News28 Mar 2005

Dieter Hogen – German coach, Kenyan magic


Coach Dieter Hogen chats with Abraham Chebii (© Victah Sailer)

There is no doubt that Dieter Hogen is the most successful German long distance running coach, yet he doesn’t train a single German runner. Instead he concentrates on a group of international runners, especially Kenyans.

In order to be able to support his athletes in the best possible way Hogen and US manager Tom Ratcliffe have recently founded a new management group: KIMbia Athletic, that will concentrate on long distance track events, cross country and road races, especially the marathon.

Elite group – a memory of Kim

At present the group consists of about 25 runners. Among them are the Kenyans Evans Rutto, who has won all his first three marathons and set an unofficial world debut record in Chicago in 2003 (2:05:50), Timothy Cherigat (winner of the Boston Marathon 2004), Sammy Kipketer and Abraham Chebii. The latter was second behind Kenenisa Bekele in the short course event at last weekend's World Cross Country Championships.

Frenchman Bouabdellah Tahri has recently chosen Dieter Hogen as his coach just as Bob Kennedy (US) and Elana Meyer (South Africa) had done earlier. Among those who have joined the management team are former long distance runner Godfrey Kiprotich, who had been one of the first Kenyans coached by Dieter Hogen in the mid 90ies, and Jane Howarth, who had been working for the late Kim McDonald.

Tom Ratcliffe, who had been Kim McDonald’s business partner for many years, and Dieter Hogen chose the name and spelling KIMbia for two reasons. Kimbia’ is from the Kenyan language Swahili and means ‘to run’. The name is an acknowledgement of the impact Kenyan runners have on international athletics and also serves as a reminiscence to Kim McDonald who had been one of the world’s most respected athletes managers before his sudden death in 2001. “Today his name as well as his philosophy lives on in KIMbia”, says Tom Ratcliffe.

From the very beginning to Pippig’s brilliance

Dieter Hogen has worked as a coach for more than 25 years. Originally coming from Thüringen in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) he had joined one of the renowned East German clubs in 1973: ASK Potsdam. He was then coached by the well known Bernd Dießner, who had for example guided Olaf Beyer to his famous win against Sebastian Coe at 800 metres in the 1978 European Championships.

Dieter Hogen was a promising middle and long distance runner. But by the age of 22 his career as a runner was already over in 1975 due to an injury. He then concentrated on his teaching studies at Potsdam University. But it was not long and before graduation, when ASK Potsdam offered him a job as a coach. "Since top level sport was more interesting for me than school teaching, I took charge of a group of 13 to 15-year-old runners”, Hogen explains. A couple of years later in 1986 he took over as a coach for adults for long distance and marathon at ASK Potsdam. It was then when he met Uta Pippig.

Hogen then guided Pippig to international class and she was third in the 1989 World Marathon Cup. But none of the two, who had a personal relationship until a few years ago, felt comfortable in the GDR’s system. Hogen felt he could not realise his true potential. For example most of the requests for races abroad were turned down. Shortly after the Berlin Wall came down in late 1989 he and Uta Pippig left for Stuttgart but soon returned to Berlin when the political circumstances had finally changed.

Negative experience – total commitment

Despite negative experiences Hogen's thoughts about the past are not all bad. “In the GDR you learned what absolute commitment to a goal meant and to accept only the highest standards. You don't always get that with athletes these days. They give much less than 100 percent and average performances are too quickly described as good, both in Germany and America. If you want to become world class, it takes much more commitment and hard training than many imagine,” says Hogen.

“You have to prepare yourself professionally. The GDR had many professionals and that brought success. In long distance running doping played no role. But unfortunately one was strongly tormented by the GDR government both politically and personally. That destroyed the good points.”

It has always been Hogen’s aim to give maximum support and provide as much individual supervising of training to his athletes as possible. In his view, the most important step towards world class results is creating a professionally organised environment for the athlete, with every detail in daily life taken into account.

Pippig had been the most prominent German athlete Hogen coached. She was a triple winner of both the Berlin and the Boston Marathons. Additionally until today the national record holder for the classic distance (2:21:45) and the half marathon (67:58) is the only German to have won the New York Marathon. Hogen coached a number of other runners from his home country in the 90s. One of them was Yvonne Graham, who switched to Jamaican citizenship.

The Kenyan connection

It was Kim McDonald who originally connected Hogen with the Kenyan runners. He had looked for a coach who was able to transform top Kenyan runners into top marathoners. In 1994 the German coach started working with a group of Kenyans. One who joined the team was Sammy Lelei. In 1995 he clocked a sensational 2:07:02 to win the Berlin Marathon. At that time it was the second fastest marathon time ever and the fastest for more than seven years. Ondoro Osoro was another of Hogen’s athletes. He became the then fastest debut marathon runner winning the Chicago Marathon in 1998 with 2:06:54. Already in the mid 90s Hogen predicted that the day would come when a Kenyan would break 2:05:00 for the marathon. Paul Tergat proved him right by running 2:04:55 in Hogen’s German hometown Berlin in 2003 (though there is no connection between the two).

After a break Hogen started coaching Kenyans again in the summer of 2003. Nearly immediately, away Evans Rutto won the Chicago marathon ahead of Paul Koech, another prominent team member of KIMbia.

Two training venues

Dieter Hogen mainly switches between two training camps. One is in Iten (Kenya), the other in his US hometown Boulder (Colorado). Hogen had been training and living in Boulder with Pippig since the beginning of the 1990s. The two still work together closely today. Pippig for example supports his athletes during hard training weeks in Boulder.

"We'd heard even before we went there that the city was at altitude and we knew that many good athletes such as Rob de Castella, Steve Jones, Arturo Barrios, Rosa Mota and Ingrid Kristiansen trained there. Boulder has an alpine climate with close to 300 days of sunshine each year," confirms Hogen explaining their choice.

"When you coach Kenyans, you are working with a whole new quality of runners. They are in very good condition and ready to work hard."

Judging chances of American or European runners Hogen confirmed: "Anyone who is ready to live the right kind of life, 24-hours-a-day, be patient for a couple of years and work according to the latest research, can reach the top these days and will be able to do so in future."

Nutrition plays the key role believes Hogen who besides coaching, with Pippig presents seminars on nutrition at big road races or in companies: "There's excellent research going on in this field in the USA. In endurance sport you can still be at the top when you're way past 40, but you've got to make sure you stay fit.”

Jörg Wenig for the IAAF

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