Teen sensation Masindet eyes world 1500m record

Author: TONY MBALLA
AfricaPress-Kenya: One day, Stephen Masindet was dispatched by his mother to deliver meat to a neighbour who resided seven kilometres away from their home.

Fourty minutes later he was back at the doorstep, panting and sweating buckets. His mother was baffled!

Dismayed, she took a peek at his son’s hands and almost sank to the floor hysterically when she noticed they were empty. Had something unpleasant befallen him along the way?

Mother prodded son endlessly while groping for answers. She frantically sought to know if he had actually reached his destination, her adrenaline all the while rushing uncontrollably.

What Masindet told her next made her throw a fit. He had covered his journey in a record fourty minutes? Masindet’s mother would hear none of it. She was convinced her son was pulling the wool over her eyes. As far as she was concerned, this was yet another cock and bull story.

Masindet narrates thus: “Our closest neighbour lives some seven kilometres away from our home. I ran as fast as I could, gave out the meat and came back. So fast was I that my mother insisted I had actually thrown the meat away in the bush.”

So, the following day, a curious and furious mother set out on a long and winding journey to the neighbor’s homestead just to establish the truth. She had experienced a lengthy night full of trepidations.

“The next day my mother made her way to the neighbour’s place to find out what had happened. She was shocked to find out that I had actually delivered the meat,” he says.

Upon reaching the neighbour’s house, Masindet’s mother heaved a sigh of relief after confirming that her son had in fact delivered the meat. She was glad and sad in equal measure. Glad because he fulfilled his duty as instructed and sad because she had initially dismissed him as a liar.

All is well that ends well though. After the fuss, she inundated her son with  blessings. “Owing to my speedy escapades, my mother told me that one day I would become a great runner,” he says.

Like a prophecy, her words have come to pass.  Last Friday, we caught up with Masident at the Nyayo Stadium where the national team is preparing for the Nairobi Continental Tour — one of the legs of the inaugural 2020 World Athletics Continental Tour — which will take place on September 26.

We made our way into the arena at about half past ten and bumped into him, a shy lanky young man, donning a red jumper and black leggings impeccably matched to reflect the national colours. His affable smile defines his welcoming personality which makes him so adorable.

Masindet was in an upbeat mood, looking forward to a mind-blowing experience at the Tour. He feels equal to the task after enduring intensive training sessions under the watchful eye of renowned sprints and hurdles coach Vincent Mumo, a 4x400m relay gold medallist from the 2011 All Africa Games and silver medallist in the same race from 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games.

After exchanging pleasantries with him for a couple of minutes on the track, we finally made our way to the motley rows of refurbished foldable seats which have been immaculately fixed on the renovated stands. We settled in the first row where we grabbed and pulled the seats back into position and slumped into them for an engaging conversation.

Masindet unwound his engrossing narrative about a colourful journey in athletics which kicked off coincidentally with a trip to his neighbour’s homestead to deliver some meat that was sliced off a freshly slaughtered bull.

Born on October 25, 2004, Masindet attended Easei Primary School in Narok County. He achieved very little at that level as an athlete owing to issues related to self esteem.

“I used to run in primary but I didn’t have the confidence,” he says.

Masident’s mother noticed that her son was bubbling with talent and teeming with potential, all laying in wait for the right moment.  She had observed him keenly as he ran errands for her and knew right from the start that he was cut out for the track.

“The first person to discover my talent was my mother. We lived in the interior parts of Narok and anytime she sent me to the market to get her some items, I would come back surprisingly faster than she had expected, much to her astonishment. That’s when she told me I had the potential to run,” says Masindet.

After sitting for his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations in 2015, Masindet joined Shartuka Boys High School in Kilgoris, Narok County.

He hit the ground running as soon as he set foot in the school. In him, teachers spotted a luminary in the making with every potential to navigate and dominate the globe with unmatched ease.

Masindet possessed every quality of a world champion. During the intraschool athletics meetings, he jutted out his claws, winning every single event he participated in.

“When I joined Form One it became quite evident I had a great potential in athletics. The games department would organise inter-class competitions and I would emerge at the top of every event I participated in.”

Having claimed the bragging rights as the star athlete in his school, the onus to deliver was now on him. He was called upon to hoist Shartuka’s flag at the district championships.

However, he first had to break free from the shackles of an anxiety disorder that kept haunting and taunting at him. He was grappling with some creepy feelings that ploughed deep into his self-esteem, subsequently compromising his path to stardom.

