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Updated 15 March 2011
Paul Kipng’etich TANUI, Kenya (5000m/10,000m, Cross Country)
Born 22 December 1990, Chesubeno village, Molo District, Rift Valley Province
Lives in Japan/Kisii, training base in Fukuoka Japan/Kisii
Height: 168 cm (5'6”)
Last born in a family of six
Club: Kyudenko Corporation, Japan; Team: Kenya Police
Coach: Evans Bosire
Paul Tanui is gradually realising his potential in his bid to establish a rewarding distance running career. In 2010, he hogged headlines when he won the senior 12km race in what is billed the toughest cross country event on earth, the IAAF Permit Kenyan National Championships, to head the queue for Bydgoszcz World Cross.
On that overcast 20 February morning, another Paul, in this case Tergat, who until Poland’s World Cross, remained the last Kenyan to win the coveted 12km individual gold in 1999 when he sealed his fifth successive crown, was watching from the VIP tent.
A collection of Olympic, World, World Cross, area and local champions, 157 in total, lined-up for the race for six available tickets in the Kenyan men senior team but Tanui, making his first foray at that level literally, left them for dead as he led everyone home, and how!
The 20-year-old breasted the tape a massive 30 seconds ahead of runner-up and another surprise performer, Lucas Rotich.
Behind them, the established order led by Joseph Ebuya (who had handed six-time World Cross senior individual gold medallist, Kenenisa Bekele, his only second career defeat in a cross country course in January) lumbered home.
They did not hide the battering they had just received at the hands of the fiery pace injected by the youngster who hit the front mid way and continued stretching his gap to the unassailable 500m he enjoyed at the finish.
“At the start, I looked around at the names besides me and immediately knew I was junior (inferior) to them. I could not even begin comparing myself with them so I decided to break away early so that when they caught up, I would still finish in a position to earn a place in the team,” Tanui disclosed his rudimentary plan that in the end, sealed one of the biggest upsets in the event’s history.
Tanui’s victory saw eager journalists sketch parallels with one of the country’s cross country doyens as hopes another Paul would break Kenya’s long race duck at the elite gathering of distance runners soared.
“The boy has potential. It’s time the senior gold returned to Kenya, it’s been away for too long,” Tergat remarked as he watched his namesake destroy the field at Nairobi’s Uhuru Gardens on that occasion.
However, the weight of expectation proved too much for the youngster to handle as at his maiden national team outing in Poland, as he finished eighth in 33:30. However, another Defence Forces athlete, Joseph Ebuya, reigned supreme delivering the ‘long lost’ long race title.
“It was not the performance I expected. I had trained hard and was ready for a good performance, but in the middle of the race, I felt my body refuse to give and I turned focus to finishing,” Tanui summed his Bydgoszcz experience.
His journey in athletics however, has not been that smooth. In 2008, Tanui was a fresh mechanical engineering and computer packages student from Keroka Technical Training College in Kisii. On 1 March, he clocked 25:57.3 at the Trials for the Edinburgh World Cross for sixth and was named in the provisional junior men 8km squad by Athletics Kenya (AK).
However, a fortnight into residential training, his eagerness for a first foreign trip was cruelly dashed when he was expunged from the team, due to his inability to run with shoes, when AK named the final team.
“It was very painful,” he ruefully recalls. “After soaking in such pain, I embarked on seriously training with shoes and putting more effort to make a comeback.”
Tanui began racing at Keroka, where he was taken by his peasant farming family who could not afford to take him to secondary school (it is much cheaper to turn to technical training colleges since they offer basic professional skills for those who cannot afford high school education in Kenya), after completing his formative education at Mau Primary School.
He began competing at college track events, specialising in 5000m and 10,000m races, and reached the nationals in 2007.
He also entered local cross country meetings in the junior 8km races in Kericho, Eldoret and Kisii before the selection event for Edinburgh. After his expulsion from the national team, Tanui’s efforts to secure a Bydgoszcz World Junior Championships slot ended after clocking 13:59.2 in the 5000m at the events Trials, on 18 June, for fourth.
In 2009, Tanui washed away the disappointment of his omission from the Edinburgh squad by running 25:23.6 for second at the Kenyan Championships cum Trials for Amman World Cross to secure his place in the team – this time, with shoes.
“Making the team went a long way to wipe the hurt and it gave me a chance to prove what I could do on the international stage,” he remarked. In Jordan, Tanui narrowly missed the podium summing the experience, “I had targeted bronze but coming fourth, I was satisfied with that. We celebrated with my family since it was not an easy thing to represent my country.”
