The instinctive shift that made Manangoi World champion


Kenya's Elijah Motonei Manangoi celebrates winning the final of the men's 1500m athletics event at ...
(FILE)Kenya's Elijah Motonei Manangoi celebrates winning the final of the men's 1500m athletics event at the 2017 IAAF World Championships at the London Stadium in London on August 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD

History has witnessed a number of 400m sprinters successfully stepping up in distance to the 800m. But surely very few former one-lap specialists have ever made such a stunning impact shifting directly to the 1500m as reigning world champion Elijah Manangoi.

Back in 2013 the slender Kenyan was among his country’s finest 400m exponents. In June of that year he ran 46.5 to place fourth at the national championships but frustrated to finish only sixth in 47.33 at the World Championship Trials he sought a radical new challenge.

“When I was training for the 400 metres I would always do well in the endurance sessions and I could easily run 3×800 (in training),” explains Manangoi. “I also remember my old coach Colm O’Connell telling me I could one day become world 1500 metres champion.

“I was so disappointed not to make another team (for the 400m) I told my coach (Bernard Ouma, whom he has been with since 2012) I want to try the 1500. My coach said, ‘no, try the 800 metres first’ but I knew in my heart I needed to go directly to the 1500 metres.”

Making the Shift

Shortly before the 2014 Kenyan Championships Manangoi fully committed to the move and in only his third race over the distance he finished second behind Ronald Kwemoi in 3:35.00 to book his spot on the Kenyan team for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

His instincts had proved overwhelmingly correct.

Born in Ntulele in Narok County – the same county where world 800 metres record holder and double Olympic champion David Rudisha was born and raised – Manangoi holds a strong family connection to the two-lap great.

Manangoi’s father Nelson was a former national standard 400m sprinter and a one-time rival of Daniel Rudisha -father of David – the 1968 Olympic 4x400m silver medallist.

One of 35 siblings -Manangoi’s father has five wives – Manangoi acknowledged his running talent from a young age.

“When I was a little child playing around home with the other boys I realised I was much faster than them over 100m and 200m,” explains Manangoi, who supplemented his speed with daily 3km runs to school and back each day.

He started competitive running aged 12 at primary school and later competed at both a provincial and national level at high school. “I was in form two in high school when people started to say I had a talent for running,” he explains.

A ‘straightforward’ shift in direction

The 400m became his discipline of choice before that moment of inspiration when he acknowledged his gifts might be better served as a 1500m athlete.

Unfortunately, a tendon injury badly compromised Manangoi’s efforts at the 2014 Commonwealth Games as he wound up 12th in the 1500m final behind his countryman James Magut. However, he returned to his training base at the Rongai Athletics Club just outside of Nairobi convinced his decision to step up to the metric mile was the right one.

Enjoying a first full year training as a middle-distance runner he coped admirably with the fresh training demands.

“I found it quite straightforward,’” explains Manangoi whose younger brother George (a full brother) struck world U18 1500m gold in Nairobi last July to further bolster the family running heritage. “I was doing a lot more endurance and I did not find myself in a difficult place. It was not too hard.”

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