Having showcased his latent talent last season where he was the number 1 metric miler as the countdown to the Daegu Worlds tolled, personal tragedy derailed what was to be his ascendancy to the top when he lost his mother.
“I was really in shape in 2011. After I had done my first two Diamond League races, I had a problem. My mother passed away and from there, I was the one preparing the burial for two weeks.
“On my return to Oslo and my shape was down after missing training. It is very hot in Tambach where we live and training was not possible,” he disclosed with pain in his eyes.
After Oslo, Chepseba’s narrated he embarked on making up for lost time that saw him over stretch himself in training and as a result, missed the Daegu ticket.
“I was exhausted when we ran the final and I was disappointed and unfortunately, it was not my time and my time will come. I felt sad after being withdrawn from the team,” he rued after Athletics Kenya (AK) who had initially granted him the wildcard for the Worlds only to revoke their decision and send Daniel Kipchirchir Komen instead.
Who is this lanky dark runner who has shot up to be one of the most promising metric milers from a country that has produced its fair share in recent times?
Tall, dark and coy, Chepseba, 21, is yet another inspiring story among many in the vast Kenyan Rift Valley that have used talented legs to make the flight from poverty having been born to a homestead that had 18 siblings.
“My father married three wives and I’m the fourth born to my mother,” he narrates while relaxing in the lawn at the training camp that he shares with among others, London Marathon titleholder, Emmanuel Mutai, 2009 World Half silver winner, Bernard Kipgeyo and namesake Mike Kipyego, the 2008 African Championships 3000m steeplechase silver winner turned marathoner.
“I started running seriously when I joined Form 1. In primary school, I used to run but it was very hot in the valley and you could not train but I managed to get to the Districts in 10,000.
“When I joined St Patrick’s I started being coached by Brother Colm, I changed to 1,500m after he noticed I would start the 10,000m very fast then tire at the end. At first, I started running 3,000m but eventually settled at 1,500,” the runner who fed off the nectar of the famed Patrician brother coach until 2009 when he left the institution added.
That was the year he won silver at the Africa Junior Championships in Mauritius on his first outing in Kenyan colours.
Chepseba started making waves in the 2010 campaign where he strung a number of impressive performances, notably his 3:32.42 season’s best in Rieti (August 29) that was ranked number 12 on the world list after a fifth finish at the Nationals saw him miss selection to the Africa Athletics Championships his nation hosted.
With the World Championships in the horizon at the turn of 2011, the Cherebes Village, Keiyo Valley born athlete pieced together a string of imposing performances that saw him earn recognition as one to watch in the global Metric Mile circuit.
A winning sequence of seven straight victories early in the season highlighted by his 3:34.63 (number 4 world list) indoor personal best at the PSD Bank Düsseldorf meet in Germany as well as the opening two Samsung Diamond League events in Doha (3:31.84) and Shanghai (3:31.42) outdoors served adequate notice of his arrival to the big time.
His hot streak was snapped in June during the Bislett Games in Oslo where he finished sixth in the Mile race with the clock reading 3:53.36 that was still a career best at the distance.
Chepseba again placed fifth at the Nationals in July missing a Daegu Worlds ticket in controversial fashion after he was at first granted wildcard entry courtesy of his effort in Shanghai that was the then a world lead before AK rescinded the decision a week later and demoted him to the All Africa Games squad.
He declined to accept the chance to compete for his nation in Maputo to focus on clinching what would be his first Samsung Diamond League title after a second finish in Monaco (3:31.74/July 22) and sixth in Stockholm (3:35.83) placed him in a three way tie for the crown with Olympics and Worlds titleholder Asbel Kiprop and Worlds silver winner Silas Kiplagat ahead of the Zurich final.
At the Weltklasse Meet, Chepseba pulled away from the Daegu medallists and came home in 3:32.74 to bag the consolation Diamond Trophy and the $40,000 (Sh3.2m) jackpot as Kiprop and Kiplagat chocked in his slipstream.
“Winning the Diamond League changed my life since it made me come back to normal like the other people because after all, I’m the same with the guys that went to the World Championships.
“I wanted to confirm to them I was not left outside because I was not in shape,” the lanky runner charged.
Having placed himself at the pedestal, Chepseba rounded his season in victory with a blistering 3:30.94 career best in Zagreb on September 13 that was ranked number three for 2011.
In 2012, he is out to join the illustrious class of the revered legend Kipchoge Keino (1968), Peter Rono (1988), Noah Ngeny (2000) and Kiprop as an Olympics 1500m gold medallist from his country.
“The Trials will be very tough and it will depend on who is in shape. The six or so guys in the country in the moment are tough; I have to focus and train well I will make it, if it is your time, it is your time and if I’m beaten, it’s okay.
“I like front running because I have no finishing kick and this is what I want to work on.”
Chepseba credits his manager Michel Boeting for giving him the chance to forge his career.
“I met my manager in form two and he assisted me in many ways like paying my school fees that was a problem and other things. He told me to focus on running and this helped me to grow in the sport.”
He delivered a tacit warning to his metric mile rivals ahead of the Olympics season.
“This year, the one to watch out is me. I’m not afraid of anybody since I’m here training for 24 hours and I’m confident my time has come.”
Chepseba is wed to the 2007 World Cross Championships silver winner and their daughter Bilha joined the family on November 18 last year.
“We are happy with her and she has added more purpose to our lives,” the man who was inspired by former world record holder, Paul Tergat.
On the indoor circuit, Chepseba won two and finished sixth in the races entered, taking the permit races in Dusseldorf (3:35.53/10 February) and Birmingham (3:34.70/18 February) but again, AK overlooked him for the World Indoors in favour of Augustine Choge and Kiplagat.
“My moment will soon come,” he asserted and on the basis of his talent, few can doubt it.
-Courtesy of IAAF DIL Project