Feature17 Aug 2013

Kiprotich is a happy history maker


Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich became just the second man to win the Marathon at back-to-back Olympic Games and IAAF World Championships when he strode to victory around the streets of Moscow on a blistering hot Saturday afternoon.

He showed that his win at the London 2012 Olympic Games was not just a flash in the pan but that he is a great championship by shrugging off three top-quality Ethiopian runners before crossing the line in the Luzhniki Stadium in 2:09:51.

“I am happy that I wrote history for my country once again. Last year people did not expect the Olympic title. Today, I proved that I am a champion and that I can beat the world. I realized that I could win at 40km, then I just kept pushing. I decided to break away but my competitors were strong and I had to apply some tactics. I am happy that I could win another medal for my country”, said Kiprotich.

Asked what the difference was between the Olympic and the World titles, Kiprotich said smiled disarmingly: “The Olympic gold was better, the World gold is much better”.  

“The conditions were very tough and unfavourable but I was determined because I knew that it was the only chance for Uganda to get a medal. I was sure that I was going for a win”, said Kiprotich.

Stephen Kiprotich hails the Cheptiyal Village in the Kapchwora District of Uganda, which nestles close to the Kenyan border. He was initially inspired the by Ugandan international Francis Musani, who is just six years older than Kiprotich, to take up running.

“I used to see Musani and other boys jogging near home in the morning. I also picked interest and I began running. I started running when I was at the Kaminy Primary School where I met a teacher called Patrick  Chemonges who encouraged me to run.”

To start with, Kiprotich prioritised his studies over running and he was a far from an obvious talent half-heartedly committing himself to the sport in his mid-teens.

Not a bad start   

“I made my debut at the World Cross Country Championships in Fukuoka where I finished 24th. I wouldn’t say that I performed badly because it was my first appearance at an International race”

His modest success during 2006 spurred him on to start training seriously and decided to quit school to focus on running. In 2007, he took part in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, in neighbouring Kenya, where he finished 19th coincidently being on a team with his role model Musani for the only time in his career.

Kiprotich then made a major breakthrough in April 2011 when he won the Enschede Marathon where he set the Ugandan record of  2:07:20 in his debut over the classic distance. Later that same year, he finished ninth at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu.

He started the 2012 Olympic season with a solid third place in the Tokyo Marathon in 2:07:50, finishing ahead of Haile Gebrselassie. “This performance made me confident that I could beat the world’s best.  Beating Haile meant a lot to me as he has always been my role model.”

This was just a prelude to grabbing the headlines last year in London when he became the second Ugandan to win an Olympic gold medal after the late 400 m hurdler John Aki Bua, who won the gold medal in Munich 1972.

In London, Kiprotich won the only medal from all sports for his country, with perfect timing in many respects as it was just ahead of the country’s 50th anniversary of independence.

The Olympic gold medal made him hugely popular. Thousands, including senior government dignitaries, gathered at the airport to welcome the new national hero and he can expect a similar response this time when he finally touches down on Ugandan soil.

The Ugandan runner currently trains much of the time over the border in Kenya at Kaptagat where he is part of the training group directed by 1992 Olympic 3000 m steeplechase silver medallist Patrick Sang.

“Moving to Kenya has helped me a lot. I prepared for this race really well. It is fantastic that I actually train together with six of my compatriots. We work under the same coach. I went to train in Kenya because we don’t have facilities in Uganda. I hope the Government will invest in our sport,” reflected Kiprotich with a familiar lament.

Kiprotich was Uganda’s second triumph at the IAAF World Championships, eight years years after steeplechaser Dorcus Inzikuru won in Helsinki 2005, and the pair have proved that while their successes may be few, their country is far from short on talent.

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF

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