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Feature11 May 1998

At Kipketer’s heels - Kimutai nurtures record ambitions


Wilson Kipketer, the Kenyan-born Dane who rewrote the record books for the 800m last year, could well be facing a serious challenge in the months to come from young Kenyan pretender to the crown Japhet Kimutai, current holder of the world junior record in the 800m with a mark of 1:43.64, set in Zürich in August last year.

Like Kipketer, Kimutai went to St Patrick’s High School in Iten, where he completed his secondary education last year and, like Kipketer in his day, he is now being trained by Brother Colm O’Connell.

Both athletes are Kalenjin, a community with a long history of gold medals from both world championships and Olympics and a string of world records to their credit.

Kimutai will turn 20 on December 20th and set his world junior record on the same day and in the same meeting where Kipketer took the world record to 1:41.24, from Sebastian Coe’s long-standing mark of 1:41.73, which he had equalled earlier in the season.

That day there was no clash between the two as Kimutai was running in the B race, and it was there that he smashed the 1:44.3 record record which Joaquim Cruz had set in Rio de Janeiro back in June 1981.

Kimutai’s first appearance on the international athletics scene was in the IAAF World Junior Championships in Lisbon, in 1994, where he was runner up to Australia’s Paul Byrne in the 800m. It was in this same meeting that another young Kenyan burst onto the international scene: Daniel Komen, who walked away with the 5000m and 10,000m titles.

Kimutai may have come second but, as a young student still in secondary school, he harboured no illusions about matching the performance of the talented young Daniel.

"Now I am mature. I know what I want and I am not stopping at anything to achieve it." Kimutai said recently in response to questions at a Kenya AAA meeting in Nairobi. During the meeting at Nyayo National Stadium in central Nairobi on 9 May, Kimutai qualified for the Commonwealth Games when he beat team mate William Chirchir to take the tape in 1:45.0. Both are coached by Brother O’Connell in Iten.

"World records don’t come easily, but the boy has an ambition he is hell-bent to attain. I have a hunch he can make it," O’Connell said of Kimutai’s world record dream.

"I want to go out during the Grand Prix season and run a few races. My main ambition this year is to win a gold medal in the Commonwealth games. The rest will follow," Kimutai said.

How many chances he will have this season to test himself against Kipketer remains to be seen. The world champion is still suffering from the after effects of a bout of malaria and the 800m is not a Grand Prix scoring event this year. What is sure is that Kimutai asks nothing more than the chance to stand-off against his illustrious former compatriot.

The rest may one day be history.

Omullo Okoth for the IAAF

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