Kenyans vividly remember him for pushing Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese all the way at the 35th IAAF World Cross Country Championships’ senior men’s race at the Mombasa Golf Club.
Moses Mosop’s silver medal in the 2007 championships was just as sweet for the home fans as the dramatic withdrawal of Kenya’s distance running nemesis, Ethiopia’s six-times champion Kenenisa Bekele, in the latter stages of the race.
Nicknamed “Big Engine” (Engine Kubwa in Swahili) thanks to his hard breathing while on the run, the Kenya Police officer was hailed as a hero and many thought he would go one better and strike the elusive gold at last year’s championships in Edinburgh.
But a nagging injury to his left Achilles meant that he had to lie low most of last season and miss many competitions, including the 2008 Edinburgh World XC champs.
However, the injury now gone, Mosop looks unstoppable. Or at least if his form at Kenya’s training camp ahead of this weekend’s Amman championships is anything to go by.
“With Mosop in the team, I have no worries. He is a fighter and he is experienced enough and knows when to hold, accelerate and change tact,” says Kenya’s head coach Julius Kirwa, gleefully.
“The character of Mosop is what we need for the task. Ethiopia have won the battle for six years, but the odds are stacked heavily in our favour for the war ahead.”
It was always very easy to pick out Mosop from the rest of the 12km team at their Embu camp. He was always the last to leave, toiling through the searing heat to knock himself into the right shape ahead of Amman.
Just like Ethiopia’s Sileshi Sihine, Mosop has very much been the bridesmaid of Kenyan athletics, coming so close to the gold at the Olympic Games, World Athletics Championships and World Cross Country Championships.
The 23-year-old has been at these competitions for a combined six times but is yet to win a gold medal, and there’s every possibility that this Saturday’s 37th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Amman could see him make things right.
I’m relishing the challenge in Jordan
Born on July 17, 1985 at Kapsowar in Marakwet District of the athletics-rich Rift Valley Province, Mosop made his first major breakthrough in 2002 when he made the Kenyan cross country team to the Dublin championships in 2002.
He finished 10th at the Leopardstown Racecourse in a race won by Ethiopian Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam and improved to seventh place the following year in Lausanne.
The silver in Mombasa was a vast improvement on the 18th place he registered in the senior race at the 2005 championships in St Etienne-St Galmier.
On the track, Mosop settled for bronze in the 10,000m at the 2005 World Championship in Helsinki after finishing a disappointing seventh at the Athens Olympics in 2004, clocking 27:46.61.
His injury gone, Mosop made a remarkable recovery by winning the Giro al Sas 10km road race in Trento, Italy (28:29), last October, defeating, among others, Beijing Olympics silver medalist Jaouad Gharib and Italy’s former Olympic champion Stefano Baldini.
Besides gold in Amman, Mosop – with an impressive personal best of 26:49.55 in the 10,000m - also targets the podium at the World Championships in Berlin.
He simply tore his opponents apart at the Kenyan trials for the Amman championships last month, clocking 38:16.00, some 21 seconds ahead of second placed Mathew Kisorio.
“My injury is history now and I feel in top form. I’m relishing the challenge in Jordan,” Mosop says. “The weather and humidity in Amman is just like it was in Mombasa. I missed the gold medal two years ago and this is my time. And the next stop (after Amman) will be the Berlin World Championships.”
The engine is back. Yes, its back!
Mosop is hard to dissect. He rarely talks to journalists and keeps his family story a closely guarded secret.
But the fact that Kenya’s senior women’s champion Florence Kiplagat is his partner is not a hidden secret and it’s well known that they have a one-year-old baby, Asha Chelagat, although it’s also on record that in 2003, he married Rose Cheruiyot with whom he has a daughter, Olympia Cheptoo.
Family matters aside, Mosop has remained focused on the task ahead of him this weekend: “The engine is back. Yes, its back! I had a lot of problems with injuries last season and I missed Edinburgh and Beijing, but now I’m back,” he said.
Images of Mosop, the policemen, cruising in top gear past the finish-line and saluting the VIP tribune at the Ngong Racecourse where his boss, Kenya’s Police Commissioner, Maj-Gen Mohammed Hussein Ali, sat during last month’s trials indeed confirmed that the ‘Big Engine’ had undergone a major overhaul and is waiting to cruise in the Jordanian capital.
Kenya’s senior men’s 12km team: Moses Mosop, Mathew Kisorio, Mark Kiptoo, Linus Chumba, Mangata Ndiwa and Leonard Komon.
Elias Makori for IAAF