Last September, as I sat watching the Continental Cup in Marakkech, I saw the future of the steeplechase. Jairus Birech and Evan Jager were dueling over 3000 meters. Jager, who had brought the AR down once again in the steeplechase, ran what I believe will be seen as one of his most important races.
Jairus Birech, Commonwealth Games, photo by Claus Andersen
Jager and Birech dueled to the end. In hot, humid weather at the end of the season, it came down to a final sprint for Birech to take the race from Jager.
Earlier in the season, I had watched Jairus Birech stop at the last hurdle, jump over it and still run 8:08. Then, Birech went on to win the DL in 2014 and run the fastest race of the year.
In this interview, watch carefully who Birech notes is the challenge to a Kenyan sweep at the World Champs and Olympics.
Interview with Jairus Birech, the 2014 Diamond League winner, by Justin Lagat
To succeed in athletics, especially in middle and long distance running, persistence is paramount.
As I spoke with Jairus Birech who won last year's Diamond League trophy in the men's 3000m steeplechase event besides winning gold medals at the IAAF Continental Cup and African Championships in Marrakech, a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games and running the fastest time of the year, I listened to his story and could not help observing that he too is an epitome of how champions are made.
Before he became a teenager, Jairus Birech had already developed great passion for the 3000m steeplechase event. His dreams then were to beat Ezekiel Kemboi and set a new world record. After some training in 2007, he attended an Athletics Kenya (AK) track meeting in Eldoret and ran in the event, but things did not turn out as he had expected as he was overlapped by almost everyone in the field and ended finishing the race in over 10 minutes while the rest of the athletes had finished within 8 minutes. He concluded after the race that perhaps he was not meant for this event and decided to train for road races.
For the next two years he trained without targeting any specific event, but he was still training hard all the same. Another chance presented itself when he travelled to a track meeting in Kisii and tried to give another shot at his favorite event. This time round, not only did he surprise himself, but everyone at the meeting by beating a competitive field to finish second. From then on, many other triumphs followed and he soon became a force to reckon with in the event. Last year was his best year so far.
I asked him which moment he cherished the most from last year and he thought about it for a while before replying.
"All of them were great achievements for me. I was so happy with them all. But the Diamond League trophy meant more in that it gave me a wild card opportunity to run at the world championships this year," he said. He also revealed that he had a chance to win the Commonwealth gold medal too had he not accidentally hit a barrier about 1000m into the race which affected him as he ran the rest of the race with pain.
"This year, my target is to get a medal at the world championships. However, it is still a long way before the championships are done and it is not yet time to say much about it," said Birech. "All I can say now is that it is my desire to retain my Diamond League trophy and to make it to the podium position at the world championships."
He also had something to add on the prospect of Kenyans finishing in all the podium positions this year at the world championships, being the country's favorite event.
"Many people think that Mekhissi Benabbad is the athlete to prevent the Kenyans from taking a clean sweep in this event, but personally, I think that Evan Jager of the US may be even a greater threat this time round," Birech said.
So far, his training is on course and he is just using the same program he used last year. He is also training in the same group he was in last year in which at times they do the same programs together with the reigning world champion, Ezekiel Kemboi.