Silas Kiplagat's breakthrough - 3:29.27 in Monaco (Philippe Fitte) © Copyright
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Confidence is key for rising 1500m star Kiplagat

Without flinching, the newly cast Commonwealth Games 1500m champion faced the cameras and gave this enduring quote: “I have won gold in 3:41.78. That is too slow! I’m not happy and I wish Asbel (Kiprop) was here, then we would have run faster.”

That is hardly the way a typical athlete greets his first major triumph in international competition, but Silas Kiplagat is no ordinary runner.

On 12 October at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi, Kiplagat, 21, rose to become only the fourth Kenyan male runner to strike Commonwealth 1500m gold.

Following Keino’s footsteps?

The achievement capped a great breakout season for the Marakwet District-born athlete who joined the father of Kenyan athletics Kipchoge Keino (1970), Reuben Chesang (1994) and Laban Rotich (1998) in the class of Club Games 1500m winners from his nation.

“Oh really, I have won the same gold medal as Kip Keino? That is at least some good news out of all this,” the ever smug Kiplagat replied when it was put to him he had emulated the legendary twice Olympic and three time Commonwealth gold winner who is now chairman of National Olympics Committee of Kenya.

When the 2010 athletes’ year book is written, Kiplagat will command a prominent chapter as one of the most electrifying finds of the season, a remarkable feat considering that when he ran his first 1500m race of the season - on March 27 on the murram track of Kenyan Rift Valley headquarters of Nakuru - thoughts of ascending to the top of the world lists were far from his mind.

Rises to #10 all-time in first international race, but disappointment follows at African Championships

Now recruited by Kenya Prisons, Kiplagat shot to global prominence on 22 July when in his very first race on the European circuit in Monaco, he became the tenth fastest 1500m runner of all time when he dipped in 3:29.27 for victory at the Herculis Meeting, Monaco’s Samsung Diamond League fixture.

“I knew I could do it. I was in the right shape for it,” he quipped to the press in the mixed zone with the air of someone who turns in sub-3:30s every week, belying the fact that he had only met his manager, Italian Gianni Demadonna, who organised his entry for the Herculis meeting, on 26 June the Kenyan Championships.

It was this cockiness that Kiplagat checked to the African Championships held in Nairobi but his enviable belief in his own abilities came unstuck when he finished just outside the medals in 3:36.74.

“I was very disappointed with how I allowed myself to get boxed at the last 150m. It was something I never, ever want to repeat, certainly not here or any other major competition I will feature at the finals in future,” he said before competing at the Commonwealth 1500m final in Delhi in reference to the African medal race where his pride was dented.

Learning from Kiptanui

While Kiplagat’s precocious gift is not in doubt, the source of his abundant swagger is as enthralling as his achievements on his debut season.

To begin understanding the root of the high dose of confidence coursing through his veins, look no further than his mentor and coach, Moses Kiptanui, the retired Steeplechase great and three-time World champion.

At the height of his powers when he was ranked number one in the water and barriers race between 1991 and 1995, Kiptanui was also famed for possessing more than a fair share of confidence and cockiness that at times bordered on arrogance.

These attributes are evident on a number of his charges namely the reigning World 3000m Steeple champion Ezekiel Kemboi, World Half Marathon bronze winner Sammy Kitwara, Commonwealth women’s 3000m Steeplechase gold medallist Milcah Chemos and Kiplagat. Incidentally Chemos apart, all hail from Marakwet.

“The way I see him, he can run faster, even break the Kenyan record if he remains focused,” said Kiptanui. “Kiplagat can also run a good 800m and has a lot of talent to go all the way to 5000m. His style reminds me of Daniel Komen (world 3,000m record holder now retired).”

And how does he mould his athletes to be a reflection of himself? “Training is not just running around or writing the athletes a programme to follow. I coached myself and I know what it takes to make it. I sit them in a class and explain to them how to build confidence.”

Kiptanui forewarned his latest charge on the perils of making the big time saying, “The problem with our athletes is they forget where they came from the moment they start getting money.
“He now has a manager and I cannot force him to stay with me since I’m not a business person who coaches for money. I coach to give back to athletics and if he is still willing, I will write him a programme.”

Respect for Kiprop, admiration for B. Lagat

Now relaxing post season in Eldoret, Kiplagat has the World Championships in Daegu in his sights as well as continuing his showdown against Olympic champion Kiprop who opted out of Delhi.
“Asbel is a very good runner and competing against him would bring the best out of me. I believe he is the one to beat in the 1500m and I have to work very hard in training to be in the best shape. Only then can I realise my dream of winning the World Championships.”

The former striker at Chebara Boys High school and an ardent Manchester United Football club fan rates Kenyan-born American, Bernard Lagat, as his role model in his adopted sport.

“I admire the way he has managed to be at the top of the game for all those years and that is my intention. I also want to develop and sustain a winning habit like Man U,” Kiplagat notes of the double world champion from Osaka and his choice football club.

Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF