Sammy Kipketer (KEN) (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News 27 March 2003 – Monte

Lausanne's 'Focus on Africans' – Kipketer, Denboba, Kidane and Dibaba biographies

MonteCarloAs part of the IAAF’s “Focus on Africans” project, we are proud to bring you a third and final set of in-depth biographies of some of the African runners, who should play a major role when the 31st IAAF World Cross Country Championships take place in Lausanne-La Broye this weekend (29-30 March).

Thanks to detailed research work by John H. Manners, we are now pleased to present the biographies of – Men: Sammy Kipketer of Kenya; Women: Merima Denboba, Worknesh Kidane and Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia.


Sammy KIPKETER (kip-keh-TEHR) Cheruiyot, Kenya (5000m/10,000 m, cross country)

Born 29 September 1981, Rokocho, near Kaptarakwa, Keiyo District, Rift Valley Province, Kenya.

Lives mainly in Nairobi and in Merewit, Uasin Gishu District. Based in London during track season.

Finished Lelboinet Secondary School 1998. Army private, enlisted 2001.

Manager: Duncan Gaskell, KIM. Coach: Jimmy Beauttah.

Keiyo (Kalenjin). Fourth of six children. Father a farmer with five acres.

Began running casually in primary school. Discovered talent on moving up secondary, where he had to run to escape harassment by older boys. Finished 4th at 5000m in 1997 schools nationals, 17th in 1998 junior World Cross trials. Trained in earnest after leaving school at end of 1998; 2nd in 1999 junior World Cross trials, then 6th in Belfast World Cross.

Signed by KIM after 1999 World Cross trials. Immediately embarked on busy competitive schedule, mainly on track, including Grand Prix final and six of seven Golden League meets, where he recorded five top-5 finishes and the third best all-time junior mark at 5000m (12:58.10 in Oslo GL), plus two marks under the listed World Junior Record at 3000m (7:35.08 in Paris GL; 7:34.58 in Brussels GL).

Began 2000 with two wins on European cross circuit and a silver medal just behind a determined John Kibowen in senior 4 km race at World Cross in Vilamoura. A week later, obliterated eight-year-old 5 km road best in Carlsbad, California (13:00, down from William Mutwol's 13:12, also set in Carlsbad). Missed qualifying for Sydney Olympic team by 0.6 seconds in wait-and-kick Kenya trials 5000 final, but again distinguished himself on Grand Prix circuit, with seven top-3 finishes and a PR 12:54.07 at 5000 (then ranking him 9th all-time). Track & Field News put him at #2 at 5000 in its annual rankings.

On successive weekends in spring 2001, just missed medaling (4th) in muddy Ostend in World Cross 4 km race, equaled own world road best winning Carlsbad 5 km and set new world road best at 10 km (27:18) in Brunssum, Netherlands. Second at 5000 in Kenyan World Championship trials. Ensured fast pace in Edmonton WC final by leading much of race, but faded in closing stages; crossed line 7th (later 6th after Saidi Sief doping DQ). Enlisted in Kenya Army on return from Edmonton.

Emerged from Army basic training in time for 2002 Armed Forces Cross Country; won 4 km race and repeated victory in Kenyan World Cross trials. Finished 4th at 4 km in Dublin World Cross. A week later improved own 10 km world road best (27:11) in New Orleans), then won Carlsbad 5 km the next week. At African Military Championships in Nairobi, won 5000, 2nd in 10,000. Busy Grand Prix season interrupted by Commonwealth Games trials in Nairobi (3rd, 5000) and Games in Manchester, where he collected first big international gold medal. Won Zurich GL 5000 in year's second-fastest time (12:56.99) and recorded year's fastest 10.000 (26:49.38) in Brussels in first international race at the distance. Ranked #1 in 10,000, #2 in 5000 and #5 in 3000 by T&FN, a display of range bettered only by Haile Gebrselassie in recent years..

