Tadesse Zersenay (Eritrea) (José Pérez Gómez) © Copyright
General News 26 March 2003 – Monte

Lausanne's 'Focus on Africans' – Zersenay, Korir, Kiprop, Chemjor and Ochichi biographies

MonteCarloAs part of the IAAF’s “Focus on Africans” project, we are proud to bring you a second 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 biographies of – Men: Eritrea's Tadesse Zersenay, John Korir of Kenya and Uganda’s Boniface Kiprop; Women: Magdaline Chemjor and Isabella Ochichi of Kenya.


Tadesse ZERSENAYEritrea (5000/10,000m, cross country)

Born 9 February 1982, Eritrea

Manager:  Julia Garcia.  Coach: Jeronimo Bravo

Up to now, the world's best known Eritrean distance runner has been an American -- Mebrahtom Keflezighi, winner of multiple US championships. But there have been indications lately that the small East African country has begun to develop some of its talent at home. The most obvious example this season is 21-year-old Tadesse Zersenay, who began competitive running just 19 months ago and is beginning to make a name for himself.

A creditable 30th in the 2002 World Cross 12km, and 21st a few weeks later in the World Half Marathon, both in his first year of running, Zersenay went on in August to finish 6th in the 10,000 at the African Championships, and this season he has been a power on the European cross country circuit. In six cross competitions he has never finished worse than third and has beaten such formidable foes as World 10,0000m Champion Charles Kamathi, World Cup 5000m winner Alberto Garcia, and Kenyan National 12km champ John Korir. His training has been going exceptionally well, says his manager, and a medal in Lausanne seems not too much to hope for.

2002-2003 Highlights
30th 12km  World Cross Dublin
21st World Half-Marathon Brussels
6th 10,000  African Championshps Tunis
2nd Cross Palencia
3rd Cross Amorebieta
2nd  Cross Seville
1st Cross San Sebastian
1st Cross Castellon
3rd Cross Cinque Mulini


John Cheruiyot KORIR (koh-REER), Kenya (10,000m/road racing/cross country)

Born 13 December 1981, Kiramwok, near Merigi, Bomet District, Rift Valley Province, Kenya

Finished Merigi Secondary School 1998. Army private; enlisted 2001.

Lives in Kiramwok and Ngong Army camp, near Nairobi. Based in Trento, Italy, during track season.

Manager: Gianni Demadonna.  Coach: Renato Canova

Kipsigis (Kalenjin). Oldest of five children. Father a farmer with 20 acres, including 10 of tea.

Began running in primary school; 4th at 5000m in primary school nationals 1994. Reached secondary school nationals twice in both 10,000 and cross country, winning both in 1997. Invited to train with Army at Ngong Training Camp during school holidays. Competed informally in inter-unit military competitions and entered invitational Kenya Amateur Athletics Association (KAAA) meets under Army auspices. Spotted by manager Demadonna in February, 1999, at KAAA meet.

International debut at 1999 Cinque Mulini Cross Country; finished 2nd to Salah Hissou. Podium finishes in dozen more road, track and cross races in Europe that year. Began 2000 winning junior title at Kenyan World Cross trials. Slightly injured at training camp; 3rd in World Cross. Busy European road and track season interrupted by Kenyan Olympic trials, which he won in new altitude world best (27:48.42). Once again slightly injured before Games; 5th in Sydney final.

Won senior 12 km at 2001 World Cross trials; finished a dismal 28th in Ostend mud. In Kenya's World Championship trials, 2nd (27:49.34) to Charles Kamathi's new altitude world best (27:47.33) but again slightly injured before final in Edmonton; finished 8th.

Joined Army on return to Kenya, committing himself to nine months of basic training, which kept him out of 2002  World Cross trials. Completed Army training in time for African Military Games, which Kenya hosted. Won 10,000 ahead of fellow new recruits Sammy Kipketer and Paul Kosgei.

Edged by Kosgei in yet another altitude world best (27:44.14 to Korir's 27:44.55) in Commonwealth Games trials 10,000. Lost home-straight sprint in Commonwealth race, finishing 4th, 0.44 seconds behind winner Wilberforce Talel.  Silver, again behind Kosgei, at 10,000 in African Championships in Tunis; winner over Kosgei in World Military Championships 10,000. Shared lead in brilliant Brussels 10,000 until last lap; wound up 5th in PB 26:52.87, behind Kipketer's world leading 26:49.38

Faded to 5th at close of 12 km in Kenyan Armed Forces cross country, but timed finish well to win 12 km at World Cross trials. Kenyan tradition now favors Korir for gold in Lausanne.

