Hellen Obiri deserves our admiration, by J. Stuart Weir


Obiri_Hellen1-NBin17.JPGHellen Obiri, 2017 NB Indoor GP, photo by PHotoRun.net

Hellen Obiri has had a wonderful indoor season. I met her at one of the past Pre Classics and enjoyed her thoughtful but gentle comments. Hellen is a fine athlete who some may forget, until they see her gutty running.

As Stuart Weir reminds us, Hellen Obiri is one of the finest Kenyan woman athletes, and expect some even bigger races this coming Spring and Summer.

I never feel that Hellen Obiri gets the credit that she deserves. Vivian Cheruiyot is certainly the queen of Kenyan distance running but Obiri always seems to put in a consistent performance and never lets anyone down. Like many Kenyans, running has always been part of her life - running to and from school, running at Primary School beforentaking up running in a serious way in 2010. In High School, she ran mainly 200 and 400 before finding her best distance later.

At the Müller Indoor Grand Prix on Saturday, she not only won the 3000 metres (in 8.28.41) but also set a new Kenyan record and won the IAAF World Indoor Tour in her event, giving her an automatic entry into the World Indoor Championships in the same arena next year. Ironically the stadium announcer made several references to Sifan Hassan's (successful) attempt on the Dutch national record but made no mention of Obiri's record.

A regular visitor to Birmingham, she said afterwards: "I am delighted to qualify for next year's World Indoor Championships and I am really looking forward to coming back here to compete once again".

Obiri led from the start. She said afterwards that as she had trained hard and no one else wanted to lead she decided to push on from the front. Hassan followed her until the last lap and then took the lead but Obiri remained confident: "When I had 200m to go, I said yes, I can win this race. I decided to go because I was confident I could move away over the last lap. The crowd were so good - they shouted so loudly in the last 100m and that really motivated me to take the win".

Obiri is a versatile athlete, having won an Olympic silver at 5,000, a World Championship bronze at 1,500 and World Indoor gold and silver at 3,000. Her PB for 800 is just half a second off the two minute barrier. She seems equally at home on the track, cross country or indoor - although she points out that indoor running requires some adjustment for Kenyans as the country does not have any indoor facilities where athletes can prepare for the international indoor circuit.

Already this year Obiri has defeated two Olympic champions - Faith Kipyegon and Jemima Sumgong - in cross country races in Kenya. When I asked her about it, she was quite modest about the achievement, saying that it was not significant but just indicated that she was in better shape early in the season than they were.

She was delighted to win the Olympic silver at the 2016 Olympics, as 5,000 is arguably not her strongest event. She admits that she was not sure that she would even make the Kenyan team at that distance. Having made the team and reached the final, Obiri felt that everyone was expecting Almaz Ayala - who had already won the 10,000 - to complete the double with Vivian Cheruiyot her main rival, leaving the rest to fight for bronze. Obiri was therefore more than delighted to take silver behind Cheruiyot, beating Ayala by almost 4 seconds. Rio made up for the medal that got away at London 2012 when she was blocked when Morgan Uceny fell on the final lap while in a good position.

Hellen Obiri originally hoped to run the World Cross Country Championships in Uganda in March, however, the Kenyan Cross Country Trials were the same day as Birmingham.

So, in 2017, watch for Hellen Obiri to put off cross country to another year, as she focuses on the upcoming outdoor track season.

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