my area to do what I did," he pledged when first interviewed for the Focus on Athletes project last year.
And how did he end up with two English names, something that is rare among his community? "When I was registering for my KCPE (Kenya Certificate of Primary Education) exams, I had the choice of using my father's surname Yego or that of my grandfather Mogotio. I chose my father's Christian name Patrick instead," he answered that last year with a wide grin.
3000m: 7:34.06 (2008)
5000m: 13:04.12 (2006)
10,000m: 26:57.08 (2008)
3000m: 2006 - 7:37.69; 2007 - 7:39.07; 2008 - 7:34.06
5000m: 2006 - 13:04.12; 2007 - 13:04.79; 2008 - 13:17.48
10,000m: 2008 - 26:57.08
2006 2nd World Cross Country Championships (junior)
2007 4th World Cross Country Championships (junior)
2008 2nd World Cross Country Championships (senior)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008