Moved up in distance for 2003 cross country season, winning Armed Forces 12 km and fading to 4th in Kenya's  World Cross trials after pushing the pace a little too hard on hot day. He will certainly be among the leaders in Lausanne.

Yearly progression, 3000/5000/10,000:  1999 - 7:34.58/12:58.10;  2000 - 7:35.72/12:54.07 (2nd, Rome GL);  2001 - 7:33.62/ 12:59.34; 2002 - 7:35.91/12:56.99/26:49.38 (Brussels GL; 2002 world leader).

Sammy Kipketer thinks he has finally found his distance.  "I have done well at other events," he told the IAAF's correspondent Phil Minshull, "but I always suspected that 10,000 was going to be my distance, especially after I ran so well on the roads." So well indeed!  In five road outings over two years, he won five races and recorded four World Road Best times, two of them at 10 km (April 2001, Brunssum, 27:18; March 2002, New Orleans, 27:11). He experimented with the 25-lap distance on the track early in the 2002 season, taking second in the African Military Games in Nairobi and winning the Kenya Armed Forces Championship. But his true test came in the Van Damme Golden League meet in Brussels at the end of August. In the strongest mass finish in history, Kipketer pulled four men under 27 minutes and recorded the event's best time in four years (26:49.38), vaulting to 5th on the all-time list in his first serious attempt at the distance.

He hasn't yet made up his mind to run the 10,000 at the Paris World Championships; his decision depends on how the Kenyan trials go. But he has moved up to 12 km in cross country, where he is almost certain to face Ethiopia's double world champion, Kenenisa Bekele. And if he opts for the 10,000 in Paris, he is likely to come up against another formidable Ethiopian. Neither prospect seems to bother him.

Kipketer, who began his international career at 17, was at first one of the many young Africans the press likes to characterize as "preferring to let their feet do the talking." He has since outgrown much of his shyness and is adapting eagerly to Western ways. He has built two modest, Western-style houses, one near his parents' home in Rokocho, the other on a 15-acre plot he bought in Merewit in the former "White Highlands." Both houses are equipped with the latest stereo gear, and the Merewit place has TV and video as well. An avid user of the web, Kipketer frequents internet cafes in Europe to check on developments in Kenya, and in Kenya to keep up with the wider world.

He looks forward to what has become an annual trip to Southern California for the Carlsbad 5 km. Having won the race the past three years, he is something of a local celebrity, and he relishes the hospitality shown him and the free and easy ways of the locals. "The people in California are so friendly!" he says. "We stay in their homes. They eat ugali [a Kenyan staple corn meal dish] with us. In Europe, the people prefer to mind their own business."


Merima DENBOBA (den-BO-ba), Ethiopia (5/10,000 m, cross country)

Born 21 August 1974, Arsi, Ethiopia

Married, lives mainly in Addis Ababa. Employed as civil servant.

Manager: Gianni Demadonna

Merima Denboba is a cross country specialist.  While she has achieved some distinction on the track (e.g., bronze medals at 5000m at the African Championships of 1998 and 2000) and has won some big road races (e.g., the Balzano Silvesterlauf, twice), her long career has always been focused on cross country. She has made 12 appearances in the World Cross since 1991 (including a double in 2001), more than all but three women in the history of the Championships. What's more, she has finished in the top 10 in nine of those appearances and has collected a total of 12 medals (one individual silver in 1999, the rest team medals), which ranks her second in this category, behind only her countrywoman Gete Wami.

Her preparations for the 2003 World Cross included two 1sts and two 2nds on the European cross circuit (notching two victories over defending 4km World Champion Edith Masai) and a successful double at the Ethiopian trials, which resulted in her being named to both the 4km and 8km teams.  All of which suggests that Denboba may be ready to collect her second individual medal in Lausanne.

