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Updated 16 March 2009
Mark Kosgey KIPTOO, Kenya (5000m, 10,000m, cross country)
Born 21 June, 1976, Lumino Village, Soy location, Lugari district
Manager: Ricky Simms (PACE)
Team: Armed Forces; rank: Corporal
Sheer determination, hunger and desire are the qualities which best sum up Mark Kiptoo. A career military man, the army corporal will be making his second successive World Cross Country Championships showing after his debut in Edinburgh yielded a 14th place finish.
Competing as the overall Kenya team captain, Kiptoo was not delighted at his showing. “The performance was not pleasing for me,” said the newlywed Kiptoo. “I prayed to God to be given another chance and it is my aim to contest for a medal in Amman since my prayers were answered at the national trials.” Once again he has been named skipper of the national team after finishing third at the National Trials for Amman on February 21.
Now 32, Kiptoo remains a testament to what one can achieve through perseverance, focus and drive to achieve one's goals in life, having broken into the fiercely contested Kenya team for the premier cross country event twice in a row. A late bloomer in the truest sense of the phrase, here is a man who had never put on spikes until five years ago, but then discovered that he had the talent.
Since that moment, Kiptoo has set about trying to make up for lost time, winning gold (5000m) and silver (10,000m) medals at the 2007 World Military Games before placing second at the highly competitive Kenya National Cross Country trials.
Kiptoo attended Lumino Primary School until 1992 and, with his mind concentrated on books, he proceeded to Mukumu Boys from 1993-1996. Upon completion of his 'O' Level education, Kiptoo joined the Armed Forces in 1997 and passed out (conscripted) in May 1998.
"When you join the army, you learn a lot,” Kiptoo said. “You start seeing things at a different angle. Discipline is paramount and a priority because, with discipline, you can achieve anything and the army has given me that. I couldn't be where I am today without the military."
Posted to the Air Force, Kiptoo immediately joined Kenya Armed Forces Technical Training College from June 1998 to September 2002 to undertake a detailed course. He successfully completed his studies and was posted to Laikipia Air Base in September 2002. He had served for two years when he had his first taste of athletics in 2004. "We were having an inter-wings competition at the barracks and my friends implored me to help my technical wing by running and that was my first race," Kiptoo recalled.
Though he didn't win, the athletics bug had finally caught up with him, but before he could get into the hang of things, military duty saw him posted to Burundi for 14 months on a peacekeeping mission from January 2005 to March 2006. Kiptoo returned to Kenya and rejoined Armed Forces training team in May 2006 and continued training ahead of the 2006-2007 cross country campaign.
Kiptoo’s first ever cross country race was in Nairobi on 4 November at the first AK meet where he came in eighth in the long race. Two weeks later he was in Machakos for his second race, improving to third. Now in sync with his running, Kiptoo placed 10th at the Armed Forces Cross Championships, thereby making the forces' side for the National Cross Country Championships that were scheduled for Mombasa.
There Kiptoo braved the oppressive heat to finish third and his dream of representing his beloved country was nearer to realisation as he headed to the national trials. Kiptoo took to the Ngong Racecourse course, in Nairobi, eager to make the Mombasa team but, coming up against a host of in-form top athletes who had skipped the nationals, he was relegated to 12th.
Undeterred, the army corporal went back to training and, in April, and competed in his first race outside the country when he ran in France. He finished fourth at an 8.8km road race in Heillecourt (24:27) but the result further convinced him that he was on the right track. "I could see that I was improving step by step and I told myself that, if I continued in the same vein, then I will reach my goal," he recalled.
In May, Kiptoo ran the 5000m at a meet in Belgrade, placing third in 13:12.60 and, back at home, he easily won the 5000m at the Armed Forces Championships. Proceeding to the National Championships in June, Kiptoo finished second (13:50.0) behind Thomas Longosiwa after a bruising battle in the final stretch. But it saw him achieve his first goal - that of representing his country at an international event – as he was selected for the All Africa Games, in Algiers, in July.
"I was delighted at finally getting the chance to represent my country as it was something I had always dreamed of,” he said. In Algiers, Kiptoo was affected by the adverse conditions that beleaguered most of the Kenyan team and could manage only ninth place (13:32.07).
