Our occasional series 'Focus on Africans', continues with biographies for some of the main players in tonight's men's 10,000m final at the Paris 2003 Saint-Denis.
KENENISA Bekele (KEN-en-EE-sah beh-KEH-leh), Ethiopia (5000 m)
Born 13 June 1982, 5 km outside Bekoji, Arsi Province, Ethiopia. (Bekoji is Derartu Tulu's hometown.)
Lives mainly in Addis Ababa. Based in Nijmegen, Netherlands, for European competition.
Manager: Jos Hermens. Coach: Dr. Woldemeskel Kostre and Tolosa Kotu
Second of six children. Younger brother Tariku won silver over 3000m at 2003 IAAF World Youth Championships in July. Father a farmer, raising wheat, barley and tef (Ethiopian staple grain), as well as 20 cattle and 40 sheep.
Finished eight years of school in two different primary schools. Has taken night courses aiming to complete secondary school.
Began running in primary school, inspired by success of Tulu, Fatuma Roba and Haile Gebrselassie. First competitive success in 1997, his seventh year of school, when he won local schools cross country. The next year won provincial championship and represented province in national junior champs, finishing 6th. Offered place in club team sponsored by Mugher Cement factory, whose members include Tesfaye Jifar, Tesfaye Tola and Gezahagne Abera, and whose coach is Tolosa Kotu, national marathon coach.
Qualified for junior team for 1999 World Cross in Belfast, where he finished 9th. Later that year won silver in 5000 m behind Kenyan Pius Muli at World Youth Championships in Poland. In 2000 he fell ill at time of World Cross trials and failed to make the team, but later in the year came second to another Kenyan, Gordon Mugi, in the 5000 m at World Junior Championships in Chile.
In final year as junior, completed astonishing double at 2001 World Cross, finishing 2nd in men's short-course race on day 1 and returning the next day to add overwhelming 33 second victory in junior race. Stricken with abdominal pains during the 5000 at the Rome Golden League meet, which served as Ethiopia's World Championships trial. Finished 4th among Ethiopians (16th overall in 13:15.39) and failed to make the team.
In 2002, a similar pattern: an even more extraordinary double at World Cross, winning both long and short course races (first man in history of championships to do so), again by intimidating margins. But track season curtailed, by achilles injury that precluded competition until November.
Returned to action with modest 3rd place in Great Ethiopian Run. Early in 2003 came series of five straight European cross country wins with an average victory margin of 27 seconds -- interrupted by a trip to Japan's Chiba Ekiden, where Kenenisa's second-stage (5 km) 13:07 broke stage record by 9 seconds. Then on to a third supremely dominant double victory at the Lausanne World Cross.
On June 1 came what amounted to Kenenisa's senior international track debut in the Hengelo 10,000m, racing against none other than Haile himself. When the "Emperor" launched his celebrated kick, his heir apparent responded with an even faster final 200, winning by almost a full second (26:53.70 to 26:54.58, the top two times of 2003) and leaving observers in no doubt as to who now rules Ethiopian distance running. Kenenisa next outkicked most of the top Kenyans over 5000 in the Oslo GL, recording PB 12:52.26; he beat many of them again in Lausanne (13:06.05 with a 52.6 last lap), and beat Haile a second time in the Rome GL (12:57.34 to 13:00.32), but both were edged by the astonishing finish of Kenyan Abraham Chebii (12:57.14), who handed Kenenisa his first loss in an international competition in more than two years.
Kenenisa is listed for both the 5000 and 10,000 in Paris, but the 10,000 comes first and is his preferred event. In that race, he will be joined by Haile and either of the two strong youngsters, Sileshi Sihen or Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam, but it's hard to imagine any of these or the four formidable Kenyans in the race (Chebii is running 5000 only) keeping the new dominant Ethiopian from his first track gold medal.
Yearly progression 3000/5000/10,000: 1999 - 8:09.89/ —; 2000 - 7:46.95/ 13:20.57; 2001 - 7:30.67 (WJR)/ 13:13.33; 2002 - injured; 2003 - 12:52.26/ 26:53.70
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
In 2003 Kenyan Armed Forces 12 km cross country, faded to 5th after leading on hot day. At Cinque Mulini in March, after slow early going, forced pace over final 4 km, but was passed by three men near the finish. Yet in Kenya's 12 km World Cross trials, he timed finish well for solid win. 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 (Zurich GL)/27:24.75; 2001 - 13:19.58/27:49.34; 2002 - --/26:52.87 (Brussels GL); 2003 - 13:22.78/27:59.18.
