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Updated March 16 2009
Mangata Kimai NDIWA, Kenya (1500m, 5000m, cross country)
Born 12 December, 1987, Kongit, Mount Elgon, Rift Valley
Coach: Brother Colm O’Connell
Manager: James Templeton
One of the most eloquent, genial and assertive Kenyan modern-day athletes, Mangata Ndiwa is another gifted athlete off the production line of talented runners shaped by the renowned Irish coach, Brother Colm O’Connell. A decorated athlete at junior level, Ndiwa’s transition to senior ranks has been punctured by a serious ankle problem that has kept him out of the international stage since he placed fourth in the 5000m at the 2006 World Junior Championships in Beijing.
Still only 21, single and fifth in a family of eight, Ndiwa will be looking to make up for lost time and ascend to the top of the distance running order that his talent deserves. Three years after Ndiwa and teammate Leonard Komon took the top two places respectively ahead of the feared Tariku Bekele in the junior men’s race at the World Cross Country championships in Fukuoka, Japan, the lanky athlete hopes to restart his stalled international career at the event that shot him to global acclaim.
His story in athletics is rooted at Kibei Primary School in Mt Elgon, where as a standard eight (eighth year) pupil in 2003, Ndiwa got struck by an arrow fired by athletics’ Cupid, transforming him from footballer into runner. “I used to play number 4 (central defence, where his stocky build made him naturally suited for that position) and I was not keen on athletics until I saw what Kiplimo Muneria, who is from my area, was achieving in the sport,” Ndiwa said.
Muneria was tenth in the junior men’s race at the 2000 World Cross Country Championships in Vilamoura, Portugal. “The only other thing that fascinated me with athletics before was watching Paul Tergat and Haile Gebrselassie compete in the 10,000m Olympic final (Sydney 2000),” Ndiwa said. “Their contest motivated me and I began falling in love with the sport.”
In his first year as an athlete, Ndiwa ran in the 5000m and 1500m races, finishing second in both at the Provincials, but was prevailed upon to drop the shorter race for his Rift Valley team to gain more points at the national primary school championships.
In 2004, Ndiwa, now a first year secondary (Form 1) student at St Patrick’s High School, Iten, where he met and began training under Bro Colm, finished third over 8km at the Rift Valley Provincial Secondary Schools Cross Country Championships, in Kericho, in May but was not selected for the Nationals. During the track campaign of that year, his charge was halted by injury to both knees. “They started swelling when I ran and I decided to relax and give them time to recover,” he explained.
Upon recovery, Ndiwa embarked on the 2005 season that ended up being his breakthrough year in the sport. A fourth place finish at the National Trials for the St- Etienne/St-Galmier World Cross in France saw him called up to the national team for his international debut. Although he finished fifth in the junior race, with four compatriots ahead of him he did not score for the victorious Kenya team. Augustine Choge, Bernard Kiprop, Barnabas Kosgei and Hosea Macharinyang posted a perfect 10 points score for Kenya.
After France, Ndiwa recovered from a bout of malaria that saw him pale to 13th at Athletics Kenya (AK) Provincial Championships held in Kapenguria to run 13:24.0 for third at the Kenya National Championships and, a week later, he clocked 13:36.3 to finish seventh at the Trials for the Helsinki World Championships. Selected to compete for his country in September’s African Junior Championships in Rades, Tunisia, he won his first medal - silver in the 5000m (13:45.37) behind team-mate Moses Masai (13:45.15). Masai later sealed the double with a 28:30.27 victory in the 10,000m.
“I had targeted to make the national team that year,” Ndiwa said. “Competing at the World Cross and African Junior Championships made me realise I had a chance to win at the big stage.” And win he did the following season when, having finished third in the National Championships, he soared above all in the junior race of Fukuoka World Cross to be crowned a World champion while still in school.
Ndiwa prevailed against strong winds that prompted caution from the athletes. "We knew you could not kick for 200m into this wind," Ndiwa said after winning the race. "We were relaxing, waiting to push. Our major plan was to win the gold, so we were patient." Today, Ndiwa still relishes in that moment. “With Augustine Choge graduating to the seniors that year, my performance in France had encouraged me to go for the win in Fukuoka. I felt so good then and even now because the win gave much exposure. It was the perfect thing for me as I prepared to graduate to senior running the next year. I felt that I had accomplished what I had set out to do in my junior career.”
There was time left for Ndiwa to end his junior career on a high at the Beijing World Junior Championships but it was not to be. Joseph Ebuya ran 13:40.7 to relegate Ndiwa (13:41.6) to second in the 5000m at the national Trials and both qualified for the global showdown. Ndiwa clocked 13:44.03 in Beijing to finish fourth.
