Evans Rutto breaks the finishing tape to win the 2004 Chicago Marathon (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Rutto – Three marathons, three victories, average 2:06

Evans Rutto served his apprenticeship in the traditional disciplines of cross country and track racing before moving up to prove he is a master at the Marathon.  The 26-year-old from Marakwet, Kenya is yet another example of the burgeoning distance running talent in Africa, who is making the most of his gifts and appears to have found the distance that best suits his talents.

Three marathons, three victories and an average time of 2:06:11 mark Rutto as the man to beat at the 26.2-mile(42K) distance.  He's demonstrated that he can finish strong (Chicago 2003), recover from a fall near the end of the race (London 2004), and handle a torrid early pace (Chicago 2004).

World record and championship goals

Missing from the resume is a win in a championship race, in hot/humid weather, or on a difficult course, but chances to accomplish those feats loom on the horizon for the marathoner of the moment.  Next on the agenda for Rutto, however, is a return to defend his Flora London Marathon title in April at the race's 25th anniversary.  There he'll have another shot at one of his long-term goals, setting a World record.  "For me now, I'm dreaming to be a World record holder," said Rutto.  "It is very important in my life, for if you are a World record holder, you will be honoured."

In addition to the record, Rutto also wants to prove his mettle in championship races.  To be the first Kenyan Olympic marathon champion would be another honour Rutto would like to have. "It is important to be a champion," Rutto said.

In fact it was the IAAF championship races that served as a springboard to Rutto's career.  Like many other Kenyan kids, Rutto got his start in the sport during school competitions.  He progressed from there to doing well in national cross country races, earning an invitation to compete for a spot on the Kenyan team for the World Cross Country Championships at the national pre-championship training camp.  There he proved to the team coaches that he was worthy of a spot on the team, and Rutto validated that selection with a fifth place finish at the 1999 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Recognised as a peer

That was when he finally got the attention of some of the other Kenyan stars of the era, such as Moses Kiptanui.  "The athletes I looked up to when I was young were members of my tribe like Moses Kiptanui, Richard Chelimo," said Rutto.  He had little interaction with them, however, until after those Championships in Belfast.  After his performance there, Rutto said, these athletes approached him, gave him encouragement, and offered to hook him up with an agent so he would be able to capitalize on his talent.  He was picked up by KIM, the UK based management firm formed by the late Kim McDonald. KIM negotiated invitations for Rutto on the European track circuit and on the roads.  While Rutto had some success on the track with PRs of 7:36.28 for 3K, 13:02.71 for 5K, and 27:21.32 for 10K, he was not a world beater, nor the best of the Africans.

The grind of the circuit

On the roads, however, Rutto was a consistent top three finisher with wins at the Beach to Beacon 10K, CVS Downtown 5K, and the Wharf to Wharf 6-mile. The money he earned from racing every weekend in the US was enough to allow him to buy a ten acre farm and provide well for his wife, Stella, and their growing family of three children.

But the road circuit is a grind. "We would race every weekend," said Rutto.  "Go home for a month and then come back and race again."

The primarily short races also did not play to Rutto's strength, which he began to discover was in the longer distances.  Selected to compete in the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Bristol in 2001, Rutto finished sixth in 1:00:43, 40 seconds behind winner Haile Gebrselassie.

Fastest ever debut

"My agents told me maybe I should try the Marathon," Rutto said. "They told me, I'll find you a flat course, you can run really fast."  At the LaSalle Banks Chicago Marathon in October of 2003 he did, running 2:05:50, the fastest ever debut marathon. Rutto had discovered his distance.

His marathon victories have brought him wealth and the freedom to concentrate on the longer race instead of having to earn a living by running the road circuit.  In Kenya Rutto now lives well, having quadrupled the size of his farmland to forty acres.  He hopes that someday his kids will get a chance to be educated abroad, "maybe get a scholarship," said Rutto.

Under Hogan’s wing

Instead of running weekly on the road race circuit, he's under contract to marathons, such as Chicago, where he has a two year deal that will be up for renewal after 2005.  Rutto's agent, Tom Ratcliffe, has also arranged for Evans and other KIM runners to train under German distance coach, Dieter Hogan, in Boulder, Colorado prior to the spring and fall marathon seasons.

There they not only have Hogan's expertise, but access to physical therapy, massage, and the rest and recuperation they need to tolerate the 150 mile weeks of heavy training. "You can't expect to run a good marathon when you have a lot of stress, a lot of injuries," said Rutto. His needs taken care of, Rutto is the one administering stress to others as he attempts to go even faster and continue winning marathons. Perhaps then, he adds, the selectors in Kenya will have no choice but to put him on the Olympic team for Beijing in 2008.

Jim Ferstle for the IAAF