Series09 Sep 2017

That moment when… Kirui became world champion


Abel Kirui after winning the marathon at the IAAF World Championships Berlin 2009 (© AFP / Getty Images)

Kenyan marathoner Abel Kirui says that his memorable maiden World Championships success in Berlin was a pivotal moment in his career.



“Leading into the 2009 World Championships, I knew I was in good form. I was the last man selected for the Kenyan team, but I had qualified on the back of running a PB of 2:05:04 in Rotterdam earlier that year. I was also the quickest man in the field and that gave me confidence, although I knew my countryman Robert Cheruyiot was the favourite and the form horse having won in Boston in April. I also knew the other Kenyan, Emmanuel Mutai, would be very strong.

“We went through halfway in 1:03:03 (the fastest ever halfway split in a World Championships marathon at that time) and both Robert and Emmanuel were fighting. But sometimes you need to not only fight with energy; you need to race with cleverness.

“(Tsegaye) Kebebe (of Ethiopia) was also playing smart game. Every time the pace changed, he was there and was a big danger. I remember Mutai surging and pushing and Robert dropped off the pace. But late in the race Emmanuel had some problems with vomiting and I moved to the front. I couldn’t allow my legs to become lazy. I needed to win.

“It was the perfect race for me and just five metres from the finishing line the heavens opened and it began to rain. I crossed the line to win (in 2:06:54, a time which still stands as the championship record) and I went into a little dance. I was so happy. I had had given it a little thought before I had finished and I knew a dance would be fun. I didn’t even dance to music. The music was in my mind.

“When I went back home, we had a big celebration of my win with Emmanuel Mutai, who won the silver medal (Kebede of Ethiopia took the bronze). I remember going back to Nairobi where we had a beautiful reception and a big celebration. I later took a big concourse of cars from Eldoret to my home in Kapasbet, where we had a big celebration with music and the fans. It was amazing.

“Winning my first world title changed my life. It gave me a lot of opportunities and allowed me to travel the world to many big races. I travelled first-class on a plane for a race in Sapporo. Winning my first world title gave me many good things.”

Kirui retained his world title two years later in Daegu before taking the silver medal in the marathon at the London 2012 Olympic Games. He is also the reigning Chicago Marathon champion.

Steve Landells for the IAAF