It has been a stunning 12 months of success for Geoffrey Kamworor, who won the senior men’s title at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Guiyang 2015 on Saturday (28).
Almost a year to the day after he won his first senior global title at the 2014 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen, Kamworor got the Kenyan national anthem played in his honour once again at one of the biggest events in the sport.
On the men’s side, holding both the half marathon and cross country world titles simultaneously is not unique.
Kamworor’s renowned compatriot Paul Tergat and Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese can also claim such an accolade in the past, but the 22-year-old from the famous running town of Eldoret wants to go one better than these two illustrious runners by adding to the list a 10,000m World Championships crown on the track this summer.
This was a feat that evaded both Tergat and Tadese: the former losing out in 1997 and 1999 and settling for the silver medal on both occasions after memorable battles over 25 laps with the Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie, the latter finishing second at the 2009 IAAF World Championships behind another Ethiopian superstar, Kenenisa Bekele.
“Yes, I hope to come back to China in the summer and my target is the 10,000m,” confirmed Kamworor on Saturday, reiterating that he had put his road running ambitions on hold temporarily, although there is the likelihood of an appearance at one of the autumn’s big city marathons.
“Geoffrey will run one 10,000m at the end of May and then the Kenyan trials," added his manager Valentijn Trouw. "If he qualifies for the World Championships in Beijing then that will be his third 10,000m of the summer; that’s the plans at the moment."
This summer he will race more times over 25 laps of the track than he has done in his previous 22 years.
His first 10,000m outing was at the 2011 Prefontaine Classic, an IAAF Diamond League meeting, in the wake of his victory in the junior men’s race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships earlier that year.
He finished 10th in 27:06.35, an outstanding time for a teenager which currently places him seventh on the all-time junior list for the distance.
His only other 10,000m outing was a hand-timed 28:17.0 at altitude in Nairobi two years ago, when he fulfilled a professional obligation and won at that year’s Kenyan Police Championships.
Consequently, his potential at the longest major championship distance on the track is effectively untested but a big reduction in his personal best beckons in his next 10,000m race, with Kamworor looking to run much faster than 27 minutes.
He doesn’t need to worry about a qualifying time, with the top 15 in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships having an automatic qualifying mark for the 10,000m in Beijing, but he does want to produce a performance that will establish him as a legitimate medal contender on a surface that he has hesitantly embraced in the past. And it is worth noting that Kamworor has never been to a major international championship on the track, even when he was a super-talented junior.
A strong sub-27-minute performance would also give the likes of world and Olympic 10,000m champion Mo Farah pause for thought.
“When I get back to Kenya I think I will relax for a short moment, maybe four days, then I will start training again for the summer. I think I will have maybe four days off and then start focusing again on the World Championships.
"It will be my first time at the World Championships and we are really going to prepare for it,” said Kamworor, taking it as read that he was going to be in Beijing despite the depth of Kenyan distance running talent and the suitable caution of his manager.
Farah not the sole focus
“We are not targeting anybody. Our main focus is to train hard and go there and compete,” he added mildly ambiguously, in response to a question about how he would deal with the likes of Farah in a championship setting.
Pride will be a motivating factor for Kamworor as well.
Despite regular successes across the distance running spectrum, the last time a Kenyan won a 10,000m world title was 14 years ago when Charles Kamathi upset the odds and got the gold medal.
Kamathi’s win came a decade after Moses Tanui had won in Tokyo.
Two wins in this event in 24 years ahead of Beijing is a poor return for the impact that Kenya has had on distance running in that period, and tacitly many in the Kenyan distance running community – athletes, coaches and officials – acknowledge the fact.
By a lucky coincidence, the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 organisers invited Kamworor to travel straight from Guiyang to the Chinese capital, breaking his journey home, to be present at a press conference on Sunday afternoon which would unveil the tickets for the championships.
After his win on Saturday, the organisers can expect plenty of people will be buying tickets in anticipation of seeing him battle with Farah and the rest of the world for the 10,000m gold medal this coming August.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF