Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor, winner of the 2014 world half marathon title in Copenhagen (© Getty Images)
The front-running performances of Geoffrey Kamworor at recent major international championships have provided a bit of an antidote to the sit-and-kick affairs which have become a fashionable tactic, at least on the track, over the past decade.
He may have been outfoxed by Mo Farah on the last lap but Kamworor – with some assistance from his team-mates – made the 10,000m final at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 one of the fastest races over the distance in championship history.
After winning his sixth consecutive major title on the track, Farah acknowledged the Kenyans gave him his toughest test so far. “It felt like it was me against the whole team,” he said.
Likewise, Kamworor was rarely out of the top two in the 12km senior men’s race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Guiyang 2015 in March.
He worked in tandem with his compatriot Bedan Karoki to set a relentless pace to burn off the Ethiopian challenge led by 5000m specialists Muktar Edris and Hagos Gebrhiwet, who are both renowned for their finishing speed.
Kamworor may have had to settle for silver behind Farah in Beijing but he left Guiyang with the gold.
Still only 22, it was was his third major triumph to date and his second senior global title after winning the 2014 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen.
Now the Kenyan has his sights set on defending his latter crown at the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff, where he looks set to keep faithful with the aggressive tactics which have served him so well.
“My focus is on the World Half Marathon Championships now,” said the reigning champion. “But if the conditions and the course is okay, I will attempt to break the world record (58:23 by Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese in 2010) in Cardiff.”
Record attempts on the roads seem to be almost exclusively reserved for paced races but records have been set in a championship environment in years gone by.
Undeterred by the lack of pacemakers, Lornah Kiplagat won the 2007 world half marathon title in a world record of 1:06:25. She also set a world record to win the 2006 edition of the event, when it was called the IAAF World Road Running Championships, which was staged over 20km.
Although no man has won the world half marathon title in a world record time, several have gone close.
Kenya’s Shem Kororia won the 1997 gold medal in 59:56, just nine seconds outside what was then the world best and Kamworor himself was only 45 seconds outside the Tadese’s world record when he won in 59:08 in Copenhagen last year.
Raw talented recognised
Kamworor started to run at the relatively advanced age of 17 after his potential was spotted by his games teacher Joel Rutto at Lelboinet Boys High School but only after he graduated did he give running his full consideration.
After competing in a series of low-key European meetings without too much distinction in the summer of 2010, Kamworor’s career took off thanks to a chance encounter with esteemed coach Patrick Sang.
Recognising his raw talent, the ex-steeplechaser invited Kamworor to join his illustrious stable of athletes which includes his idol Eliud Kipchoge, former London Marathon winner Emmanuel Mutai and Uganda’s Olympic marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich.
“I have learned a lot from them because they are experienced athletes," he said. "They gave me advice to believe in myself and to run to win."
After six months of training under Sang’s watchful eye in Kaptagat, Kamworor claimed the 2011 world cross country junior men’s title in the Spanish town of Punta Umbria with his trademark front-running tactics but it soon became apparent Kamworor had a penchant for the longer distances.
A fortnight after making his international breakthrough in 2011, Kamworor excelled on his half marathon debut.
Far from intimidated by the distance, the 18-year-old ran away from a field stacked full of experienced road racing exponents in Berlin to claim the victory in 1:00:38.
“I remember I finished strong and enjoyed the distance,” recalled Kamworor, who returned to the German capital later in the year to pace the likes of Haile Gebrselassie and Patrick Makau in the Berlin Marathon. “It was fantastic as it was my first victory (on the roads).”
Marathon promise but track-focused for Rio
Four years later and Kamworor has cemented his reputation as a man for all seasons, and all surfaces.
At the start of November, Kamworor took some great scalps at the TCS New York City Marathon to finish second to compatriot Stanley Biwott, a performance that was arguably Kamworor’s best marathon showing to date although it was tinged with some disappointment.
“It was a great performance to emerge second in a major marathon but I was targeting a win,” said Kamworor, who broke up proceedings with a 4:24 split for the 21st mile.
Kamworor doesn’t regret that exuberant burst which put reigning champion Wilson Kipsang out of contention but when he reflects back on his training, he suggests a few more miles in the build-up might have bridged the gap to Biwott in the closing stages.
“I would have done more long runs (in training),” said Kamworor, who took one week off after Beijing before starting his build-up to New York. “I did a few but that was not enough for me.”
For the time being, the 40km long runs will be put on the backburner as Kamworor turns his focus to the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games where he is aiming to make the Kenyan team for the 10,000m again.
He will introduce some more speed work and shorter runs into his training programme as he builds towards Rio de Janeiro but he is unlikely to alter his general game plan.
“Front running has always been my tactic,” he said. “I always go for great results.”
Steven Mills for the IAAF