LetsRun.com’s Jonathan Gault brings the inside story of how Elijah Manangoi, Timothy Cheruiyot & coach Bernard Ouma turned Rongai Athletics Club (RAC) in Nairobi into a powerhouse.
The world’s best 1500m training group can be found at Rongai Athletics Club, where, under the direction of karate master-turned coach Bernard Ouma, athletes like Elijah Manangoi and Timothy Cheruiyot dodge giraffes and drag tires to become champions.
It was early August 2017, a week before the start of the men’s 1500 meters at the World Championships in London, and Bernard Ouma had a flight to catch. Though the men’s 1500 was the final individual event of Worlds, Ouma was serving as a Team Kenya coach for the championships and had to be in London early. So before he left the team’s training camp at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi, he met with the Kenyan squad — which included his two pupils, the two fastest 1500-meter men on the year, Timothy Cheruiyot and Elijah Manangoi, as well as three-time defending world champion Asbel Kiprop and Ronald Kwemoi — over dinner at a hotel near the stadium.
The previous year, at the Olympics in Rio, the Kenyan men had failed to earn a medal in the 1500 for the second consecutive Games as American Matthew Centrowitz took the gold in 3:50.00, the slowest winning time since 1932. Ouma told the 2017 squad, in no uncertain terms, that London would be different.
“My point was: we are doing a 3:32 in London,” Ouma said. “Anything shorter than that, you’re getting a repeat of Centrowitz winning with a pace slower than the physically challenged [in the] Paralympics. We don’t want to do that. So we agreed: it’s 3:32.”
On the morning of the final in London, Manangoi approached Ouma. He wanted to know their strategy for the race. So Ouma sat Manangoi and Cheruiyot down and spoke one word: Monaco.
Monaco meant the Monaco Diamond League from three weeks earlier. In that race, Manangoi and Cheruiyot had broken away from the field at the 800m mark and gone on to run PRs of 3:28.80 (Manangoi) and 3:29.10 (Cheruiyot). They had won in a rout; the third-place runner, Kwemoi, finished over three seconds behind Cheruiyot. Ouma wanted his boys to try to drop the field early once again.
However, in the final, the opening lap was covered in 61.63 seconds. Not fast enough. Three-hundred meters in, Cheruiyot began to get nervous, and looked toward Ouma in the stands by the finish line.
“Elijah was supposed to go on the first lap, which he didn’t,” Ouma says. “Tim was looking at me going, What is going on now?“
During races, Ouma likes to think of himself as the conductor, his athletes the orchestra, and he responded by pulling his hands apart, the signal he uses if he wants one of his athletes to open up a gap. Cheruiyot received the signal and proceeded to run his next 800 meters in 1:52.05 in an incredibly even fashion, splitting 55.96 for his second lap and 56.08 for his third. Ouma has a phrase he likes to repeat in practice, “make it look easy.” That’s exactly what Cheruiyot was doing.
Here let us pause to appreciate the audacity of Bernard Ouma. Not only does he possess the firm belief that his athletes can open a gap on any field at will; he has a specific gesture imploring them to do just that, and used that gesture in the freaking World Championship final.
For the rest of this in-depth story go to LetsRun.com: The Secrets of the World’s Best 1500m Training Group: how Elijah Manangoi, Timothy Cheruiyot, & Coach Bernard Ouma turned Rongai Athletics Club into a powerhouse