Being a lad who had spent his formative years as a nomad, herding cattle on the expansive pastures of Trans Mara, Masindet proved to be a naive and timid cub in the presence of an enlightened world. Scared like a chicken, he would always vamoose out of site to dodge his teachers and whenever they needed him to compete on the track, he was nowhere to be found.

“I would hide from the games teachers to thwart their plans to enlist me as a contestant in track events,” he says. “During the inter-class competitions I would always emerge first but whenever the games teachers asked me to represent the school in the district games, I was always afraid.”

A timely intervention by a well-meaning new teacher, who had been transferred to their school salvaged the situation and his narrative on the track assumed a positive chapter.

When he was in Form Two, the teacher, Madeline Mboge, exorcised all his fears. She encouraged him to stand tall in the face of adversity.

“That’s when I started representing my school. I started running in Form Three and went up to provisional stage of the school games competition in Elgeyo Marakwet County where I finished fifth.”

In 2017 and only in Form Three, he was part of the Team Kenya to the World U18 Athletics Championships at the Moi Stadium, Kasarani.

Upon completing high school in December 2018, Masinget traveled to Kuresoi, Nakuru where he joined Keringet Athletics Club. There, he  polished his skills under the watchful eyes of coach Charles Ngao.

Keringet has produced some of the country’s world celebrated athletes. Among them is the current Olympic champion in the women’s 1500m race Faith Chepng’etich.

She won the Rio Olympics on August 16, 2016, a gold medal at the 2017 World Championships and a silver medal at the 2019 World Championships.

Other graduates from the camp include world 800m bronze medallist Ferguson Rotich, the 2006 world under-20 3,000m steeplechase champion Caroline Tuigong, former world marathon champion Geoffrey Kirui, and national cross country champion Amos Kirui.

Masindet trained at Keringet for several months, patiently waiting for an opportunity to prove his mettle on the national stage. The chance finally came in 2019 when athletes drawn from all corners of the country assembled at the Nyayo Stadium to try out for the national team ahead of the All Africa Games.

“I finished fourth but I didn’t give up. I returned to the camp and when I raced next in Machakos, I performed very well in the relays while preparing for the World U20 Athletics Championships 2020.”

During the Machakos meeting, Masindet caught Mumo’s eyes, who invited him to train with the national team.

“Mumo spotted me in Machakos and told me that I have all that is needed to become a world champion. He invited me to the national team’s camp at Nyayo Stadium where we are preparing for the forthcoming Continental Tour,” observes Masindet.

Last year, World Athletics formed the Continental Tour as the second level of international one-day meetings after the Diamond League.

The Tour features mostly events that have been removed from the Diamond League prime time since the inaugural 2020 season. They’re 200m, 3000m steeplechase, discus, hammer and triple jump.

The Tour is divided into gold, silver and bronze labels — whose rank is determined by the quality of the competition and the prize money offered.

However, Masindet says the World U-20 Championships which will be held next year, a year later than they were projected due to the coronavirus pandemic, is his ultimate prize.

“For now I’m in good shape. The coaches told me that if I’m given a chance in the Continental Tour, I can make it but my ultimate target is the World U-20,” he reveals.

He hopes to fend off close competition in the 1500m with Vincent Keter his biggest challenger.

“My greatest challenger in the 1500m race is Vincent Keter from Rongai. I don’t have any major threat in the 800m,” he confidently says.

Masindet says his favourite subject in school was biology and adds that he spends his free time training and watching documentaries.

He picks world 800m record holder David Rudisha as his role model and for a good reason. The 32-year-old Kenyan middle-distance runner is the 2012 and 2016 Olympic champion and two-time World Champion (2011 and 2015).

Rudisha is the first and only person to have ever run under 1:41 in the race. He has has won a record three consecutive Track & Field Athlete of the Year awards and also won the IAAF World Athlete of the Year award in 2010.

Masindet advises upcoming athletes especially those eyeing junior titles to stay focused if they intend to get to the top level.

“If you cannot train or work hard then you cannot become a strong contender. The junior category is even more competitive because the youth have more energy to expend on the track,” says Masindet.

“As a junior athlete, one is still inexperienced and therefore cannot train alone. One needs to rely on the coach’s guidance and adhere to the given training regimen,” he says.

His immediate plans for the future?

“I want to be a world champion. My target is to break the 1500m world record,” he concludes.

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