The word ‘wunderkind’ is probably overused for every new young athlete who emerges in the world of sport, but it is perhaps the best fit term to describe Sudanese middle distance sensation Abubaker Khamis Kaki.
The 18-year old enhanced his reputation last year with 800m gold in the 9th All-African Games in Algiers only to make a first round exit at the 11th IAAF World Championships in Osaka, Japan.
“I was so tired from all the travelling and got to Osaka only two days before my competition,” he says. “I never recovered from the time difference and late arrival. I was also lacking experience.”
But after a remarkable 800m/1500m double at the 2007 Pan Arab Games in November 2007 where he clocked an outstanding 1:43.90 for the shorter race in Cairo, the tall and slender runner has set this year’s indoor season alight with some remarkable performances.
He opened his season in Leipzig with a 1:46.80 for the 800m before improving the World junior best for 1000m to 2:15.77 in Stockholm. In his final tune-up race before the 12th IAAF World Indoor Championships in Valencia (7-9 March 2008), he took another victory in Gent (2:16.02) to record two of the top three times for the five-lap event.
“I enjoy running indoors,” he beams with excitement. “It was a good atmosphere and in Stockholm, I never saw such facilities like that before.”
Unlikely discovery by Aden
Kaki is enjoying his first season on the European circuit after visa problems belated his introduction from Sudan, Africa’s largest country, to the world of middle distance running in 2006 and the early part of 2007.
His story starts in a small town of Al Mouglad in Western Sudan four years ago. Kaki competed in an inter-schools Cross Country race in this thriving part of the country. He led the first part of the race, but ended up finishing 24th.
“Coach Jama Aden told me to come and train with the national youth team,” he recalls. “I just told him ‘why me’. Twenty-four athletes beat me!”
“I told him that I saw that he could become a special runner,” says Aden who was criss-crossing Sudan in search for talented runners. “He had a very economic style and was different to the runners I saw that day.”
That was in December 2004 and Kaki joined other hopefuls in what became a Sudanese running revolution engineered by Aden. Kaki, alongside Nagmeldin Ali and Nawal El Jack, was an integral part of the team that won five medals in the 2005 World Youth Championships in Marrakech, Morocco. The-then 15-year-old announced himself with bronze in the boys’ 1500m, while Ali and El Jack took gold in the men’s and women’s 400m respectively.
Continuous improvement while learning from mistakes
After stepping down the distance to the 800m, Kaki made a steady progression following his maiden international appearance running 1.48.43 in 2005, 1.45.78 in 2006, and 1.43.90 late last year.
“His running is very smooth and he has good speed and endurance at the same time,” says Aden. “He is also a nice kid and easy to work with.”
By Aden’s admission, Kaki has only had two bad races in his short career. “In Addis Ababa last year [Pan African Category B meeting], he was altitude sick and in Osaka, he had problems with the time difference. He is learning from his mistakes.”
In Valencia ‘I do not underestimate anyone’
His remarkable performances in the indoor circuit this season will surely make Kaki one of the favourites for gold in Valencia, but the 18-year old is taking nothing for granted.
“I never underestimate anyone,” he says. “There are no secrets to a good performance. I train hard and listen to my coach. But I think [Wilfred] Bungei and [Mbuluani] Mulaudzi will be my strongest challengers because they are more experienced.” [NB: Bungei, the defending champion, has pulled out due to injury.]
Despite his form, Aden believes that there is a lot of room for Kaki to improve. “Kaki’s training is increasing with his age,” he says. “That is why he is getting stronger each year. I am sure he will be a great runner.”
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF