Olympic 1500m champion and World record holder for the 1000m Noah Ngeny of Kenya announced his official retirement from international athletics today.
The 28-year-old hit the headlines at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney when he outsprinted 1500m king and overwhelming favourite Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco to win the gold medal and broke the Olympic record.
One year earlier Ngeny had taken the 1500m silver medal in the IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Seville, Spain, behind El Guerrouj and later went on to break Sebastian Coe's 18-year-old World 1000m Record in Rieti, Italy. Ngeny's time of 2:11.96 still stands as the World record with no other runner coming within 2 seconds of the time since.
Ngeny first came to international prominence by setting two World Junior records in 1997 - 3:32.91 for 1500m in Monaco and 3:50.41 for the Mile in Nice, and under the guidance of renowned manager and coach, the late Kim McDonald, his progression continued in 1998, improving his 1500m time to 3:30.34 in Monaco.
In 1999 Ngeny recorded six sub 3:30 clockings for 1500m and established himself as the closest rival to World champion and World record holder Hicham El Guerrouj. In the famous World record Mile race in Rome the young Ngeny pushed El Guerrouj all the way to the finish line with the Moroccan clocking a new mark of 3:43.13 and the Kenyan setting the second fastest time ever with 3:43.40 (almost a full second inside the old WR).
"When I look back on that race in Rome I was so happy to be close to Hicham that I almost did not think of beating him. After the race Kim told me that he thought I could have won the race. When I broke the 1000m record in Rieti later that year I made sure I crossed the line first! ", commented Ngeny from his Eldoret base.
The year 2000 was the highlight of Ngeny's career. He posted career bests of 1:44.49 for 800m and 3:28.12 (4th fastest all-time) en route to his Olympic triumph. He will always remember the week of the Olympic Games in Sydney as back home in Kenya his wife gave birth to a daughter that they later named Marion Sydney Ngeny.
"The Olympic gold medal was definitely the highlight of my running career. Hicham was expected to win and I was expected to get the silver like Seville. I had spent several winters training in Australia prior to the Olympics and I was very happy to win there. We had trained hard throughout the summer in Teddington (England) and I went to Australia in the best shape of my life."
Ngeny returned to Australia in 2001 to win the Goodwill Games Mile in Brisbane but a car crash in Kenya in November of that year put him out of action for much of the winter. The injury sustained in the car accident (injury to the back and pelvis) dogged the Kenyan soldier ever since. He competed sparsely in 2003 & 2004 recording a best time of 3:33.38 but failing in his attempt to qualify for the Kenyan Olympic team.
"The last few years have been frustrating. I have trained well throughout the winter but as soon as I start to do faster sessions on the track the injury returns. I have spent more time on the physiotherapy table than in my spikes!”
Ngeny currently resides in Eldoret and in addition to his duties as a sergeant in the Kenyan Armed Forces he is very active as a coaching mentor in the PACE Sports Management training camp in Kaptagat. He has been a major influence for some of the top young Kenyan talent including World 10,000m No. 1 Micah Kogo, World Cup silver medallist Mike Kigen, World Junior champion Veronica Nyaruai and World Junior double medallist Joseph Ebuya.
Ricky Simms for the IAAF