World Cross Career:
1991 - 18th, team silver
1992 - 20th, team bronze
1993 - 19th
1994 - 4th, team silver
1995 - 7th, team silver
1997 - 6th, team gold
1998 - 4th (8km), team silver)
1999 - 2nd (8km), team gold
2000 - 8th (8km), team gold
2001 - 8th (8km), team silver; 4th (4km), team gold
2002 - 6th (8km), team gold

Personal Bests:
3000 8:44.21 1999 Doha
5000 15:06.08 2001 Edmonton
10,000 31:32.63 1999 Lille
Half marathon 71:43  1994 Valencia  


Worknesh KIDANE (kee-DAH-neh), Ethiopia (5000/10,000m, cross country)

Born 21 November 1981, Axum, Tigre Province, Ethiiopia

In six straight appearances in the World Cross since 1997, Worknesh Kidane has finished out of the top 10 only once -- in her debut as a 15 year old, she was 13th in the Junior race.  World Junior champion in 1999, she was runner up last year in the senior 4km.

At 18 Kidane finished 7th at 5000m in the Sydney Olympics (14:47.40), and in 2002 she improved her PB to 14:43.53 (5th fastest of 2002), finishing second to countrywoman Berhane Adere in the Berlin GL meeting. Late in the year she won the Great Ethiopian Run 10km in course-record time, and in 2003, after two wins, a 2nd and a 4th in four weeks on the European cross circuit, she returned home for the Ethiopian World Cross trials. There she won the 8km race by 10 seconds, pulling away from a strong field in the final kilometers, and the next day, only slightly weary, finished a strong 2nd in the 4km. She has been named to both teams, and could well come away with two individual medals in Lausanne.

World Cross Career:
1997 - 13th (Jr), team bronze
1998 - 3rd (Jr), team gold
1999 - 1st (Jr), team gold
2000 - 9th (Jr), team silver
2001 - 5th (4km), team gold
2002 - 2nd (4km), team gold

Personal Bests:
3000 8:41.58 2002 Monaco GL
5000 14:43.53 2002 Berlin GL
10,000 31:43.41 2001 Villeneuve d'Ascq


Tirunesh DIBABA (dee-BAH-bah), Ethiopia (3000/5000m, cross country)

Born 1984, Bekonche, Arsi, Ethiopia

Younger sister of teammate Ejegayehu Dibaba, cousin of Derartu Tulu.

In her four most notable performances of 2002, Tirunesh Dibaba finished 2nd -- behind Kenya's Viola Kibiwot in the Junior Women's race at the World Cross, behind Deena Drossin's world road best in the Carlsbad (California) 5km, behind her teammate Meseret Difar in the 5000m at the World Junior Championships.and behind Worknesh Kidane (whom she had beaten at Carlsbad) in the Great Ethiopian Run. 

This year Tirunesh might well be expected to switch from bridesmaid to bride. Kibiwot, the two-time World Junior Cross Champion, has moved up to the senior ranks. That would appear to give Tirunesh, who finished barely a second behind in Dublin, a clear shot at the gold in the Junior Women's race in Lausanne. But this logical progression was given a jolt in the Ethiopian trials, when Tirunesh was edged in the junior race by the little-known Meselech Melkamu.

The next day, however, Tirunesh followed that surprising loss with an even bigger upset of her own, streaking past the strongly favored Worknesh Kidane to take the senior women's 4km. In Lausanne Tirunesh is listed for both the Junior race and the 4km. Knowing her chances are much better in the former, it's unlikely she'll let the gold escapr her this time.

World Cross Career:
2001 - 5th (Jr), team gold
2002 - 2nd (Jr), team silver

Personal Bests:
3000 8:41.86 2002 Brussels GL
5000 14:49.90 2002 Berlin GL

All biographies are prepared by John Manners for the IAAF "Focus on Africans" project. Copyright IAAF 2003.

Previous Biographies -

Limo, Yuda, Bekele and Masai

Zersenay, Korir, Kiprop, Chemjor and Ochichi