The IAAF Diamond League champion and world 1500m silver medallist has enjoyed a stellar year but the Kenyan says his win in the 2016 IAAF Diamond League final changed the course of his career.
"On the recommendation of my coach, Bernard Ouma, in 2015 I stepped up from the 800m to focus on the 1500m. At first I feared whether I would even finish but I quickly come to terms with the speed and pace of the event. In my first season as a 1500m specialist I finished seventh at the Beijing World Championships. I was satisfied with my performance at my first major championships, although I felt slightly conflicted as I was asked to run as a pacer for the team in Beijing. Encouraged by my first ever season in the 1500m my coach designed a programme to enhance my endurance. At times the training was unbearably intense. We pumped up the mileage and worked more on strength and conditioning and gym work too.
“The hard work started to pay off and in my first Diamond League race of the season in Rabat when I claimed victory over my countryman Silas Kiplagat (the 2011 World Championship silver medallist and fifth fastest 1500m runner in history). On the eve of the race I recall my coach telling me not to fear making mistakes and this gave me the confidence to go with the pacemaker. I ran my own race under little specific instruction from my coach and I was delighted to beat Silas.
“I went on to win the 1500m silver medal at the African Championships in South Africa before finishing fourth at the Kenyan Olympic Trials to just miss out on the team for the Rio Olympics. I was blocked on the inside and competed on tired legs. I finished just 0.50 behind Ronald Kwemoi in third.
“Although finishing fourth was reasonably satisfactory, I was disappointed to miss out on the Olympic Games. It was hard watching the action in Rio. I expected a Kenyan clean sweep but then Elijah Manangoi, my training partner, was injured in the semi-finals. The final was won (by American Matt Centrowitz in 3:50.00) in a slow and pedestrian pace, so it was only natural to wonder how I would have performed had I been in Brazil.
I had been invited to the Lausanne Diamond League but we turned it down to focus on the Diamond League final in Brussels. I was determined to end the season on a high, although I picked up a nagging groin injury a few weeks ahead of the final. It was a less than satisfactory build up and on the night, I only felt at 80 per cent.
“Many of the athletes were competing on tired legs. By comparison I was relatively fresh, although I was a little unsure as to my overall fitness because of the injury.
Thankfully I felt strong and took the victory in a PB of more than two seconds in 3:31.34 beating many big names (including three-time world champion Asbel Kiprop, Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Taoufik Makhloufi and Cheruiyot’s Rongai Athletics Club training partner Elijah Manangoi). The victory gave me so much confidence. I was shocked. I knew from that moment on I would no longer be the underdog. It gave me added belief for 2017 because I was only at only 80 per cent in Brussels, it made me wonder how could I perform at 100 per cent. It proved to my coach that the programme was on track. Victory in Brussels made me believe for the first time I could live with the likes of Asbel (Kiprop), Centro and Elijah. From that moment on I knew I could beat anyone.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF