Ezekiel Kemboi: Kenya’s steeplechase king
A double Olympic champion and three-time world champion, Kenya’s Ezekiel Kemboi has become a dominant force in the men’s 3,000m steeplechase.
The land of champions
Ezekiel Kemboi hails from Marakwet in Kenya’s Rift Valley, a district that has produced many great steeplechase and distance runners over the years. The son of a farmer and the third of seven children, Ezekiel had numerous interests as a young boy, among them football, the theatre and DJ-ing at school parties.
By the time he turned 18, however, he decided his future lay in athletics. More specifically, he was drawn to the 3,000m steeplechase, having been inspired by the exploits of three-time world champion Moses Kiptanui, himself a Marakwet boy. Blessed with tremendous potential and raw talent, Kemboi soon found himself a top-class mentor in the guise of 1988 Olympic 800m gold medallist Paul Ereng, who introduced him to Kenya’s new altitude training facilities at Eldoret.
A first taste of Olympic gold
Kemboi’s dramatic rise to global prominence began when he won silver at the 2003 IAAF World
Championships in Paris. Subsequently, a series of brilliant performances at international meetings saw him installed as one of the favourites for gold at Athens 2004, a status he duly lived up to. After breaking away from the field with compatriots Brimin Kirputo and Paul Koech on the penultimate lap, Kemboi dashed for home on the back straight of the final 400m to lead his country to its first clean sweep in the event since Barcelona 1992.
Bouncing back from Beijing
Two world championship silver medals followed at Helsinki in 2005 and Osaka in 2007 before Kemboi won the Kenyan trials for Beijing 2008, a triumph that prompted him to say: “I’m going to Beijing to defend my gold. If I don’t win gold, I will never return to Kenya.”
Yet things did not go according to plan for the defending champion. Suffering from stomach pains, he soon found himself off the pace and came home seventh in a race won by Athens silver medallist Kipruto. Reflecting on his pre-Beijing vow, Kemboi later said: “Those are the kind of things we say to make the game a bit interesting. Kenya is home. I don’t have another.” After installing Kiptanui as his coach, he then hit top form, regularly dipping under eight minutes and winning his first world titles in Berlin in 2009 and Daegu two years later.
Jig of delight
After once again battling through the demanding Kenyan trials to win a place at London 2012, Kemboi secured the second Olympic gold of his career with a searing last lap in the final, winning in a relatively slow time of 8:18.56 before delighting the fans with an impromptu victory dance. He was only the second man in history to win two Olympic titles in the event, a feat previously achieved by Finland’s Volmari Iso-Hollo in 1932 and 1936.
A third world crown
In Moscow in 2013, sporting his now trademark Mohican hairstyle, Kemboi produced another devastating last-lap burst to claim his third world title and pull level with his idol Kiptanui. The only multiple Olympic and world champion in his event, Kemboi has already confirmed himself as one of the greatest steeplechasers of all time.