One of the best performances at the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford University on Sunday May 1, 2011 was turned in by Sally Kipyego in the women’s 10,000 meters. Twenty-five year old Kipyego edged out Shalane Flanagan, 30:38.35 to 30:39.57.
To some it may be a surprise that Flanagan, the 10,000 meter Olympic bronze medalist and American record holder (30:22.22) coming off a bronze medal performance at the 2011 World Cross Country Championships, was beaten. But Kipyego has plenty of strong credentials as well.
Kipyego, who hails from Kenya, had a storied NCAA career for Texas Tech University from 2006-2009. She won nine individual national championships during her collegiate career (three in cross country, four in indoor track & field, and two in outdoor track & field). In May 2009, Kipyego graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in nursing.
She has put off a career in nursing to pursue a career as a professional runner. She is currently coached by Mark Rowland and runs
for the Oregon Track Club. Last summer she ran a 14:38.64 for 5000 meters at a meet in Brussels. That was six seconds ahead of Molly Huddle, who set the American record in that race with a 14:44.76 (Flanagan held the previous American record of 14:44.80).
The race at Stanford was not the first time Kipyego and Flanagan have raced over 10,000 meters at Payon Jordan. At the 2008 Payton Jordan, Flanagan placed first with a new American Record of 30:34.49 while Kipyego set a then collegiate record, placing third in 31:25.45. Kipyego’s record has since been beaten by Lisa Koll, who ran 31:18.07 in 2010 while a senior at Iowa State.
Kipyego’s PR’s put her with the current to American runners, people like Flanagan and Huddle. Her current goals are to represent
Kenya at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics. However, Kipyego has indicated she is applying for American citizenship. Down the road she could be a Team USA teammate of Flanagan’s and Huddle’s and a possible American record holder. After becoming a citizen she would need to wait one year before she could represent her new country in international competition if her old country agrees to the change, and three years if her old country does not agree to the change.
She is hoping to avoid the controversy that occurred when Bernard Lagat became an American citizen. Lagat was born in Kenya and came to the United States in 1996 at the age of twenty-one. He attended and graduated from Washington State University. While in college he met Gladys Tom, who he eventually married. He and his wife now live in Tucson, Arizona with their two children. Lagat technically became an American citizen on May 7, 2004, more than three months before the 2004 Olympics in Athens. At those Olympic Games, while wearing the Kenya uniform, Lagat won the silver medal in the 1500 meters. In March of 2005, Philip Hersh of the Chicago Tribune broke the story that Lagat had become an American citizen before the Athens Olympics. Kenyan federation rules do not allow dual citizenship, so as soon as Lagat became an American citizen he lost his Kenyan citizenship. Despite this controversy, Lagat was allowed to keep his silver medal from the 2004 Olympics. He was declared ineligible for the 2005 World Championships as part of the three years he was required to wait before competing for his new country. Lagat made his debut representing the USA in international competition at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, where he won gold in both the 1500 meters and the 5000 meters.
Unlike some Kenyan athletes who have been lured by money to become a citizen of an oil-rich Gulf state (like Qatar), Lagat’s desire to become an
American citizen was genuine. He said in an article by Cool Running that, “I want to settle (in the United States) and I want to be able to bring up my family here. I want to live here and work here,” It appears Lagat started the process of becoming an American citizen in late 2003, thinking it would take over a year. However things happened fast and he ended up being sworn in as a US citizen before the 2004 Olympics.
An interesting note due to his citizenship history is Lagat’s records. His 1500 meter personal record of 3:26.34, run in 2001 when he was a Kenyan citizen, still stands as the Kenyan record. The United State of America Track & Field (USATF) rules state that an athlete has to be a US citizen competing in a sanctioned competition to be eligible to set a national record. However, at the 2005 USATF annual meeting, Lagat’s 3:27.40 in the 1500 meters, run on August 6, 2004 in Zurich, was not ratified as an American record. It’s unclear why it was not ratified since the race took place after Lagat was sworn in as an American citizen, even though hardly anyone knew it. The USATF did however ratify three American records for
Lagat from races in 2005. First was the indoor mile (3:49.89) run on February 11, 2005. En route to that 3:49.89, his 1500 meter split was 3:33.34, which also was ratified as an American record. This performance also took place before it became public knowledge that Lagat was an American citizen so it’s unclear why the indoor marks were counted as records but not the 3:27.40 from Zurich. Then in Rieti on August 28, 2005, after publically announcing his citizenship change, he ran 3:29.30 for the 1500 meters outdoors. This mark was ratified by USATF and currently stands as the American record. Since 2005, Lagat has set more American records (with less controversy), including the outdoor 5000 meters record (12:54.12) in Bislett on June 4, 2010.
While his citizenship was controversial at first and it is somewhat confusing as to which of his performances count as American records and why,
six years after becoming a citizen, Bernard Lagat is generally well accepted as an American citizen. Like Lagat, Kipyego was born in Kenya but attended college in the United States and is making the US her post-collegiate home and training base. The next step for Kipyego will be to become an American citizen. Then she can attempt to set records and win medals for Team USA like Lagat has.