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Updated 17 July 2010
Pauline Chemning KORIKWIANG, Kenya (3000/5000m, Cross Country)
Born 1 March, 1988, Kaptabuk Village, West Pokot District, Rift Valley Province
Coaches: Gregory Kilonzi, Thomas Mukwana, Geoffrey Ptormos
Manager: Federico Rosa
The third born in a family of nine, Pauline Korikwiang represented Kenya with distinction in the junior ranks but endured a harsh transition to senior level in 2008, sitting out the Edinburgh World Cross, the African Championships in Addis Ababa, and the Beijing Olympics.
Korikwiang almost missed out on the 2009 World Cross Country Championships too after finishing 14th at the national trials on 21 February but Athletics Kenya (AK) gave her a lifeline via a wild card courtesy of her impressive form in the local KCB/AK National Cross Country Series where she registered three wins over 8km.
Korikwiang was inspired to start running by former women’s Marathon World record holder Tegla Loroupe, who hails from the same village of Kaptabuk. “When I was growing up I used to hear about her all the time on the radio,” Korikwiang recalled.
Any lingering doubts about what Korikwiang wanted to be were diminished when she met her heroine as a 13-year-old in 2001. “I was so amazed and overawed that I became tongue tied and could not even talk to her,” Korikwiang confessed. “But it made me want to run even more and I made my decision that I would make athletics my career.
“My dream is to be like her. To be able to run as well as she did and make history. What she has done is tremendous and I would love to be able to emulate her.”
That her school was located 8km away meant that she had to run most of the way which prepared her for a career in athletics. Born in Kaptabuk Village, West Pokot District, Korikwiang attended Kaptabuk Primary school.
Currently a Form 3 (third year) student at Nairobi’s Riruta Central Secondary School, where she transferred from Kapkenda Girls’ Secondary School, Korikwiang’s duels with Veronica Nyaruai made compulsive viewing for five years when the pair ruled the roost in junior world competitions.
Korikwiang started running and, in 2003, made her first attempt to make the national cross country team. Running in the junior women’s race, she came in ninth, thus missing out on a place in the team for the World Cross Country Championships in Lausanne. However, Korikwiang later qualified to represent the country at the African Junior Championships in Garoua, Cameroon in August. Running in her 5000m speciality, she finished just outside the medals, coming fourth in 16:58.26.
Korikwiang again failed to make the cross country team in 2004 team but, undeterred, she turned her attentions to the track and took part in the national trials for the World Junior Championships in Grosseto, Italy. She finished third in the 5000m (15:55.5) behind Viola Kiplagat and Edith Chelimo, missing out on yet another chance to represent her country.
2005 was a breakthrough year for Korikwiang as she finally made the national team. She finished third in the national cross country championships, at Ngong Racecourse, Nairobi, behind Nyaruai in what would become one of the epic battles between the two prodigies.
After making the final squad after a month’s training camp, she lined up in the junior women’s race at the World Cross Country Championships, in St. Etienne/St. Galmier, France. Facing the world for the first time, she could manage only seventh place but helped Kenya to the team title.
Korikwiang continued her battle for local bragging rights with Nyaruai at the national youth trials in Nairobi in June. Running in the 3000m, she came second in 9:00.0, eight seconds behind Nyaruai, to secure a ticket for the World Youth Championships in Marrakech, Morocco. There, Korikwiang won her first individual medal (9:05.42), clinching silver after another gruelling race against Nyaruai, who took the gold.
That was it for the former Kaptabuk Primary School pupil as she returned back to school to focus on her education. Having made her breakthrough the previous year, 2006 was to be even more fruitful for the soft-spoken athlete. She clinched a ticket to the World Cross Country Championships, in Fukuoka, Japan, after finishing second (behind Nyaruai again) at the national trials in Nairobi.
It was in Fukuoka that Korikwiang registered her one and only victory over Nyaruai when she stormed to victory in the junior girls’ race. The duo broke away from the rest of the pack and it was a case of who would come out tops in the duel. Nyaruai made her move in the final lap and looked primed for victory but Korikwiang had other ideas. With 80 metres to go she powered past a startled Nyaruai to clinch gold. So close was the margin that they were both given the same time.
The pair led Kenya to team gold. “I was happy to finally beat Nyaruai who has always beaten me,” Korikwiang said.
In May, Korikwiang made her debut in Europe, finishing third in the 3000m race at the Golden Spike meet in Ostrava (8:42.38) and set a national junior 5000m record (14:45.98) at the Bislett Games in Oslo three days later. Another second place at the national trials behind Nyaruai saw her book a ticket for the World Junior Championships in Beijing.
There, Nyaruai was thirsting for revenge and the duo provided yet another compelling race. Breaking away from the field, Nyaruai proved too strong, forcing Korikwiang to accept silver (9:05.21) three seconds behind the winner. “I am not feeling bad because both of us are Kenyans and all we wanted was victory for Kenya,” Korikwiang remarked.
Korikwiang started 2007 determined to defend her World Cross Country junior crown, winning the final national cross country meeting in Eldoret. At the trials in February, she cruised to victory to make the national team. Hailed as a firm favourite, Korikwiang hit the front in Mombasa where the conditions were unbearably harsh with temperatures hitting 37 degrees.
The bell was mistakenly sounded a lap too early and Korikwiang sped off towards the line stretching her hands in victory. By the time she realised the mistake, the rest of the field had opened a gap. Memories abide of her holding on to route markers before fainting as she pursued the leaders.