Yearly progression 5000/10,000: 1999 - 13:24.22/27:38.86;  2000 - 13:09.58/27:24.75 (Sydney);  2001 - 13:19.58/27:49.34 (Nairobi);  2002 - --/26:52.87 (Brussels GL)

John Cheruiyot Korir* has a history of excelling at Kenyan trials for major championships and then coming up just short at the championships themselves.  He won Kenya's junior World Cross trials in 2000 but settled for bronze in Vilamoura; won the 2000 Olympic trials 10,000 in a world altitude best, but finished 5th in Sydney; won the senior 12 km World Cross trials in 2001 and sank to 28th in the Ostend mud; came a close 2nd at 10,000 in the 2001 World Championships trials, then faded to 8th in Edmonton; and was a close 2nd again in 2002 in a record-breaking Commonwealth Games trials 10,000, but missed a medal by 0.05 seconds in Manchester.

The slip in performance has sometimes resulted from a minor injury that developed between the trials and the championships, or from a brief miscalculation in the closing stages of the big race. But by now Korir has had so much experience in preparing for and competing in races at the very highest level that he seems ready to overcome his championship jinx. He won the Kenyan World Cross trials 12 km again in 2003, and this time he means to win the World title, too.

Korir is not one of the many Kenyan internationals who discovered their running talent late in life. He grew up a few kilometers from the home of two-time World Cross champion William Sigei, and he has wanted to be a world class runner for as long as he can remember. In primary school he would pick tea on his fathers plot every morning and leave himself just enough time to run 20 minutes to school. He'd then run home for lunch, back to school and home again, knowing he was building stamina. In secondary school, he deliberately chose a roundabout route so the run to school took an hour. His training paid off in two national schools championships (in cross country and 10,000m) in his third year of high school, and this earned him a rare headmaster's dispensation: he was allowed to wear a track suit to class instead of the school uniform.

His national titles attracted the attention of the Kenya Army, and he was invited to train with Army athletes during school holidays at their camp near Nairobi. The Army also entered him in inter-unit competitions and in KAAA invitational meets, and Korir's sense of obligation was such that years later, when Army officers asked him to enlist so that he could strengthen the Kenyan team in the upcoming African Military Championships in Nairobi, he signed right up and went immediately into rigorous Army basic training.

Korir's first trip abroad came when he was fresh out of secondary school, but unlike many Kenyan juniors, whose first international experience comes under the auspices of a national junior team, Korir was traveling on his own for a few races in Italy. His natural apprehensions were heightened when his aircraft behaved erratically and was forced to turn back to Nairobi. Two plane changes later, he was off to Italy via Belgium, but he was arrested in Brussels for want of appropriate transit documents. When he finally reached Italy, too late for the first of his scheduled races, he was so shaken that he wouldn't eat anything but bread and water, convinced that the crafty Europeans were out to hobble him one way or another.

Travel holds no fears for him now though. He's delighted with the opportunities he has won through all his hard training. "My friends who were studying together with me," he says, "they are at home now, not flying around the world like me."

* Not to be confused with John Korir, ace of the US road circuit, who hails from the same corner of Kenya's Rift Valley Province.


Boniface KIPROP(kip-ROP) Toroitich, Uganda (5000/10,000m, cross country)

Born 12 October 1985, Kapchorwa District, Uganda

Younger brother of Martin Toroitich, a three-time World Junior Cross participant.

Boniface Kiprop is the best distance runner in Uganda, regardless of age. The 17 year old has been mixing it up with seniors on the European cross country circuit this season, and in five races has taken a number of prominent scalps, including those of both this year's and last year's Kenyan men's 12km champions, John Korir and Richard Limo. Most brazenly, he entered the men's 12km at the Ethiopian national championships as a guest and led the race most of the way before being overtaken in a rush at the finish. And most recently he gave the undefeated Sergiy Lebid his closest contest this year at the Cinque Mulini, where both were credited with the same time.

As the only returning medalist among the junior men (Kiprop won the bronze in Dublin), he is the odds-on favorite to take home Uganda's first gold medal from the World Cross.

It is not merely a lexical coincidence that Kiprop bears the same name as the heretofore better-known Kenyans Fred Kiprop and Francis Kiprop. The meanings of the names are the same in each case -- born while it's raining -- because the three men belong to different branches of the same tribe, the Kalenjin, most of whom live in Kenya. Boniface's people, the Sabei, live on the slopes of 4300m Mt. Elgon, near the Kenya-Uganda border. His language is closely akin to that spoken by Kenya's 2002 short-course gold medalist Edith Masai, and somewhat less closely related to that of Fred and Francis.

