After climbing to fifth on the 3000m all-time list in Doha, and then blitzing to victory in the fastest 1500m of the year in Eugene, Hellen Obiri has been one the track stars of the season so far. Here are 11 things you don't know about the 24-year-old Kenyan.
1. Soccer City
Hailing from Kisii in south-western Kenya, Obiri's city is more famous for its footballers than its athletes. Gusii Shabana FC are Kisii's hot sports ticket, and Obiri told SPIKES: “We only have ten, or maybe less, runners to come out of the city.”
2. Hell of a girl
So why the two L's in Hellen? “I think maybe my mother misspelt my name when I was younger,” says Obiri. Fair enough.
Great Hellen: Only four women (all Chinese, and all in Beijing during September 1993) have ever gone quicker than Obiri over 3000m.
3. Reluctant runner
She was recruited as a 200m and 400m sprinter to attend school in Nairobi, aged 14. However, she lost interest in the sport and stopped running altogether in 2006 and 2007 to focus on her studies. Obiri only re-engaged with athletics so that she could join the military.
4. Flying start
A corporal in the Kenyan Air Force, Obiri was told to compete at the 2010 Kenyan Armed Forces Cross Country Championships, and finish the race at all costs. The then sprinter finished 32nd, but she enjoyed the experience.
“There were 20 people behind me, and it gave me the encouragement to try the longer distances.” Twelve months later, she returned to the same event and placed fifth.
5. Noah's advice
Noah Ngeny, the 2000 Olympic 1500m champion, was the man who first suggested Obiri should focus on the metric mile.
“He said it would be difficult for me to make qualification in the 800m, so I should try the 1500m.”
In her debut season over the distance she sensationally won the Kenyan title, and qualified for the 2011 World Championships in Daegu.
6. Daegu downer
In Daegu, Obiri set a personal best time of 4:07.59 in the heats but crashed to the floor in the final, bringing pre-event favourite Morgan Uceny down with her.
“After Daegu [where she finished tenth] I went back to Kenya and started training seriously.”
Pause for effect. She did all that without training seriously...
7. Training with the guys
Coached by Ricky Simms, super-agent of Usain Bolt and Mo Farah, she trains in Ngong (at altitude a little under 2000m) just outside of Nairobi, with two promising male 1500m runners.
“One runs in front of me and the other behind me,” she explains – and the pair act as perfect motivation during training sessions.
8. Olympic woes
After winning the 2012 world indoor 3000m title, Obiri describes her Olympic experience at London 2012 as “really tough.” Taking evasive action to avoid the unfortunate prone body of Uceny (yes, her again) in the 15000m, really took the wind out Obiri's sails. She wound up 12th and last in the final.
Hellen Obiri competes in the 1500m at London 2012.
9. On a roll
After winning 1500m bronze at the Moscow 2013 World Championships and 3000m silver at the Sopot 2014 World Indoor Championships, this year she plans to target the 1500m at the Commonwealth Games, African Championships and the Continental Cup. Next year, she is trying her hand at the 5000m: a fascinating prospect.
10. Off the track
In her downtime she likes to watch Nigerian comedy movies. “I like how they talk and act.”
And despite coming from a football city, her passions lie elsewhere. “I don’t really like football, I prefer to watch basketball,” she says.
11. Diamond surprise
She expressed her shock at running an African 3000m record of 8:20.68 at the Doha Diamond League last month. With a previous outdoor personal best of 8:34, she was hoping for a time of around 8:30. Even after flashing past the finish line, she was initially unaware of the time she had run.
“I thought I had run 8:30. It was only when Mercy Cherono [Obiri’s countrywoman who ran 8:21.14 for second to go sixth on the all-time lists] told me the time did I realise what I’d run.”
After following that up with a world-leading time in the 1500m at the Pre Classic in Eugene, Obiri has proved she is a force to be reckoned with this season.