After enjoying considerable success as an age-group athlete, Kenya’s world and Olympic steeplechase champion Conseslus Kipruto struggled to maintain his focus at senior level.
The right kind of support
“I was very fortunate to enjoy success in athletics from a young age. I won the 2011 world U18 and 2012 world U20 steeplechase titles and what followed came many good things: nice emotions, appreciation, recognition, pride, further opportunities and material benefits. But other challenges also followed.
“In Kenya, we live with other families and close neighbours – what we term the ‘extended family’. When someone is successful, the expectation is to support this family. It is seen that it is only fair we all benefit from this system, young or old. My mother raised me alone with the help of my uncle, Cleophas, and my close relatives remain very helpful and supportive to my career. It is with their help that I became a successful athlete, so of course I was only too happy to contribute to their improvement.
“However, the challenge I face is how big should the circle of support be? It should be big enough to not forget anyone or create jealousy, but it shouldn’t be so big that you lose control. My manager always tells me, ‘It’s good to assist people but if too many hang on you, then you can’t get up in the morning to do your own things. If that happens, you won’t be able to help anyone’.
“Of course, my new status gave me other opportunities and temptations to a life less fitting for an athlete. Some of my childhood friends operate normal jobs and use weekends to party. It’s tough when your friends are going to a party and you have to stay behind because the 6am morning run is waiting. Of course, I have done some partying like any teenager would do – not always to the appreciation of my coach!
“Over time, you grow up and learn about priorities and what are your real goals. Sub-par performances and injuries (back and hamstring) teach you that at a senior level you cannot play around. In 2013 I was convinced I was going to win the IAAF World Championships in Moscow and I was very disappointed to take silver. I lost to a legend (Ezekiel Kemboi) and two years later I had to swallow that pill once more as I finished second (to Kemboi) at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing.
“Thankfully, to ensure I continue my success on the senior stage, I’ve made my training life very stable and my life very organised. If you have money, life can become very complicated or simple. I learned that the excitement of making it complicated is not very productive. I also learned that I hate losing. I had goals of being world and Olympic champion, but there are still some titles I don’t have, plus I desire that world record one day.
“To any age-group champion I would say: always remember what made you successful. Never veer off that path or one day it will come back to bite you.”