Monday, 11 January 2010

Ebuya: The modest prince who dethroned King Kenny


Ebuya: The modest prince who dethroned King Kenny

Two days ago a young, shy Kenyan annihilated arguably the World’s finest endurance runner to create shockwaves throughout the sport. This relatively un-heralded athlete destroyed ‘King’ Kenenisa Bekele by thirty-six seconds when storming to an unprecedented victory in the BUPA Great Edinburgh International cross-country: Joseph Ebuya had arrived on the 2010 scene with a bang.

The 22-year-old capped off a sterling 2009 with wins in the Yecla cross-country (Murcia, Dec 13) the Corrida de Houilles 10km (Paris, Dec 27) and the Amardora 10km in Lisbon on New Years’ Eve; yet despite beating some established performers, Ebuya had yet to shine in on the bigger international stage.

That was until however, the 27:33 10km runner decided to tear up the rule book and steal the show in the Scottish capital last weekend; becoming the first athlete since the great Haile Gebreselassie to beat eleven-time World cross-country Champion, Bekele in a cross-country race since 2001.

The race of his life

Gliding over the undulating course in freezing and slippery conditions to take the biggest scalp of all, the fearless African lead a Kenyan clean-sweep; with Olympic 5,000m runner-up, Eliud Kipchoge in third – the trio taking advantage of Bekele’s absence from competition since his superb double World Championship title-winning displays last summer.

Running the race of his life to break Bekele after just thirteen minutes over the 9km route and accompanied by his countryman, runner-up Titus Mbeshi; the World junior cross silver-medallist, until the final sprint, no-one was more shocked than the man himself;

“I was very happy to win the race – it is a good start to 2010 for me. Titus and I are training partners so we worked together well. He was very strong and constantly pushing the pace. We were surprised, as Bekele is normally very difficult to beat. I knew we had a good lead but I did not know I was going to win until I crossed the finish-line. From now on I think I like the snow.”

From humble beginnings

The exploits of the 7:34.62 and 12:51 three and 5,000m runner over the same course where he attained his first global senior performance of note – fourth place in the 2008 World cross-country Championships – have thrust Ebuya into the international limelight; showing a marked improvement since his thirteenth place in the World Championship 5,000m in Berlin last summer.

With the 2006 World junior 10,000m silver and 5,000m bronze, as well as fourth in the Commonwealth Games 5,000m that same year to his name, Ebuya has come a long way in only five years of serious training from humble beginnings. The Sammy Rono and Ricky Simms-coached athlete explained:

“I started running in 2004 by joining in with the PACE Sports Management runners when they went for morning runs. After a few months, they saw I had potential and invited me to come and live in their camp. I did not have money for food or running shoes so this was a big opportunity for me. Ricky brought me to Europe in 2005 for experience and I ran 13:03 in Holland in my second race, I think he was impressed.”

Ebuya; who names the Memorial van Damme track meeting in Brussels as his favourite event and Bekele as one of his heroes, never looked back; learning English and learning to read and write: “It was very difficult but I had good people to help and guide me – I have learned a lot in the last four years.”

Solid support network

His athletic career flourished at the same rate, with the two aforementioned World junior medals in 2006, followed by a sponsorship from Nike. Nyahurunu-born Ebuya; who now shares his time between Kaptagat in his home country and Teddington, London during the summer season, speaks highly of the man and solid support network that turned his life around and into a financially-deprived young boy World-class athlete:

“Ricky is the person who has helped me get to where I am now. He has taken me from having nothing to beating Bekele. He has high standards and has been telling me I can reach the top if I stay disciplined and train hard. We have a very strong team, with Usain Bolt (the Olympic and World 100m and 200m Champion and World record-holder) giving us inspiration to do well.”

Simms, in turn, has nothing but admiration for his protégé; “Joseph’s story would make a great movie one day – maybe if he wins the Olympics. Joseph was exceptional - he is one of the best examples of an athlete who had nothing. When we gave him his first shoes and track suit, he got injured immediately as he was not used to them. Running has given him a complete change of life. He has still a lot more to come if he can stay focussed and injury free.”

Army training to World XC gold?

With training partners such as World 10km record-holder, Micah Kogo and World Champion, Vivian Cheruiyot in the forty-strong squad, Ebuya trains two-to-three times per day. From a family of eight children, the long-distance specialist’s achievements are all the more impressive as he could not train for ten months from mid-2008 to early 2009 due to army training.

Following this sabbatical, Ebuya returned to athletics competition by posting an eye-catching 12:59 in Zurich and making the Kenyan World Championship team, after only three months of training; thus explaining his below-par position in Berlin last August.

“I am now training for the Armed Forces cross-country Championships,” Ebuya explained, “then I will compete in the Kenyan trials and the IAAF World cross-country Championships.” Following his remarkable breakthrough this year, the Premier League football enthusiast said: “I will try to win but it is a very tough competition.”

Regardless of the outcome of Ebuya’s efforts in Bydgoszsz, Poland this coming March, the man who dreams of winning the Olympics in London 2012 and is currently building a house, with hopes of running a business in Kenya after his athletic career; has progressed beyond his wildest dreams and he has done it all so unassumingly.

Nicola Bamford for the IAAF.

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