Your typical Bloomsday first-timer, that’s Josephat Kapkory - already dreading Doomsday Hill and harboring no illusions of winning, though there’s a little bit of history pacing him.
He’d settle for being rookie of the year.
“I fear Bloomsday because of that hill,” he admitted. “I’ve never been there before, but I’ve been watching for the last three years on TV. It looks like a tough one.
“All I know is I want to go there and be competitive. If I finish in the top 10, I’ll be very happy.”
A modest ambition for someone whose appetite for victory, in at least one notable instance, has been voracious. But Kapkory’s voyage from collegiate big fish at small-pond Washington State to the rolling whitecaps of international track and field has been nothing if not humbling.
It’s the wise runner, though, whose lessons are self-inflicted.
Perhaps that’s why he has chosen to measure himself against Bloomsday’s elite field - including defending champion and Kenyan countryman Josephat Machuka - and risk the inevitable comparisons with a couple of Cougar ghosts.
Of the many fine Kenyan distance runners who have passed through WSU, only two - Henry Rono and Peter Koech - tested their Nikes at Bloomsday.
Both won - Rono in 1982, Koech in 1988. And both would, in time, go on to set world records on the track - though, of course, Rono already owned four.
Daunting footsteps, especially for such a babe on the roads.
Kapkory, who finished his eligibility at WSU last spring and will take a degree in chemical engineering this month, has only a couple of road races under his waffle soles. He won a 5-kilometer race in the Bay Area in March and was second Sunday in the Sun Run 10K over the border in Vancouver.
“Do not expect a lot from me on Sunday,” he cautioned. “I am not a road racer.
“It’s just preparation for my track season. I don’t like running longer races - 12 kilometers, or anything more than 10. I don’t think I’m ready for anything longer. But by running a few road races, I can tell where my training is going. Not how fast I’m going to run on the track exactly, but it will give me an idea.”
And this, Kapkory feels, is his summer to run fast - and not just for a few laps.
Last summer, that was his job.
Before you can make a splash on the European track circuit, you have to make a name. And though Kapkory was three times an NCAA champion and pulled off an unprecedented triple in the 5,000 meters, 10,000 and steeplechase at the Pac-10 championships as a senior, he wasn’t going to sell any tickets in Oslo or Rome.
So he became a rabbit - the sacrificial mammal who establishes the pace which allows a Noureddine Morceli to set a world record.
In Grand Prix meets in Zurich and Monaco and Lille and Nice, that was Kapkory - making certain the world-class steeplechase fields made it through the first 2 kilometers in 5 minutes or less.
“You see, I wanted to run in those big meets,” said Kapkory, “but the time I had would not get me in. The organizer would have 10 Kenyans in the steeplechase and all 10 were better than me. The only way to get in was as a rabbit. I didn’t like it, but I’m happy I did it because I learned a lot.”
That he belongs, mostly.
In Monaco, for instance, he paced the field through five laps in 5:27.
“Then I went to lane 2, waited for them all to pass, followed and ran a PR 8:25.63,” said Kapkory - whose time would be the fifth-fastest in WSU history. “If I was not rabbiting, I would have run under 8:20.
“You see, I would rabbit these races but I’d want to finish. But it’s hard to convince yourself to finish after doing all the work and letting everyone go by. Trying to make that comeback is not easy.”
Kapkory’s Monaco time would leave him 32nd on the yearly list - fast enough, perhaps, to get him in a few big meets this summer. It will certainly get him in the Kenyan trials for the World Championships, but he’s skipping that opportunity and setting his sights on the Olympic trials in 1996 “because I know all the other guys are ready, and I’m not yet.”
This is the dilemma of the Kenyan runner. In all but a handful of countries, Kapkory’s time would make him a lock for a WC or Olympic team.
But there were 13 other Kenyans ahead of him on the 1994 steeple list, and 18 in the top 50. Ten other names showed up in the 5,000 and 10,000. And in the Runner’s World road racing Top 25 there were 13 Kenyans last year - and most of them didn’t double on the track.
At 28, Kapkory’s window of opportunity is small. Most of his rivals are younger and have never had their training inhibited by a demanding collegiate schedule.
“Maybe they’re better than me,” Kapkory allowed, “but I’m convinced if I train the way they train, I’ll be just like them.”
You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, ext. 5509.
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