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Paul Kipketer Korir (kohREER), Kenya (1500m)
Born 15 July 1977, Kipkoror, near Lessos, Nandi District, Rift Valley Province, Kenya.
Completed Kilibwoni High School, Nandi District, 1996.
Married Edna Chesang of Kapsabet, 2002. Daughter Mercy Cheruto, born 2002.
Lives in Kipkoror and training camp at Kaptagat, NE of Eldoret. Based in London during track season.
Manager: KIM (Ricky Simms). Coach: Jimmy Beauttah.
Native language: Nandi (Kalenjin). Eldest of eight children. Father a farmer with 5 acres.
Began running in final year at Kipkoror Primary School when gamesmaster offered students a choice: dig in the school garden or run on the track. Korir ran and came first in 800m; went on to place 3rd at 800 in district primary championships. Credits early conditioning to steep 3 km climb from home to school, which he ran twice a day.
In high school, ran seriously only in third year (!995), inspired by success of Wilson Kipketer from nearby Kapchemoiywa. Placed 3rd in Rift Valley Provincial schools 800m, behind current internationals Japheth Kimutai and William Chirchir.
Trained casually on his own in 1998 and '99, running through tea plantations near his home. In April, 2000, entered 800m in Kenya Amateur Athletic Association weekend meeting in Kakamega; took 2nd in 1:45.6. Approached by marathoner Moses Tanui for Italy-based Fila Club and signed by manager Federico Rosa. Half-dozen races in Italy that summer, plus one in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, resulting in PB 1:44.21.
Switched management to more track-oriented KIM in 2001 ("If I stayed where I was, I knew I wouldn't be recognized"), but then endured two disappointing seasons--not able to crack 1:45 again, nor to break into top eight in major races. Tried two 1500s in Australia in early 2002 and one in Poland in June, but could do no better than 3:39. "My body was not responding to training," he says. "I was working hard, but my running was worse."
At end of 2002 season, KIM athlete/coach Moses Kiptanui suggested switch to 1500 and longer runs in training. Tried 4 km cross-country at Athletics Kenya weekend meeting in January 2003 and won. Led much of the way in 4 km race at Kenya nationals in February, but overwhelmed in last 600m by more experienced distance men.
Cross-country training led to a 1500m PB of 3:35.43 in May, but Korir still had to settle for pace-making duties until breakthrough PB 3:32.44 at Paris GL behind Mehdi Baala and Bernard Lagat showed his true potential -- confirmed nine days later in Gateshead Super GP, where Korir's late rush failed to catch Hicham El Guerrouj by just 0.22 seconds. Exhibited better pace judgment in winning both Kenya's World Championships trials, where he outkicked Lagat, and London's Emsley Carr Mile, where he accelerated away from the formidable Chirchir brothers in a seemingly relaxed 3:48.17. Tactical blunders led to his being edged for bronze at the Paris World Championships, but a week later in Brussels he claimed a well-earned 3rd behind El Guerrouj and Baala in his third PB of the season, 3:30.72. He rounded out his long season with two big wins and a lucrative 2nd. Nine days after Brussels, in the absence of El Guerrouj and Baala, he won the tactical World Athletics Final in Monaco (3:40.09). A week later he took 2nd (by 0.04 sec.) to El Guerrouj in the Moscow Challenge (3:36.48) and in October he collected his first big championship gold in the All-African Games (3:37.52), leading a Kenyan sweep.
After running 19 races in 2003, Korir has run 18 in 2004, taking two major championships and three big GPs, but missing out on the Olympics by a tenth of a second. In his first real indoor season, he won twice on the circuit (Stuttgart, 3:37.45, and Fayetteville, 3:53.26—Kenyan indoor mile NR) before the Budapest Indoor World Championships, where he held off the field in a mad last-lap dash off a dawdling pace to take gold by 0.03 seconds in 3:52.31. Outdoors he started slowly and seemed off form going into Kenya’s Olympic Trials, but just missed qualifying in a desperate stretch duel, Timothy Kiptanui edging him for 3rd by 0.1 in 3:36.0. Set off for Europe and ran poorly in Rome (16th in 3:37.69) but very well in Iraklio two days later (1st in 3:31.10). Selected for African Championships in Brazzaville as an Olympic trials consolation prize., and won his third major gold (3:39.48). Then came 4th in Paris (3:31.57, behind Lagat, Kiptanui and Cornelius Chirchir), 1st again in the Emsley Carr Mile (3:49.84), 4th in Zurich (3:31.32) and 1st last week in Berlin (3:32.46). He seems to be peaking at the right time to defend his WAF title.
Yearly progression 800/1500/mile: 1999 - 1:47.6; 2000 - 1:44.21/ 3:41.3; 2001 - 1:45.02/ 3:41.3; 2002 - 1:45.55/ 3:39.18; 2003 - 1:47.40/ 3:30.72/ 3:48.17; 2004 - 3:37.05i, 3:31.10/ 3:53.26i, 3:49.84.
Paul Korir took a long time to find his event. For three years he was an obscure journeyman 800m runner on the international circuit, finally moving up to the 1500 in 2003, improving from 3:39.18 to 3:30.72 in a single season, and emerging as one of a formidable new corps of Kenyan milers to challenge perennial world #2 Bernard Lagat. Also among the young lions are Timothy Kiptanui (4th in Athens), Isaac Songok, Alex Kipchirchir and Cornelius Chirchir. These men occupy six of the top 10 places on the 2004 world list.
Prepared by John Manners for the IAAF "Focus on Africans" project. © 2003/2004 IAAF.