“I thought I heard the bell and sprinted for the finish but there had been a mistake,” Korikwiang recalled. “Plus it was too hot for me in Mombasa and that was why I fainted. It was a very bad experience and it took me a long time to recover.”
After months of extensive rehabilitation, Korikwiang returned at the African Junior Championships, in Ouagadougou. There she won bronze in the 5000m (15:59.61) in a race won by compatriot Mary Wacera. She then suffered an injury towards the end of the year and, coupled by her final primary school exams, she did not run again.
Through with her primary school exams, Korikwiang’s preparations for 2008 were hit by the post elections clashes. In February she recorded a victory in the 6km race at the 76th edition of the prestigious Cinque Mulini race in San Vittore Olona. “It looked like an easy race but it was not,” she said. “It was very tough.”
Next in line were the national cross country championships-cum-trials where she came fifth, making the provisional senior squad for the World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh, Scotland. However, she failed to make the final team that travelled to Edinburgh. “It was bad to be dismissed from the team like that,” Korikwiang said. “They told me that I had not maintained shape but to date, I cannot tell you why I was not selected.”
Korikwiang returned to the European track season but her performances were well below her 2006 debut, as she clocked 8:56.98 for second place over 3000m in London on 26 July and a slow 16:07.78 for 16th at the Golden League meeting in Berlin. She tried her luck in making the national team for the Beijing Olympics but a run of 16:17.99 at altitude was good enough only for seventh, ending her interest.
In the second term of the school calendar, Korikwiang transferred from Kapkenda to Riruta because, as she puts it, “I did not have enough strong girls to compete against.” In Riruta, she now schools with accomplished athletes such as 2008 World junior 3000m champion Mercy Cherono, as well as steeplechase silver medallist from the Bydgoszcz World Juniors, Elizabeth Mueni, and 5000m bronze medallist Nelly Chebet.
In 2007, Korikwiang was named a global ambassador of G4S, with the security firm engaging her prominently to champion the G4S Fourteen programme that tracks 14 talented young athlete’s quest to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics. The programme has given her the chance to travel extensively and rub shoulders with G4S chief ambassador and multiple record holder, Haile Gebrselassie.
“I have been to places such as Dubai, London and Ethiopia learning from the likes of Haile what it takes to be a champion as well as exposing the sport to other talented youth,” Korikwiang says.
Her road to Amman began when she opted to skip the European cross circuit to feature prominently in the KCB/AK Series with victories in the first round in Machakos, the third round in Meru, and the sixth round in Eldoret. Korikwiang also finished second at the ‘Cross Internacional de Itálica’ held in Sevilla in January behind Florence Kiplagat in the 8km race.
After finishing 14th (29:55.4) at the Kenya Trials, the pace too frenetic for her to respond to, the selectors did not take long to hand her one of two wildcard entries for the team.
“I saw the local circuit was better than racing abroad and I am pleased selectors chose to give me the chance to run for my country again,” Korikwiang said. “It is my mission not to disappoint.”
In Amman, Korikwiang ran a steady race to finish 11th as her compatriots Florence Kiplagat and Linet Masai won gold and silver respectively.
She then shifted her focus to the track setting two personal bests at the Prefontaine Classic on Oregon on 7 June, clocking 4:12.93 over 1500m en route to 5:38.11 over 2000m, placing fifth behind Vivian Cheruiyot’s 5:31.52 African record run.
A seasonal best of 14:50.08 in 5000m in Oslo set her up nicely for the World Championships trials in Nairobi on 25 July, but she could only manage fifth in 15:50.17, thus missing out on Berlin.
In 2010, Korikwiang again made an attempt to make the team for the World Cross Country event in Bydgoszcz, Poland, but fell short finishing 13th at the National Trials in Nairobi on 20 February. This time she failed to get the wild card and had to sit them out.
Disheartened by that failure, Korikwiang set about the track season making a brave decision to make the move up and compete in 10,000m with encouraging results. At the Golden Spike meet in Ostrava on 27 May, she clocked her personal best in her debut at the 25 lap race, finishing second to Meselech Melkamu in 31:06.29.
The win did her confidence a world of good and when the National Championships came calling on 26 June, the soft spoken athlete followed Linet Masai home in second place (32:28.69) in the women’s 10,000m to book a place in the Kenyan team for the African championships.
Her next stop was in Eugene at the Prefontaine Classic meet on 3 July, where she set a seasonal best in 5000m (14:55.27) as she finished fourth in a race won by Tirunesh Dibaba. Five days later she was in Lausanne, where she set her second personal best of the year, this time in 3000m, stopping the clock at 8:41.11.
3000m: 8:41.11 (2010)
5000m: 14:45.98 NJR (2006)
3000m: 2005 - 9.00.0; 2006 - 8:42.38; 2008- 8:56.98; 2010-8:41.11
5000m: 2006 - 14:45.98; 2007 - 15:59.61; 2008 - 16:07.78; 2009-14:50.08; 2010-14:55.27
2003 4th African Junior Championships (5000m)
2005 7th World Cross Country Championships (junior race)
2005 2nd World Youth Championships (3000m)
2006 1st World Cross Country Championships (junior race)
2006 2nd World Junior Championships (3000m)
2007 3rd African Junior Championships (5000m)
2009 11th World Cross Country Championships
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008-2010