Just 22-years-old and already world half-marathon and world cross country champion, Geoffrey Kamworor has set his sights to marathon glory in New York this weekend. His stunning record in the sport suggests the Kenyan should not be underestimated.
If there were an all-around title in distance running in a similar vein to gymnastics, then Geoffrey Kamworor would surely be medal favourite. The young Kenyan has proved formidable on the road, cross country and track. Whatever the distance, whatever the terrain, Kam is the man who can.
The Kenyan’s feats are a throwback; athletes who excel on all three surfaces have become increasingly rare. In a year where he has added the world cross country title to his world half-marathon crown, and bagged world champs silver in the 10,000m, one goal remains: to land victory in the New York City Marathon. Few would bet against him.
Born in the village of Chepkorio in the endurance running-rich district of Keiyo, Kamworor, the second youngest of seven kids, first took up running aged 16. His talent was apparent from the outset and in 2010, in only his second year in the sport, he spent a summer competing in Finland, clocking a respectable 7:54.15 for 3000m and 13.42.01 for the 5000m.
“I won a couple of races there and that’s when I realised I could first run,” he recalls of his Scandinavian adventure.
He returned home, trained hard and finished fourth in the Kenyan junior cross country trials. A month later he defied expectations with a thrilling gun-to-tape victory in the junior race at the 2011 World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria in Spain. He had arrived.
“I said to myself that day, I must do what I can do,” he says.
Catch him if you Kam (you probably can't)
Later in 2011 year he helped pace Patrick Makau to his world marathon record in Berlin. The confidence he gained from this – he was just eight seconds behind Makau at 30km – gave him the belief he should pursue the marathon.
Twelve months later he returned to Berlin, and aged 19 ran 2:06:12 to place third in his first full marathon. In 2013, his road progression continued with a world leading 58:54 to win the high quality RAK Half Marathon. Later that year he secured another third place on the streets of Berlin.
Quietly making a name for himself in running circles, Kamworor shouted it to the world when he blunted the field with a fearless front-running display to take the 2014 World Half Marathon Championships title in Copenhagen.
His remarkable versatility was further illustrated this March when he stormed to an eight-second win at the world cross champs in Guiyang. It means Kamworor joins Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese and his idol and countryman Paul Tergat as the only men in history to simultaneously hold the world cross and world half-marathon titles.
Kamworor has also emerged as a genuine track talent. In Eugene in May he ran a stunning 10,000m PB 26:52.65 for third behind Mo Farah and Paul Tanui. At August’s world champs only Farah was stronger over the 25-lap distance as the Kenyan secured silver.
He declared himself satisfied with his performance in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest, but is determined to go one better at Rio 2016.
“Mo Farah has a lot of speed,” explains Kamworor. “He can run 3:28 for the 1500m, so next year I will work more on my 1500m and 5000m speed, which is what I need to do to beat him. Mo Farah now is the number one on the track, but he doesn’t run cross country or the marathon. He focuses on the track. For me this is not a big deal because I have a year to catch him.”
Hot on the heels of Mo Farah at the Beijing World Championships
Kamworor’s favourite surface is cross country, but he is unfazed by any running challenge he undertakes. As his agent Valentijn Trouw says: “Geoffrey has very good physics and a running stride for all surfaces. He has great speed in combination with great endurance, which gives him a wide range from 5000m up to the marathon.”
He has also profited from six years in the sport without once succumbing to injury. He puts this down in part to good fortune, and also to the qualities of his coach, former world and Olympic steeplechase silver medallist Patrick Sang.
“He used to run himself, so he was a strong, experienced athlete who is able to give me the right programme whether it is for a cross country race or a marathon,” adds the Kenyan.
And he benefits from training with one of the world’s finest marathon running groups on the planet in Kaptagat. Regularly clocking up 200km (125 miles) a week alongside current Berlin and London marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge, Uganda's Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich and 2011 London marathon winner Emmanuel Mutai allows little room for complacency. Kipchoge in particular provides fantastic leadership.
“I’ve learned a lot from him,” he explains. “I really like what he tells and he has advised me to run smart in the New York Marathon.”
Trouw adds that Kamworor’s mental capacity sets him apart from many of his rivals.
“Geoffrey has an incredible mindset towards competition,” his Dutch manager explains. “He has great self-confidence without any arrogance. When he sets his mind on something he commits fully towards the goal and will always focus and believe in victory. When the outcome in the end might be different he is able to accept and move on in a positive way towards the next goal.”
Kam's biggest career win on the roads came at last year's World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen
That next goal is New York, and Kamworor’s trademark confidence is already on show. He says his training has gone well and he believes the undulating five-borough course is the perfect fit for his all-around skill set.
“I can see that New York can suit my running style very well because it is hilly and the cool conditions are similar to the conditions I normally train in,” says Kamworor, who will seek his first marathon win at his sixth attempt. “Whichever race I go for, I look forward to doing my best. I’m focused on the victory in New York.”
Beyond the Big Apple, the Kenyan hopes to defend his world half-marathon title in Cardiff before giving the 10,000m a nudge at the Rio Olympics next year. At the Tokyo 2020 Games he dreams of competing in the marathon.
As such a versatile and adaptable athlete, the question of which event best suits him looms large.
“It is difficult to say,” admits Trouw. “In the end it is about inner motivation, something he really dreams about and puts in his mind. So anything between 5000m and the marathon is achievable for him, as long as it’s in his heart and mind.”