Just before travelling to Beijing, the World Cross junior champion had developed swelling in the ankle that worsened after the event. The injury was to interrupt his preparations for the 2007 Mombasa World Cross and put his graduation to senior ranks on hold. “Ndiwa’s right ankle swelled during training for Beijing and, despite seeing several doctors in Nairobi, we could not fully diagnose his problem,” O’Connell said.
In 2007, Ndiwa’s management team decided to fly him to Europe, “We took him to Germany where, after numerous scans, one doctor got to the root of the problem,” O’Connell explained. ”He said Ndiwa had a defect in his ankle which he was born with and was being aggravated by training.”
It was a similar condition to that which ultimately ended the career of the great Dutch striker Marco Van Basten but his team was determined to give the budding starlet another chance. They contemplated surgery but the doctor advised against it, saying that if Ndiwa learnt how to cope with it, he would overcome it. Thus began a long rehabilitation process.
“We worked on the psychological part by not emphasising it and treating him like any other athlete because we wanted him to put it at the back of his mind,” the coach said. “He is very tough and has shown great mental strength to come back the way he has.”
Ndiwa made his tentative steps back into competitive action in early 2008 but his preparations for the Edinburgh World Cross were curtailed by typhoid and, at the Kenya Trials, he slumped to 12th place, missing the global event. It was another setback but Ndiwa soldiered on, travelling to Europe where he hoped to build some form ahead of the Beijing Olympics selection event.
At 5000m, he ran 13:14.94 (eighth, Berlin Golden League, June 1) and 13:10.09 (tenth, Ostrava GP, June 6) before returning to Kenya to prepare for the Beijing Trials. By his own admission, Ndiwa was yet to fully recover from typhoid and by now the waterborne disease had combined with malaria. After seven laps of the 5000m his forlorn figure was seen pulling out of competition.
“At that point, my body locked and I felt pain all over the body,” Ndiwa said. “It was a very disappointing moment, one of the most disappointing in my career. “I was given some more tablets by the doctor and rested for a while, aiming to complete my track season in Europe.”
After his Olympic dream was shattered, Ndiwa travelled to Europe where he clocked 7:40.39 (PB) for ninth in the 3000m at the Monaco Super GP in July before he ran his 5000m PB (13:05.27) for third place at September’s Van Damme Memorial Golden League meeting in Brussels.
“I was still not getting cured and I changed my doctor with the one who gave me different medication that was able to bring the typhoid and malaria under control,” he said. “I have been on this medication until recently when I felt strong again.”
Ndiwa roared back to action at the fourth KCC/AK National Cross meeting held at Kisii with a classy victory in the long race, humbling Olympic 10,000m bronze winner, Micah Kogo. In January, Ndiwa’s return to shape was further signalled by a second place finish behind Ethiopia’s Abebe Dinkesa at the Bupa Great Edinburgh Run. He returned home to prepare for the Amman Trials in which he finished sixth and the selectors handed him one of the wildcard tickets.
“The trials were challenging since there were many strong athletes but, after all I have been through, I was delighted to be handed a slot in the team,” Ndiwa said “What remains is for me to repay the faith. It will be very tough in Amman but I believe the Kenya team can do something. Personally, my goal is to get a medal.”
Two of his younger siblings, sister Stacy and brother Emmanuel Ndiwa, have followed in his footsteps by launching their athletics careers. Stacy was crowned Commonwealth Youth Games champion after winning the 1500m in Pune, India, with a Games Record 4:20.16 in September but she missed out on an Amman World Cross ticket. Emmanuel is a budding 1500m/5000m runner currently in Form 3 (third year) in secondary school. “We motivate each other and I always try to encourage them,” says the elder Ndiwa.
His target for the season is to clock 12:40 over 5000m and perhaps aim for the World record in the same distance. “Of course Kenyan runners can break (Kenenisa) Bekele’s record (12:37.35) but we lack the mentality to do it,” Ndiwa said. “If one puts his mind to it, that achievement is possible.”
3000m: 7:40.39 (2008)
5000m: 13:05.27 (2008)
3000m: 2006 - 7:45.30; 2008 - 7:40.39
5000m: 2005 - 13:24.0; 2006 - 13:41.6; 2008 - 13:05.27
2005 5th World Cross Country Championships (junior)
2005 2nd Africa Junior Championships (5000m)
2006 1st World Cross Country Championships (junior)
2006 4th World Junior Championships (5000m)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008