NAIROBI, Kenya, July 6 – In the 18-year history of the IAAF World U18 Championships the event has unearthed its fair share of future Kenyan athletes who have gone on to excel and win precious metal at the World and Olympic level.
Among the cast list of future podium dwellers to have first made their mark at the pinnacle event for under-18 athletes include Vivian Cheruiyot, Augustine Choge, Mercy Cherono, Timothy Kitum and Faith Kipyegon.
But, arguably, the biggest star name to emerge from Kenya at the second edition of the championships back in Debrecen, Hungary, in 2001 was the youthful-looking silver medallist in the men’s 2000m steeplechase – Brimin Kipruto.
Born in Korkitony the third of ten children, Kipruto revealed the early signs of his future ability in his final year at primary school in 1999 by reaching the final of both the 1500m and steeplechase at the national primary school championships.
A regular at the annual youth training camp run by Irish missionary Brother Colm O’Connell – the man who coaches world and Olympic 800m champion David Rudisha – he developed further and in 2001 he was set for his first major international championship.
“I qualified at the trials for the World Youth Championships at the Nyayo Stadium,” he explains. “I was confident as I prepared well and trained hard for this.”
It was on applying for a birth certificate to secure his first passport to attend the championships when a clerk mistakenly transcribed his first name, which is actually Firmin, to Brimin and so his new given name stuck.
Aged just 15 at the time of the 2001 World Youth Championships held in Debrecen in Hungary – he celebrated his 16th birthday at the end of the month – the young steeplechaser has fond memories of the journey to Eastern Europe.
“It was my first time travelling out of Kenya,” he explains. “I was so excited to travel outside the country and the first time I’d been on a plane. I remember the city of Debrecen was so nice. I shared a room with Isaac Songok (who went on to win 1500m gold in Hungary and later in his career individual World Cross Country medals) and I remember James Kwalia (the 3000m bronze medallist and 2009 World 5000m bronze medallist) being there as well.”
As one of the younger athletes on show in Hungary he was up against many more experienced opponents but he was confident in his ability and had one goal at those championships.
“My shape was good and I had no worries before the race because my training had gone well,” he explains. “I was expecting to win the race.”
Running in the first round heats on the second morning of the four-day championships, proved a trouble-free experience. Kipruto eased through the first heat as the fastest qualifier for the final, winning in a time of 5:43.81 almost five seconds clear Ethiopia’s Abrham Kebeto in second.
In the medal race he would face his main rival, his Kenyan team-mate David Kirwa, who ran a handy 5:45.13 to take victory in heat two.
“My job was to qualify for the final, so that’s what I did,” recalls Kipruto of his performance in the heat.
In a final – which took place in the final session of the championships – it was Kipruto, who dictated the pace from the front ahead of Kebeto of Ethiopia, Kirwa and Ali Al-Banain of Saudi Arabia.
However, at the bell Kirwa loomed alongside the long-time leader before taking a clear lead and extending his advantage to five metres by the final water jump.
Kirwa could not be caught and crossed the line in a PB of 5:33.40 with Kipruto claiming silver in a lifetime best of 5:46.81.
The passage of time has dulled the specific memories of a race which took place 16 years ago, but Kipruto says: “I was expecting to win gold, but I was happy with the silver. I especially remember crossing the finish line and that I was pleased to win my first international medal.”
His maiden championship podium ushered in a sustained period of success for Kipruto. Just three years later he made a huge breakthrough, running a world-class PB of 8:05.52 and later in 2004 winning Olympic silver behind Ezekiel Kemboi at the Athens Games.
Kipruto went on to claim bronze at the 2005 IAAF World Championships in Helsinki before going two better and landing the 2007 world 3000m steeplechase crown in Osaka before following it up with Olympic gold in Beijing.
In 2011 he added a world silver to his growing collection in Daegu and also ran a stunning African record of 7:53.64 – within an agonising 0.01 of the Saif Saaeed Shaheen’s steeplechase world record – in Monaco.
He clinched a fourth World Championship steeplechase medal with bronze at the 2015 edition in Beijing and last year finished sixth in Rio – in what was his fourth Olympic appearance.
Without question Kipruto insists running at the World U18 Championships was a huge plus point in his career and he could encourage athletes to seize the opportunity in Nairobi, when the tenth edition takes place next week.
“Young athletes should compete here to get experience,” he says. “Everything is new, so it’s good to have this experience before racing in other international meetings. Running here gives an athlete confidence.”