Christopher Koskei praying after winning the 3000m steeplechase
That Christopher Koskei is a real character was obvious during the press conference in Seville after he won the World Championships’ gold in the steeplechase.
He managed to amuse everyone with his verve, his jokes and, above all, his face-splitting smile. Another anecdote concerning his return to Kenya after his victory is worth recounting.
We heard the story in Bartolimo, a suburb of houses and sheds in the Rift Valley, during the lengthy wedding ceremony of Joshua Chelanga (do you remember him? In Belfast, at the last World Cross Country Championships, he made all of the early going, splitting up the field before handing over to his "Captain", Paul Tergat, and crossing the finishing line himself in fourth place).
Koskei returned home with his World Championships title (hanging the gold medal alongside the silver he won in the 1995 edition in Gothenburg) and still greater renown among his countrymen, and what did he do then?
Meeting one of his sons, who had been given the name Kemboi at his birth, he says to him: "Dear Kemboi, I have decided to change your name. From now on we will call you Seville!"
Yes, that’s right, Seville like the capital of Andalusia, home of the 7th IAAF World Championships, where his father Christopher became World Champion in the 3000m steeplechase, continuing a Kenyan tradition that bears the names of Amos Biwott, Benjamin Kogo, Kip Keino, Benjamin Jipcho, Julius Korir, Julius Kariuki, Peter Koech, Matthew Birir, Patrick Sang, William Mutwol, Joseph Keter, Moses Kiptanui, Wilson Boit Kipketer, Bernard Barmasai, for a total of 23 medals from the Olympic Games and World Championships!
Koskei himself enjoys a laugh at this idea, which soon does the rounds of the whole Rift Valley. Then speaks of his future plans (in Italian, which he speaks fluently after years training in Trento in the north of Italy).
"Next year, I have two targets: to win the gold medal at the Olympics in Sydney and to set a new world record, which I have promised to do in Rieti, because it is really the temple of middle distance running and I want to break the record there."
Well, if he says so.
Ottavio Castellini for the IAAF