OBITUARY:Paul Kipkoech

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The Independent Online
Paul Kipkoech won the 10,000m at the 1987 World Championship in Rome. He was the first Kenyan gold-medallist at a world championship on the track but it was not so much the victory itself but the manner in which he achieved it that brought him global recognition among athletics followers.

In the early stages of the race he took the lead on a number of occasions and pushed the pace so hard that the world-class field was left with the dilemma of how to respond to his tactics. Shortly after the half-way mark he moved to the front and made the decisive burst, which no one could counter.

His lead grew as the laps ticked away as his long stride seemed to eat up the track and he eventually crossed the line in a championship-best performance of 27 minutes 38.63 seconds. His nearest challenger finished more than 10 seconds (and most of the home straight) in arrears.

As a youngster Kipkoech ran several miles each day to and from his school in Kapsabet, in the Nandi Hills, in rural west Kenya. In his mid-teens he joined the Kenyan Army, which subsidises promising runners and gives them time off to train and compete. In 1982, aged 20, he impressed the Kenyan selectors enough to be chosen to run in that year's African Championships and just missed out on the medals at both 5,000m and 10,000m. The following year he made the World Championship final at 5,000m and at the 1984 Olympics he finished fifth over the same distance.

His first major championship medal came at the 1985 World Cross Country Championships where he won a silver behind Portugal's Carlos Lopes but 1987 was his stellar year. Another silver medal at the World Cross Country Championships, behind his compatriot John Ngugi, was a prelude to his exploits on the track.

He became a sporting hero in Kenya after taking the African Games 10,000m title in front of a home audience in Nairobi, just three weeks before his world championship win, and he was unbeaten over the distance that year.

Kipkoech had the world seemingly at his feet, But, tragically, his career spiralled rapidly downwards. Shortly after winning in Rome a well-publicised brawl with a Kenyan official over missing race payments put him at odds with his country's athletics authorities and a bout of malaria caused him to drop out of the 1988 Olympic trials. Subsequently he turned his attention to running on the roads and competed in several marathons; but he could not replicate his previous successes.

Kipkoech was an introverted figure who often seemed ill at ease with the celebrity his running had brought him. In recent years he became prone to drinking bouts and died in impoverished circumstances.

Much of his money earned during the heyday of his running career was siphoned off by athletics officials, but in the late 1980s he was taken under the wing of the British agent John Bicourt, and gained some recompense for his talents.

Phil Minshull

Paul Kipkoech, athlete; born Kapsabet, Kenya 6 January 1963; married; died Kapsabet 13 March 1995.