Career Highlights:
27th World Jr. Cross (team bronze) 2000 Vilamoura
3rd World Jr. Cross (team bronze) 2002 Dublin
1st 5000  African Jr. Ch. 2001 Mauritius
2nd 10,000 African Jr. Ch. 2001 Mauritius


Magdaline Jepkorir CHEMJOR (chem-JOR), Kenya (road races, cross country)

Born 12 November 1978, Orokwo, near Kabarnet, Baringo District, Rift Valley Province, Kenya

Professional runner. Lives/trains in Iten, Keiyo District.  European base: Nijmegen, Netherlands.

Manager: Jos Hermens.  Coach: Bro. Colm O'Connell

Tugen (Kalenjin). Sixth of nine children. Father a former surveyor, now farmer with six acres.

Completed Kapkiamo Secondary School 1995, Tambach Teacher Training College 1998.

Began athletic competition in primary school as walker. Twice won 5000 m track walk, barefoot, in secondary schools nationals. Invited to Bro. Colm O'Connell's school holiday training camp in 1995; trained with runners. One of two from camp invited to Finland in 1996 for training and low-key competition. Began competing as runner while in college. Won college nationals (less competitive than secondary schools) in several events from 800 to 10,000.

Admitted to Life University, Atlanta, 1998, but en route to take up place, halted in Netherlands for lack of visa. (US Embassy in Nairobi had just been bombed; Chemjor had begun journey with expectation of securing visa in Europe.) Remained in Europe as Manager Hermens arranged cross country and road races. Returned to Kenya still hoping to enroll in US university, but visa problems persisted. Two more trips to Netherlands in 1999 for road races, enjoying modest success, earnings.

Finished 5th at 8 km in 2000 Kenya World Cross trials; 25th in Vilamoura World Cross after pace making for teammates. More road racing in Europe, improving 15 km time to 49:09 (#6 on 2000 year list) in fast race behind Berhane Adere, Susan Chemkemei and Gete Wami. Just missed 2001 World Cross team (10th in trials), but continued to improve on roads. Won Berlin 25 km in superb 1:25:11 (same race as Rodgers Rop's world best) without ever having run farther than 21 km even in training. Won same race again in 2002. Now contemplating a marathon.

Finished 5th at 8 km in 2003 Kenya World Cross trials; elected co-captain of Kenya team.

Personal Bests:
10 km 32:07
15 km 49:09
10 M 54:20
Half Mar 70:30
25 km 1:25:11


Isabella Bosibori OCHICHI (oh-CHEE-chee), Kenya (road races/5000 m/cross country)

Born 28 October 1979, Kisii, Kisii District, Nyanza Province, Kenya

Police constable. Lives mainly in Nairobi. European base: Brest, France

Manager: Gwenaël Vigot. Coach: Prof. Veronique Billat

Kisii. Father, deceased, was a farmer.

Recommended by friends from Kisii to manager Vigot in 1997; entered nine small road races in France that year (at age 17) and won eight.  1998 season interrupted by severe bout of malaria, resulting in 17-month layoff. Returned to competition in September 1999 with four straight road wins. In 2000 won 11 French road races (setting six course records), including Paris-Versailles.

Started 2001 season with a couple of track races in Kenya, then back to roads in France, repeating in Paris-Versailles with a course record and taking 11 additional first places and three more course records, including a 31:29 in 10km de Marseille. Broadened horizons to Netherlands, taking 2nd in Dam tot Dam 10M. Selected for Kenya's World Half Marathon team and finished 8th in Bristol, collecting a team gold. Joined Kenya Police, where she benefited from team training, and at end of summer season came under tutelage of coach Billat, who saw enormous potential in results of physiological tests performed on Ochichi.

Tried cross country for first time at end of 2001, winning two races in France. Then in 2002 took 3rd at 4 km in Kenya World Cross trials and 3rd again at Dublin World Cross. Improved 10 km PB to 30:53 (world's 4th fastest in 2002) in winning La Courneuve and ran in seven Grand Prix races and Grand Prix final, recording an impressive 8:37.66 at 3000 in Monaco and twice flirting with 15 minute barrier at 5000 (15:01.42 in Rome GL; 15:01.89 in Berlin GL), though slowed by another bout of malaria.

Started 2003 by winning 8km at Kenyan Armed Forces cross country and then surprising defending World Champion Edith Masai in 4km at Kenyan World Cross trials, winning by seven seconds. As returning bronze medalist and winner of the Kenyan trials, Ochichi must be regarded as a top contender for gold in Lausanne.

Personal Bests:
3000m 8:37.66 2002 Monaco GL
5000m 15:01.42 2002 Rome GL
10 km 30:53  2002 La Courneuve
15 km 48:54  2002 Le Puy en Velay
Half-mar 68:38  2001 Nice

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

Previous Biographies -
Limo, Yuda, Bekele and Masai