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; finished 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, and won the 2003 World Cross trials at 12 km but could do no better than 6th in Lausanne.
The slip in performance has sometimes resulted from a minor injury that developed between the trials and the championships, or from a miscalculation in the closing stages of the big race. But by now Korir has had so much experience preparing for and competing in races at the highest level that he may finally be ready to overcome his championship jinx. His 10,000m victory in the Kenyan World Championship Trials, which came just two weeks after he won the Kenya nationals, was accomplished with such effortless mastery (winning margin: 10 seconds) that he looked more than ready to face the formidable Ethiopians in Paris.
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 hales from the same corner of Kenya's Rift Valley Province.
Charles Waweru KAMATHI (kah-MAH-thee), Kenya (5000/10,000 m)
Born 18 May 1978, Mathari (suburb of Nyeri), Nyeri District, Central Province, Kenya
Police corporal. Lives mainly in Nyahururu and Ngong. Based in Columbaro, Italy, during track season.
Manager: Federico Rosa. Coach: Gabriele Rosa
Kikuyu. Fifth of nine children. Widowed mother a coffee plantation worker.
Finished Njogu-Ini Sec. Sch., Dec. 1996. Recruited into Kenya Police 1998. Promoted to corporal 2001.
Began running in third year of secondary school (1995). Finished 6th in 5000 m in Kenya schools nationals. Following year 26th in national schools cross country and 7th in 5000. Spotted by local coach David Miano, who has arranged for many athletes from Nyeri area to run in Japan for company or university teams. Kamathi was sent to Japan to run for Toyota in April, 1997. Developed tendonitis and sent home after 10 days. Replaced by fellow Nyeri athlete Simon Maina, who became Commonwealth 10,000 champion 17 months later.
Trained alone for a year, competing in open meets and national championships with modest success. Joined Police as an athlete. After basic training, took 1st in 10,000 (29:26) and 2nd in 5000 in 1999 Police Championships, then 9th at 5000 (13:42) in nationals. Selected by federation to join group of Kenyans traveling to India for four races. On return, approached by talent-spotter John Mwai, representing Lebanese-born American manager Hussein Makke. Police permitted Kamathi to join Makke athletes training at 2,700 m altitude in Kinangop. Most preparing for US road races; Kamathi insisted on track. Makke set up late-season (1999) race: 10,000 m at Van Damme Golden League meet in Brussels.
Sensational European debut in Brussels, winning in 26:51.49, fastest in 1999. Followed up with 13:05.29 5000 m in Berlin four days later. The next winter he edged five-time World Champion Paul Tergat in three European cross country races but slipped to 13th in Kenya World Cross trials. Controversially included in Kenya team, finished 7th at World Cross in Vilamoura.
Hamstring injury in May ruined most of 2000 season, limited to a few US road and European track races and DNF in 5000 m in Kenyan Olympic trials. After two months' rest and a change of management, 2001 began promisingly with bronze medal in the World Cross (top Kenyan in 12K) and ended spectacularly with last-lap victory over Haile Gebrselassie at 10,000 m (27:53.25) at Edmonton World Championships.
Injuries persisted in 2002. After a creditable 5th in the Dublin World Cross and a two-second loss in his half-marathon debut at Stramilano (60:22), he struggled in the World Half-Marathon Championships three weeks later (9th in 62:01) and raced hardly at all until the autumn. In 2003, he was forced to drop out of Kenya's World Cross trials in the last kilometer, but had recovered enough by June to record 13:15.33 for 5000 in Ostrava Super GP. He confirmed his fitness at 10,000 with an easy 27:29.12 in Portugal just before the Kenya World Championships trials, in which, having been assured of his wild card berth on the team, he cruised through 5000 in 13:30.8.
Yearly progression 5000/10,000: 1999 - 13:05.29/ 26:51.49; 2000 - 13:23.24; 2001 - 13:05.16/ 27:22.58; 2002 - 13:02.51/28:20.98; 2003 - 13:15.33/27:29.12.
