The fast and the futile: Kemboi cuts down competition


Edward Kemboi stands alone and observes his teammates. He is running against himself trying to beat his personal record.

Isaac Hunt

Edward Kemboi is fast — fast enough, he believes, that other runners in the Big 12 will be racing for second place as he cruises through the finish line.

Kemboi has the fastest time recorded in the Big 12 Conference this season in both the 800-meter dash and the 1,000-meter run. His attitude could be seen as cocky, but the sophomore carries it as a calculated confidence.

“It’s not going to be tough at all. Looking at the standings; the closest guy is three seconds behind my time,” Kemboi said about the upcoming Big 12 Indoor Championships. “It’s not going to be hard at all.”

The time difference between Big 12 leader Kemboi and his closest competition, Oklahoma’s senior Frezer Legesse, is 2.58 to be exact.

After only two years, Kemboi has broken two records at Iowa State in the two races he holds the best times for in the Big 12. But there is always room for improvement.

“He’s running slower this year than he was last year,” said assistant coach Travis Hartke on Kemboi’s early abilities. “You could see it immediately with him with his workouts. As a freshman, he ran a 1:46 and broke our school record, so it was pretty immediate.”

Although he may be a bit slower, his mind is quicker than ever. At the New Balance Invitational in New York City, one of the largest indoor events of the year, Kemboi led a race from start to finish — a feat only possible with a large amount of maturity.

“He’s grown and matured,” said coach Corey Ihmels. “Last year at this time he would have had the ability, but he wouldn’t have had the maturity to lead start-to-finish. He’s a stronger runner.”

As Kemboi recalled the events leading up to the race, he said sometimes in a race where he takes the lead, his body may not be able to keep up the pace throughout the entire race, but after Ihmels told Kemboi he can’t get behind, he was more comfortable.

“I’m just going by coach,” Kemboi said. “Last year I focused on workouts, but this year I just go by what coach tells me to do.”

As a student of the sport, the sophomore studies his competition, which allows him to beat certain opponents more easily.

“Last meet I had a guy from Minnesota,” Kembo said. “I knew he was really good, so I needed to focus. I didn’t care about anything but my key, and my key was that guy. If he takes a lead, I need to stick to him. I have to prove it to myself sometimes.”

Ihmels reiterated that message and said as a coach, it is his responsibility to prepare his athletes.

“You have to know what’s going on around you,” Ihmels said. “When you toe the line at the Big 12 meet or the national meet, everybody has their strengths and weaknesses. You have to know how everybody is going to approach the race and he has to be ready for a lot of different scenarios.”

Kemboi’s maturity and scouting only adds to his natural abilities as an athlete.

“He’s very talented and he is probably going to be a professional after he is done here,” Hartke said. “For him, he has to put it into perspective because he doesn’t have to work that hard to run what he is running.”

“He has a lot of range — he almost made cross-country nationals. No 800[-meter] runner in the country [in the final last year] even runs cross-country.”

Ihmels took Kemboi’s range a step further, saying Kemboi is ready to run the mile with the talents he has, but that he may have some different opinions on that.

“I did a lot of cross-country training,” Kemboi said. “I have a mental thing where I don’t like the mile. It’s too far, but coach tells me I would be good at the mile.”

With Kemboi’s ability to run the 800-meter dash, the 1,000-meter run, compete in the 4×400 meter relay and also have the skills to race in the mile, the opportunities Kemboi has in his second year are insurmountable.

At the Big 12 Championships, Kemboi will be running for first place, so his competition may have to settle for a second place battle.