Shortly thereafter, Tanui met Kenyan-born Japanese citizen Stephen Mayaka (dominated the Hakone Ekiden while a student at Yamanashi Gakuin University and now coaches Sozo Gakuen University track and field team) who has helped many budding runners from the Kisii region where he was born to secure passage to his adopted nation.
“Mayaka had been monitoring me competing at weekend meetings and when I made the Amman team, he came up to me and assisted me to travel to Japan where I joined the Kyudenko Corporation team.
“Japan is a good place to get opportunities to train well with proper facilities that we lack here. It is also a country where many great distance runners started to make their names.”
Competing for his new team, Tanui set his then personal best over 10,000m (27:25.24 on 24 October) for second in Yokohama and on 7 November, raced 13:37.15 in winning in Fukuoka for his career best at the distance.
At Japan’s New Year Ekiden, Tanui displayed class to beating sub-27 minute men Josephat Ndambiri (Team Komori Corporation) and Martin Mathathi (Team Suzuki), sub-hour half marathoner Gideon Ngatuny and everyone else for the top honours on the Second Stage although his Kyudenko Team could not build on the performance finishing tenth.
The rising star returned home intensify training with a spot in the Bydgoszcz World Cross team in his sights. His first local outing yielded tenth in his first competition over 12km at the Kisii leg of the Kenyan National Cross Country Series.
Thereafter, he retreated to up his preparations for the 20 February National Championships where he sensationally scorched all comers.
“It is my joy to be here in this team. I will put all the effort I can to perform well in Poland. I’m not concerned about the competition, I know myself as an individual and I will compete as an individual. We are working well as a team and that is important but by God’s will, I will bring something back home,” he stated at the time.
After retreating to his Japanese nest, Tanui responded to his unsatisfactory Polish outing by running to a massive new career best in 10,000m of 27:17.61 for third place at the Hyogo race in Kobe on 25 April, that was ranked tenth in the 2010 world list.
Two more lifetime bests followed in his victorious runs over 1500m (3:43.97/3 May) – distance he rarely contests – and 5000m (13:14.87/5 June) in Fukuoka and Kitakyushu.
He then returned home to fight for a place in his country’s team for the African Athletics Championships, where a brisk 27:36.76 in the altitude of Nairobi during the event’s Trials on 26 June only returned seventh (in a memorable race where all top nine finishers, led by Wilson Kiprop (27:26.93), dipped under the previous soil record) and he was not selected.
Tanui emphatically wrapped his season in his adopted nation with three victories in Umi (5000m/13:37.1h/11 September) and the Corporate Championships in Niigata where he handed his Kyudenko team gold in the 25-lap race in 27:22.32 on 24 September. He then crossed the line unchallenged on 3 November, 3 once more in Kitakyushu, with the timer stopping at 13:17.13.
Following the successful autumn campaign, Tanui returned home and got married to Jackline Tanui in a church ceremony on 10 December.
Despite not participating at the Kenya Police Inter-Divisional Cross Country Championships on 15 January, the department’s head coach, Nicholas Kilisio, gave him one of the two wildcards available for the force while still awaiting formal conscription for constabulary training.
“I’m happy that he has agreed to join Police and he will be among those who will compete for our team at the nationals. Tanui is a worthwhile addition to any team, since he is a fine runner,” Kilisio said ahead of the February 19 IAAF Permit/KCB National Cross Country Championships.
Again, Tanui chocked on the big stage, returning seventh (36:46.1) in the selection race for the Punta Umbria World Cross, as his long race title defence came to a cropper. With the event also being used to select athletes for the re-established African Cross Country Championships, Tanui was subsequently handed a ticket to compete for his country in Cape Town.
However, three days after the Spain-bound team reported to camp, Athletics Kenya announced that Edinburgh senior silver medallist Leonard Patrick Komon, who had finished a place above Tanui at the Trials and was consequently handed a wildcard, had been withdrawn for opting to race at the World Best 10K in San Juan against the federation’s wishes. Tanui was named in his place.
As furore over Komon’s controversial axing gathered momentum in local media, Tanui reported to the team’s camp and within days, had integrated among his new team mates, who duly appointed the deeply religious runner as their official prayer leader.
“I believe this was an act of God and its only He who knows why things turned out this way. I have another chance to prove myself and it is my hope I will realise my dreams,” he offered.
10,000m- 27:17.61 (2010)
5000m: 2008-13:59.2; 2009: 13:37.15; 2010-13:14.87
10,000m: 2009-27:25.24; 2010-27:17.61
2009 4th World Cross Country Championships (junior)
2010 8th World Cross Country Championships (senior)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2009-2011.