What you need to know:
- Training alongside world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge and other top athletes at Kaptagat-based Global Sports Communication Camp works magic for the 2018 Commonwealth Games 10,00m bronze medalist
- Kwemoi reckons he almost lost hope of winning earlier in the race after his body failed to react, forcing him to run from behind the large group of about 30 athletes
- Kwemoi has been contracted by Japan-based Kogyo Corporate team since 2015, joining a long list of Kenyan athletes who have been absorbed by companies in the Asian nation
Local fans were treated to a thrilling spectacle at Athletics Kenya National Cross Country Championships held at the Ngong Racecourse in Nairobi last Sunday.
The tough course saw athletes post mixed results in senior races. Some big names fell by the wayside in the championship, which also doubled up as the national trials for the African Cross Country Championships.
The event brought together some of the best athletes from more than 16 institutional and regional teams across the country. But one diminutive athlete overcame muddy conditions and competition from some of the best athletes in the distance to triumph.
The 2018 Commonwealth Games 10,000 metres bronze medallist Rodgers Kwemoi reckons his strategy to floor big names at the championship worked well, especially after the cancellation of the 2021 Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon which had been pencilled for February 19.
Out to debut over the distance at the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon, Kwemoi had trained well with the intention of clocking the fastest time in the race.
Training alongside world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge and other top athletes at the Global Sports Communication Camp at Kaptagat in Elgeyo Marakwet County has enabled him to register better times this season despite challenges associated with the Covid-19 pandemic that has affected the sporting world since last year.
“I wanted to compete in the RAK Half Marathon with the intention of winning the race. My target was to break the course record or even the world record in the distance but that was not to be,” said Kwemoi.
Upon cancellation of the race, Kwemoi shifted focus to the National Cross Country Championships after discussing with his coach Richard Metto. He knew all the big names would compete in the event.
He based his training on the intervals and improving on his speed work a week before the race.
“We had a good discussion with my coach. He asked me to work on my speed and intervals which are key things in a races. That helped me during the race and I’m happy I finally won,” added Kwemoi.
Kwemoi reckons he almost lost hope of winning earlier in the race after his body failed to react, forcing him to run from behind the large group of about 30 athletes.
After the first lap, his body responded well, and he accelerated, zooming past athletes he knew were way better than him.
After going round the course four times, Kwemoi caught up with his training mate Geoffrey Kamworor who is also a former national champion. Kwemoi asked Kamworor to accelerate but the senior athlete said he was tired and his body couldn’t handle the pace any further.
“My body started responding well in the second lap and I started increasing my pace. I ran past many athletes whom I knew would beat me. In the fourth lap Kamworor who was ahead was already tired and he asked me to continue with my pace,” Kwemoi told Nation Sport on Thursday in Kaptagat.
He asked his other training mate Daniel Mateiko to help him catch up with the leading pack, something that yielded results. In the sixth lap, he was just behind the leading pack and his coach asked him to run from behind rather than from the front which has cost him victory in previous races.
He surged forward in the eighth lap and with no one reacting, he again slowed down and waited for the last lap to strike.
“I tried to test Kandie by surging forward and when I saw that he couldn’t react, I slowed down and ran from behind, saving my energy for the few remaining metres. It worked because I ran past him and went all the way to the tape bagging victory,” added Kwemoi.
Kwemoi, who was representing AK Central Rift region, crossed the line 31min,03.3sec ahead of defending champion Kibiwott Kandie who clocked 31:05.5. Edwin Kibet sealed the podium places in 31:10.9.
Kwemoi has been contracted by Japan-based Kogyo Corporate team since 2015, joining a long list of Kenyan athletes who have been absorbed by companies in the Asian nation.
He left for Japan in August last year, seeking to compete in various races but a hamstring injury which persisted until November ruled him out and he returned to Kenya.
Upon arriving home, he went straight to the camp and started his training, with regular massage from his physiotherapist.
Born on March 3, 1998 in Kabukwo in Mt Elgon, Bungoma County he joined Bwala Primary School before transferring to Kibei Primary School. Shem Kororia spotted his athletics potential and enrolled him at Kwony Academy, a private primary school owned by the former athlete.
Afterwards, he joined Moi Kaptama High School which he left in 2013.
Headed to Iten
He headed to Iten in Elgeyo Marakwet County to further his career. But life soon became unbearable and he struggled to sustain himself. He later shifted base to Chembulet in Uasin Gishu County and was taken in by his brother in-law. Things became harder and he almost gave up in athletics.
“As I was planning to go back home because life was taking a different dimension. I met another friend in Iten who invited me to join his training programme and I thought my problems were over but that was not to be. My sister who used to support me parted ways with her husband, worsening things,” added Kwemoi.
Coach Metto identified his athletics talent him in 2014 at a cross country race in Mt Elgon, Bungoma County where he won by gap of almost 200m.
He was later contracted by the Global Sports Communication after he met athletes representative Valentinj Trouw at Boma Inn Hotel in Eldoret.
He embarked on serious training and towards the end of the year, he enlisted for Tuskys Cross Country Championships in Eldoret against the advice of his coach.
“I was told not to compete at the Tuskys Cross Country Championships but I had no money, so I organized with my friend Stephen Kiprotich from Uganda who dropped me in town on the day of the competition. I came second after hiding myself throughout the race because I didn’t want my coach to see me. Coach Metto warned me not to repeat the mistake and forgave me,” Kwemoi says.
In 2015, he represented Kenya in the World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, China in junior men’s 8km category.
It’s at the national team training camp in Kigari, Embu that he made friends with senior athletes, among them Japan-based runner Leonard Barsoton. He soon headed to Japan.
Kwemoi later got a chance to join Asian Kogyo Corporate team while representing Kenya at the same time. He won gold in men's 10,00m race at the 2016 World Under-20 Championships held in Bydgoszcz, Poland and was later selected to Team Kenya for 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. He claimed bronze medal in the 10,000m race, clocking 27:28.66.
In 2019, Kwemoi represented Kenya at the 2019 World Athletics Championships, finishing fourth after timing 26:55.36 in a race won by Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei.
Coronavirus pandemic has messed up his plans of competing in the Olympic Games but he is happy to have been among the six African athletes to get sports scholarship from Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA).
“I’m lucky to have been among the few selected athletes who benefitted from the ANOCA scholarship. The scholarship was meant to help me prepare for the Olympics , but it has also helped me prepare for the cross country championships,” added Kwemoi.
He hopes to win gold medal during the Africa Cross Country Championships in Lome, Togo, and to book a place in Team Kenya for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, where he wants to compete in the 10,000m race.