It is strange how fortunes change. Two years ago, he was dropped when selectors realised he did not know how to run with shoes. Now he is touted as Kenya’s saviour in cross country running.
Last year Paul Tanui, 20, returned to claim a spot in the Kenya junior men’s eight-kilometre team to the World Cross Country Championships, for the first time running with shoes, albeit borrowed.
He finished fourth.
Japan based athletes’ manager Stephen Mayaka saw his potential and plucked him away to Fukuoka, Japan, where he was employed by the Kyedenko Electronic Company.
Blue riband race
It is in Fukuoka that Tanui learnt how to use shoes and on Saturday, in a battle of old against young, the Tanui triumphed in his first year as a senior athlete in the 12km men race.
“I was first not sure if I will win. But I was certain of making the team. So when we were half way and (Mathew) Kisorio was slowing down, I made the decision to up the pace and it worked,” he said after winning the blue riband race at the KCB/Athletics Kenya National Championships at the Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi.
A former student at the Kisii Technical College, Tanui was born at Chesubena village in Molo District. He had little inspiration to take up athletics until he moved to Kisii and in 2008 and started showing interest in running and was promptly spotted by coach Evans Bosire.
By the fourth kilometre in Saturday’s race, Tanui was hidden in the shadow of Kisorio, the world junior 5,000m silver medallist, and Lucas Rotich.
But as the race progressed, he moved forward and stuck his foot in the lead, eating up the distance as if the race had just started. “It felt nice running. I knew the race had big boys but I realised as I was going around the bend that they had dropped off,” he said.
At halfway stage, Tanui was in wonderland. He had opened a 150-metre gap from his closest rival Rotich who was gasping for breath in an attempt to keep up the pace.
Joseph Ebuya, the man who beat Ethiopia’s multiple world champion Kenenisa Bekele at the Great Edinburgh cross country in January, was also preying dangerously behind and so was Hosea Macharinyang, a sensation who is making a return after a long battle with a career threatening Achilles injury.
The lead pack remained unchallenged until after the ninth kilometre mark when Leonard Komon, the 2008 Edinburgh world cross silver medallist, started gaining ground, taking up the place that Kisorio had occupied.
Tanui made true of his intentions and went on to claim victory in 33 minutes, 12.5 seconds.
Almost 15 seconds later, Rotich staggered on to take the second slot in 53:42.7 while Ebuya, who was dropped by his Armed Forces team, made his bosses eat humble pie as he claimed the third position in 35.44.8.
Wild card selection
Macharinyang, who last represented Kenya in 2007, will make a comeback at the world stage as he came in fourth in 35:47.4, holding on gallantly to deny Komon the automatic slot in the team.
Komon came in fifth in 35:56.2 while World 3,000m steeplechase silver medallist Richard Mateelong was sixth in 35:58.0.
Though he did not finish in top 10, Kisorio was saved by the coaches’ wild card selection as he was named in the team.
“I do not know what happened. I was well prepared for the race and I knew I would do well. But it was not to be. However, I am happy for the second chance and I will make sure I repay the coaches when we go to camp. In one week I will have recovered and will be ready to show my true potential,” said Kisorio.
Bernard Kipyego was seventh in 35:59.0 edging out John Thuo (35:59.7), Jonathan Kosgei (36:04.5) and Julius Kogo (36:05.7).