Ten years ago, Ezekiel Kemboi was a confused youngster. He was a good footballer but he did not find team events glamorous.
He moved over to distance running and tried out the 5000 and 10,000m but he was unable to go beyond the national level.
“When I was 19, my coach Moses Kiptanui (the World champion) advised me to try out the steeplechase,” said Kemboi here on Monday. “That changed my life.”
The results came instantly. Kemboi won the African junior title and a little later, the Commonwealth Games silver in Manchester and in 2004 the Olympic 3,000m steeplechase crown. He is also the current World champion.
The once confused youngster is now the leader of men, for Kemboi is the captain of the Kenyan contingent here.
The stars may all be missing in the sprints at the Commonwealth Games here but the steeplechase has the planet's finest men.
“It's going to be very, very close here,” said Kemboi, the event's defending champion.
Kemboi has been involved in some very close steeplechase races. At the Berlin World championship last year, he had to stave off a strong challenge from his young teammate Richard Mareelong to win the gold.
And with Olympic champion Brimin Kipruto and Mareelong, the African champion, in the fray, the track should be on fire despite the many hurdles and water jumps. It could also be all-Kenya show.
Kemboi, the third of seven children of a farmer, is from Marakwet, a district close to Eldoret which has produced some of the world's best distance runners. A quiet farming town a few years ago, Eldoret, which is 2,400 above sea level, has nearly 20 high-altitude training centres and is now said to have the greatest concentration of world and Olympic medallists.
“We run nearly 25 kms during training every day at Eldoret,” said Kemboi, who finished seventh at the Beijing Olympics after suffering stomach cramps.
For a man, who kept jumping from event to event, Kemboi now has a wonderful collection of golds.
And now, he wants to move on again. This will be his last Commonwealth and the 2012 London Olympics will see him run the 3,000 steeple chase for the last time.
Kemboi wants to try out the marathon after that.
Keywords: Commonwealth Games