A soft-spoken, profoundly shy young man, Charles Kamathi keeps finding himself in the midst of sensation and controversy. His debut in major international competition, in the 10,000 at the 1999 Van Damme Memorial, was as spectacular as any in the recent history of the sport—the year's fastest time from a complete unknown whose previous best, run at altitude, was more than two minutes slower, and who was initially allowed to enter the race only as a pacemaker.
Six months later he was at the center of a dispute between Kenya's athletes and team management at the World Cross Country Championships in Vilamoura. Management had brought seven runners for the 12K men's race in the vain hope that either defending champion Tergat or Cross Challenge leader Kamathi would be granted a wild card entry. When informed that only six could run, the team managers dropped Joshua Chelanga, who had finished five places ahead of Kamathi in Kenya's trials, and they did so without the customary consultation with team members. Deeply offended, the athletes threatened not to run until persuaded by Tergat in discussions that lasted all night long before the race. Exhausted, demoralized and without a race plan, the Kenyans managed to retain their team title, but Tergat, going for an unprecedented sixth straight individual gold, was beaten on the home straight by Mohammed Mourhit of Belgium, whom Kamathi had pulled to a European 10,000 m record in Brussels. Said the bewildered young Kenyan, who finished 7th, "I just found myself in the middle of things, and I can't even explain.”
The next year, in Edmonton, Kamathi did what no one had been able to do for eight years: he beat Haile Gebrselassie over 10,000 m. And he did it in a fashion worthy of the great Ethiopian himself—with blazing acceleration on the last lap. Kamathi's final 200 was unofficially clocked at 24.7 seconds.
This time the voracious media attention brought a curious and welcome consequence. An Edmonton dentist noticed the victorious Kenyan was missing a front tooth and offered to fill the gap for free with sophisticated bridgework. When Kamathi returned to the athletes' village with his gleaming new grin, he was uncharacteristically outgoing. The newly garrulous World Champion acknowledged that for four years, since he had lost a tooth to decay, he had been doing his best in public to keep his mouth shut.
SILESHI Sihine (sih-LEH-shee sih-HIN), Ethiopia (5000 m, 10000m)
Born 29 January 1983, Sheno, Ethiopia. (75 km from Addis Ababa)
Lives in Addis Ababa. Based in Nijmegen, Netherlands, for short periods between European competitions.
Manager: Jos Hermens. Coach: Dr. Wolde-Meskel Kostre
Parents own a farm outside Sheno. Has one brother, four sisters.
Began running in school, inspired by Haile Gebrselassie. Won 800 m and 1500 m representing his school in a district competition. Recruited into national team after finishing in top ten over 10,000 m at 2001 National Championships. Selected for 2002 World Cross junior team and finished 6th in Dublin, behind winner Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam, his sometime training partner.
Went on to take silver at 10,000 in World Junior Championships that July in Kingston, again behind Gebre-egziabher. Also won Ethiopia's 2002 National Championships 10,000, and in Europe recorded 27:26.12 for 10,000 at Brussels GL and 13:21.81 for 5000 in Berlin to claim 3rd and 4th, respectively, in Ethiopia's 2002 national rankings. Ended year by placing 2nd behind Gebre-egziabher at Great Ethiopian Run 10K in November, beating Kenenisa, who was returning from injury.
In Kenenisaís absence, finished 2nd over 12 km in Ethiopia's 2003 cross country nationals, once again behind Gebre-egziabher, but could only manage 7th in the World Cross in Lausanne. (Gebre-egziabher was 3rd.)
Finally emerged from Gebre-egziabher's shadow in 2003 national track championships in May, where he won both 5000 and 10000, beating Kenenisa in the shorter race and Gebre-egziabher in the longer, and shattering stadium and championship records in both (13:35.3 and 28:24.8 at Addis Ababa's 2300 meter altitude).
The following month he challenged Haile and Kenenisa over 10,000m in the Hengelo GP, winding up an impressive third (26:58.76), and earning a spot on the World Championships team. Went on to record PBs of 13:09.90 and 13:06.53 for 5000 in the Oslo and Rome GL meets. His role in the 10,000 will be crucial in Ethiopia's quest for multiple medals.
Yearly progression 5000/10000: 2002 - 13:21.81/ 27:26.12; 2003 - 13:06.53/ 26:58.76
Prepared by John Manners, Richard Nerurkar and Sabrina Yohannes for the IAAF "Focus on Africans" project. © 2002-2003 IAAF.