Unassuming Korir set to storm bigger stages

Youngest to win the World Cross Country title, the 19-year-old Kenyan eyes Bangalore 10K
Last Updated 17 May 2013, 18:30 IST

A shy, unassuming demeanour and a wealth of running talent are the only attributes Japhet Korir brings to a competition.

He may not be a man of many words but it hardly matters, for the talent he possesses often helps the Kenyan to express himself more eloquently and powerfully than his rivals in his chosen field. Korir is only 19 but his record is already impressive. He is the youngest ever athlete to win the men’s title at the World Cross Country Championships, a feat he accomplished in March this year in a field of classy runners at Bydgoszcz in Poland. That victory thrust Korir into the spotlight and with wins in his subsequent outings in Australia and Germany, the Kenyan has raised his profile in the running world. And when the TCS World 10K hits the Bangalore roads on Sunday, he is certain to be in the spotlight, even if he would like to play down his chances.  “I can’t say anything about Sunday. There are so many in the race, we really have to work hard,” he said. “I will try to do my best, you can’t say I am the favourite, there are so many good runners,” added Korir, keeping his cards close to his chest.It might just be his nature, or it might be a tactic but after what he achieved in Poland, none of his rivals will underestimate him on Sunday. 

Korir almost did not make it to Bydgoszcz after finishing sixth in the trials but his progress in training impressed the selectors who included him in the squad. As it turned out, Korir was the only Kenyan to finish in top-10 at the Worlds.

“I worked very hard for that race and it paid off,” Korir summed up his experience. “When we reached about 9 kilometres, only three of us were left in the race and I felt strong enough to push the pace. With two kilometres to go, I realised that my rivals weren’t moving that well. So I decided to push ahead,” he said, throwing some light on his methods. The teenager also sprang another surprise in Poland, by thanking his wife, a 1500M runner, after his victory.

Son of a farmer in Kericho in Kenya’s Rift Valley, Korir started running seriously only at the age of 14, after he was inspired by his uncle David Rotich. “He was a good runner but didn’t get a chance to run internationally. He is the one who said I could do it if I worked hard,” said Korir. Following his advice worked wonders for the youngster who was third in the junior World Cross Country in 2010 and was the African junior champion two years ago. But he was spiked during a race and the injury halted his progress before he bounced back with his historic success at Bydgoszcz. Korir has ambitions on the track, where he runs the 5000M, and is keen to make the team for the World Championships in Moscow but cross country remains his first love. 

“I would prefer it over track. You can run cross country uphill, downhill, anywhere, unlike track,” said the Kenyan.

An admirer of another accomplished cross country runner, Kenenisa Bekele -- the previous youngest champion -- Korir has no heroes in track and field. “You can say I am a hero now,” quipped the Kenyan. “By winning in Poland, I have almost reached that level, haven’t I?” 

(Published 17 May 2013, 18:30 IST)

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