IAAF ambassador and former 800m world record-holder Wilson Kipketer at the press confrence ahead of the IAAF Continental Cup, Marrakech 2014 (© Getty Images)
Scanning down the list of winners of the men’s 800m in the combined 37-year history of the IAAF Continental Cup and its predecessor, the IAAF World Cup, one name is conspicuously absent.
Three of the past four holders of the world record feature on the roll of honour. Alberto Juantorena, the great Cuban thoroughbred known as ‘El Caballo’, the horse, triumphed in a gripping tussle with Mike Boit at the inaugural IAAF World Cup in Dusseldorf back in 1977. The featherweight Briton Sebastian Coe prevailed in Rome in 1981. The tall, upright, dashing David Rudisha won in Split in 2010.
But Wilson Kipketer? The graceful Kenyan-turned-Dane who first equalled, then eclipsed Coe’s 16-year-old world record in 1997 – ultimately taking it down to 1:41.11 – never got the chance to add his name to that particular all-time two-lap litany.
“I still get emotional when I come to the IAAF Continental Cup and I don’t see my name on the list,” said Kipketer, who is in Marrakech in his capacity as an infectiously enthusiastic IAAF ambassador.
“I don’t know if they have finalised the entries for this weekend, so maybe on Sunday you will see me running in this year’s race,” joked the three-time world champion, who at 43 has been retired from competitive athletics for nine years now.
“I had hoped to compete in the 1998 World Cup but that year I got sick with malaria and I didn’t make the team. I ran in the European Championships but I finished last in the final, so I didn’t get the chance to run.
“I am happy that I am here this year for the IAAF for the ‘Athletics for a Better World’ programme. It is a big responsibility and I enjoy being involved in it. It is very important.”
Athletics for a Better World was launched by the IAAF in April as a social responsibility programme, using the universality of athletics to make a positive difference in the world.
“This is a new project,” said Kipketer. “I think it’s a good opportunity for athletes all over the world to give something back to the community, to develop athletics in the grass roots.
“It’s a great initiative by the IAAF for athletes to recognise their responsibility to inspire young athletes, to inspire a new generation.”
Asked what had inspired him most from the world’s leading athletes in 2014, Kipketer replied: “I think this year the men’s high jump has been the most interesting because they seem to be jumping over 2.40m all of the time.
“I think Derek Drouin, Mutaz Essa Barshim and the rest of the high jumpers here will do well. I think the men’s pole vault will be really exciting here too.
“Renaud Lavillenie has had a great year but he knows from when he no-heighted at the Stockholm Diamond League meeting that anything can happen.
“Naturally, I am looking forward to the men’s 800m too. It will be a good competition.
“Nijel Amos from Bostwana is doing well this season. When you see five athletes running 1:42, as happened in the Diamond League in Monaco, it is a good sign for the future in the men’s 800m.”
As for the overall competition in Marrakech, Kipketer is expecting Europe and Africa to feature prominently.
“The European athletes have had the European Championships and some of the African athletes have had the Commonwealth Games, so I think they will be strong,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a very exciting two days.”
Simon Turnbull for the IAAF