•With Mo having announced he was quitting the track, Tanui is unsure if he will get a chance to exert revenge against the Somali-born British great.
•While away from the training field, Tanui like most people from the Rift Valley, engages in farming
In his nearly 10 years of dominance in the long distance races on the track, British athletics legend Sir Mo Farah has never been challenged as he was at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
The man, who gave Mo ‘a heart in mouth’ moment was little known Kenyan long-distance specialist Paul Kipng’etich Tanui.
“Prior to the Olympics, we had trained well on our tactics. We knew Mo had a devastating kick in the final lap so we were prepared for that,” recalled the 29 year old Nakuru native.
The two-time world championship medallist added: “In the race, we battled hard. Everything went well. It was the race of my life to date. Our tactics with Mo were similar because we shared the same coach Pete Juliens so I knew how to confront him,” remarked Tanui.
Indeed the race was so engrossing as Tanui stuck to Mo like a tick on a cow’s skin upto the finish line. Eventually, it took the decision of the video review panel to grant Mo his second successive 10,000m Olympic gold.
“I think it was down to luck between Mo and I. After that race in Rio, I felt I was on the right path and since then, I have never stopped working hard to achieve my ultimate goal,” said Tanui.
Tanui grew up in Komora estate on the outskirts of Nakuru. There, he had no mentor to look up to in the athletics world as running was uncommon among the locals.
“My neighbours were curious every time they saw me going for jogging because they never imagined an athlete could come from the area,” recalled Tanui.
Like most youngsters, Tanui never really set out to become an athletics professional. He would engage in running every time his parents sent him out for errands.
“I only used to watch athletics on television,” said the former Mau Primary School pupil. It was not until he went to Keroka Technical Training Insitute in 2006 that Tanui’s fledgling talent began to be noticed.
The Institute’s principal Evans Bosire took a firm interest on the wiry teenage who seemed to glide past him every time he was training on the facility’s ground. Two years after teaming up with Bosire, Tanui was named in the Kenyan team for the first time in 2008.
“I did not believe I could be called up because by then, I had only run in local races. However, I did not make it to the final team for the World Cross Country Championship,” he recounted.
In 2009, he finally made the team for the World Cross Country Championship in Amman, Jordan after finishing second in the Kenyan trials. He finished 4th in what was his maiden appearance in an international event.
“It was a very proud moment for my family when I made the team. Out of six siblings, I was the first to board a plane in our family and it made my mother really happy,” Tanui enthused.
After his encouraging performance in the Middle East, it was clear to the youngster that he could take running as a career and he decided henceforth to treat it like a business. In 2010, he again made the senior team to the world cross in Bydocsz, Poland.
“It was my first experience as a senior. Even though I finished in ninth place, I managed to learn a lot on what I could improve on,” he recalled.
With every trip he made abroad, Tanui’s status back at home started to change. All of a sudden, he was being treated like a hometown hero in Komora estate in Nakuru. But the 21-year-old knew he had to keep his feet on the ground if he was to be successful in a sport where new talent was being churned out regularly.
“Every opportunity is by the grace of God. I have not changed and I thank God. I take life as normal and I never want to feel that I am luckier than my neighbours back at home,” Tanui remarked.
An opportunity to feature in a third World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain presented itself in 2011 but to his disappointment, he finished 7th in the Kenyan trials. However, lady luck would later smile at him.
“I finished outside the top six and was not going to make it in the team of six. But as fate would have it one athlete dropped out due injury,” he narrated.
Tanui went on to finish second in the race to ultimately vindicate the coaches who had given him a second bite of the cherry.
“I cannot put into words what I felt when that medal was put round my neck. I had never seen such a fantastic jewel in my life. I was thrilled and even more determined to work hard to get as many more medals as possible,” he said.
That very year, Tanui featured in his first ever IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. He took part in the 10,000m race and finished ninth in his international track debut.
“I was still adjusting to going to the senior level. In the Junior, you run as hard as possible and hope to finish quicker than your rivals. In the senior category, I learn’t that you have to run gradually. Here, tactics were crucial and that was an important lesson,” observed Tanui.
An opportunity to be part of the 2012 London Olympics seemed a certainty for Tanui as he was among the top long distance runners in the country. Athletics Kenya (AK) made a decision to hold the Kenyan national trials in the USA and eventually that move would put paid to his aspirations of being an Olympian.
“My traveling documents delayed and I arrived for the trials late. A combination of things including jet lag affected me and I faired poorly in the trials and I did not qualify,” he rued.
Tanui added: “You can’t expect everything to be smooth. Even when things go wrong be happy and go on with life because surely there will be better days.”
True to his observation, better days did lie ahead for Tanui. For the 2013 World Championships in Russia, he comfortably qualified and went on to clinch a bronze medal in the 10,000m.
“I had discovered what it took to compete at the highest level against world class athletes. I had started racing with rivals like Mo in the cross country circuit.On track, I met him in the Eugene (Oregon State, USA) leg of the Diamond League, where I finished third behind him, ” explained Tanui. The duo met again in 2015, where Tanui took yet another bronze medal.
That meeting was the precursor of a rivalry that would culminate in the epic duel at the Rio Olympics, where Tanui clinched silver.
They would meet again at the World Championship in 2017.
“I was very confident going into that final. Towards the end of the race as everyone was jostling for a vantage position, I collided with two Ethiopian athletes and Mo used his experience excellently and took gold,” stated Tanui.
The next season, injuries took toll on the now 27-year- old and he missed the campaign with a succession of tendon injuries.
That put him at a great disadvantage when the Qatar 2019 World Championship trials came along. With only three athletes qualifying, he performed dismally and missed out.
With Mo having announced he was quitting the track, Tanui is unsure if he will get a chance to exert revenge against the Somali-born British great.
“I don’t know if we will meet again on track given that Mo revealed he was switching but there are many other great long-distance runners. My biggest motivation is to run well,” he said.
Tanui, who trains under the watchful eyes of coach Julius Kirwa, is looking forward to taking part in the Continental Tour that was switched from May to October 3 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“That is what we are training for now because we do not have any other race scheduled until maybe the Tokyo Olympics,” he said.
While away from the training field, Tanui like most people from the Rift Valley, engages in farming. He grows tea in Kericho and also rears dairy cows.
“It’s up to an individual to plan for tomorrow.You cannot wait until the D-Day to start organising for the future,” Tanui concluded.
Name:Paul Kipngetich Tanui
Education: Mau Primary, Keroka Technical Training Institute
2011:World cross-country silver
2013:World championship bronze 10,000m
2015: World championship bronze 10,000m
2016:Rio Olympics silver 10,000m
2017:World championship bronze 10,000m