Preparing for the World Military Games, in Hyderabad, India, in October, Kiptoo upped his training and here he enjoyed his biggest success to date, striking 5000m gold (13:51.74) and 10,000m silver (28:22.62) behind compatriot John Cheruiyot Korir,
In March 2008, Kiptoo lined up at the National Cross Country Championships cum trials, staying in the pack until the last 300m when he and Gideon Ngatuny sprinted away in a thrilling tussle for the tape. The latter proved to have a better kick as Kiptoo lost out to finish second.
Kiptoo had, however, achieved his primary goal of making the World Cross Country team. Once in the camp, the coaches were quick to notice his calm authority, leadership and presence, making him the captain of the team.
"I am so happy because it has always been my dream to defend my country in an international event," he had said at the time, adding: "Given that it's my first time at World Cross, I am grateful to God and I believe that I am going to do my best. As a captain, it's a bigger challenge as you have to lead from the front so that you set an example to the rest of the team."
But what has driven this softly-spoken man to continue running despite starting at an age when most athletes are at their peak? "Once you start something, it's always good to see that you accomplish it,” he said. “When I began running I got motivated. I felt that I had to keep on running and I wish that one day I will be able to win a medal for Kenya. That's my prayer.”
Kiptoo credits his amazing drive for excellence to another Armed Forces athlete, John Kibowen, World Cross Country short course champion in 1998 and 2000. "Kibowen was my inspiration,” Kiptoo said. “He began his athletics career late and has gone on to do the country proud. He is my mentor and has contributed a lot to my career, helping to keep me going."
After the disappointment of Edinburgh, where he had only managed 14th place, Kiptoo embarked on preparations to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. On May 5, he featured in a 10km race in Marseille where he clocked 28:14 before running personal best over 10,000m in early June in Eugene, Oregon, where he timed 27:14.67 for fourth position. Towards the end of that month, he was crowned Kenya’s 5,000m champion, at Nyayo Stadium, with a run of 13:50.64.
Buoyed, he lined up at the July 4 and 5 Beijing Trials but his brave lunge in the final 300m fell 1:13 seconds short of overhauling the tiring Micah Kogo who held on for third to grab the last place in the 10,000m men’s team. Kiptoo ran 28:10.05 for fourth against Kogo’s 28:08.92. “It was so, so close,” Kiptoo said at the finish. “I almost made it but I will be back another day,” he continued as he left the track.
Reflecting on that day, he discloses: “It was disappointing for me but those who made the team were the best at that time. All that was left for me was to embark on training harder for the cross country season with the hope that I would be good enough for the team.”
Kiptoo travelled overseas for a number of European meetings where he ran his personal bests over 5000m (13:06.60) and 3000m (7:36.43) in Rome and Monaco. In September, he featured in his maiden World Athletics Final, in Stuttgart, where he finished sixth in the 3000m (8:04.30) and fourth in the 5000m (13:23.73) in another career milestone.
He returned to train for cross country and travelled to Spain for a series of meets. He began his season with a second place finish at the IAAF Permit Cross Country 10km race held in Soria, followed it with a fourth place finish in Llodio and a third place in Alcobendas. Returning home, he finished fourth (12km race) at the fifth KCC/AK National Cross Series meeting in Nyahururu before form deserted him at the Armed Forces Cross Championships, where he paled to seventh.
After a month-long training camp with Armed Forces team-mates, Kiptoo lined up for the Amman Trials where only the supercharged Moses Mosop and closest challenger, Mathew Kisorio, who competed in Edinburgh as a junior bettered his determined run. Mission accomplished and he could now focus on his dream of bagging a medal for Kenya. “Maybe after that, I can try earning a place at the national team for Berlin (2009 World Athletics Championships),” said Kiptoo, who married Lorna Kosgei in December 2008.
3000m: 7:36.43 (2008)
5000m: 13:06.60 (2008)
10,000m: 27:14.67 (2008)
10km: 28:03 (2007)
3000m: 2007 - 7:38.43; 2008 - 7:36.43;
5000m: 2007 - 13:12.60; 2008 - 13:06.60
10,000m: 2007 - 28:22.62; 2008 - 27:14.67
10km: 2007 - 28:03; 2008 - 28:12
2007 1st World Military Games, 5000m
2007 2nd World Military Games, 10,000m
2008 14th World Cross Country Championships
2008 6th World Athletics Final (3000m)
2008 4th World Athletics Final (5000m)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008-2009