Wilson Kipketer announces retirement – Exclusive interview
Tuesday 16 August 2005
Monte-Carlo – Wilson Kipketer of Denmark, World 800m record holder, a Monaco resident, visited the IAAF HQ offices this morning and gave an exclusive interview in which he officially announced his retirement from competitive athletics.
The 34-year-old, IAAF Ambassador, three time World 800m champion outdoors (1995, 97 and 99), and a two-time Olympic medallist, will travel tomorrow to the Weltklasse Zürich TDK Golden League meeting which takes place on Friday (19), but for the first time in his life it will be as a non-participant in anything other than the capacity of a VIP spectator in the Letzigrund arena.
So when and why was your decision made to announce your retirement?
“I made my decision after Athens, but that was my private decision. It was the point of my mental adjustment to the fact that I would not compete again, that it was the end of it. But this is the first time I have felt ready to put my private decision into words.”
Did you find you were lacking motivation or were you just aware of a younger generation taking over…what made you sure that you should retire?
“I have had only one ambition since my silver medal in Sydney, which was to win that Olympic gold which is the only medal I was missing. That was my inspiration for the next four years which followed. However, now after the bronze in Athens it is clear and it is only being realistic to recognise that my goal is not going to be achieved. That my time is not going to come. That I am not fighting on until Beijing.”
Have family commitments played a role in your decision?
“No, it had nothing to do with my decision. I looked back and saw how many years I had sacrificed in training and that a younger generation was coming. I had to think about my motivation, and how much energy I have left.”
“There are certain things one has to accept in life. To win things you need to be strong, you need to be willing to sacrifice, and to be motivated. At my age and the way I am thinking, I know that it is not possible to focus as much as is required to be successful in this sport. There are now too many things going on in my life, a lot of other distractions.”
What are the best memories you will take with you?
“When I think about this I know that I am known to people as ‘Wilson Kipketer’ because of my running. I could not be who I am without my former running achievements.”
“Running changed my life. It was my work, and it gave me everything that I was asking for, and I want to give the same energy back to help this sport prosper and develop.”
“My achievements have been important but the way I was able to come back from malaria in 1998 and then recover again after I suffered once more with it, changed my life. It was a pivotal moment of my career. That I was able to get back to running again at the top level after such a serious illness, made me see my life differently.”
“So if I am to answer honestly, my most satisfying performance is the 1:43.74 win here in Monaco (8 Aug) in 1998, as with it I first proved to myself that I could run at the top again.”
Can explain more precisely what you mean by this pivotal moment?
“In 1995, 96, 97 I had great ambition, always fighting to be at the top. But after the malaria hit I saw a side of a different world, another life. I got to understand the essence of what it meant to be an athlete. I understood what it was to be truly me. In the years before I was running with great talent but without understanding. From that point on, I understood what it was to succeed and at the same time be myself through sports, and I intend to put something back of this understanding into the sport.”
“My defeat in Budapest at the (1998) European Championships later in the month (23 Aug) was another shock. I came 8th in 1:51 and I couldn’t understand. Had I just run badly or were my opponents better or was I ill? Again I had to start again from zero. Everyone was running away from me, and I had to rebuild again.”
“But it was by coming back a second time that I found my new inner strength and motivation, and my World Championships win in 1999 was the result.”
Moving away from the emotion, what clinically was your greatest performance(s)?
“Looking back it is 1997. Setting World records indoors and outdoors, and winning World Championships indoor and outdoors, this was my best year. I was running nearly always 1:42 in my races. That was the season without any doubt.”
“Then everything was easy for me. The running was easy, the sponsors and meeting directors loved me. I had no conflict with anyone. And just when everything was going so well that’s when the malaria struck.”
“In 1997, everybody was my friend but during the worst moments of 1998 I was forgotten. At that moment I realised that there are only a few people you can really rely on in life, just a few really true friends.”
“I started to understand I needed to do something different, that I needed to be honest with myself, so that I did things because they were right and not just because they might make others like me better. Those who really love you will stick by you whatever.”
“So I decided from that point on to do my running for myself, my family and my friends, everything else was secondary.”
“Every year I have got many letters from fans, many of whom are young runners, and it is for these people that I have run since 1998.”
Given that your motivation in the last years of your career has been the Olympic gold medal, what do you feel now about the lost opportunity of Atlanta 1996 when you could not run because of your change of nationality?
“No regrets because from the very beginning it was my choice to make the move, I knew from the start that I would not be allowed to run at the Olympics of that year. It was totally my decision. When you know in advance about these sort of things you can live with them and then adjust to the situation.”
“Also not going to the Olympics provided my motivation for the successful events of 1997. I had to prove I was still the best even though I was not Olympic champion.”
And your future in the sport? You want to contribute to its future?
Yes, I do. To help anyone needs to have respect and understanding for the sport and the athletes, and I believe that all officials and administrators need to ask themselves do they really know what it is to be an athlete these days and how the sport operates? Everyone believes they are an expert but do they have the feeling? The really important thing is to have the feeling for the sport, a passion, a belief.”
What will you miss about not being on the circuit?
“I am not going to miss the travel, and I also do not know so many people nowadays, as most of the other athletes are now from a different generation altogether, so it is not this that I will miss.”
“What I will miss is the way I felt when running 800m, the way I felt when controlling the race, the feeling of leading a race, the atmosphere…this is what I am going to miss.”
What would you like your legacy to the sport be?
“I want this inner feeling to be known by the younger athletes, so they understand what that love of running is all about, I want to pass on my love and feeling for running.”
“I would like younger runners to understand earlier than I did, that winning a gold medal is not always the difference between success and failure. If you do anything in life to the utmost of your ability you are always a winner whether you come first in the race of life or not. Self achievement is the key to happiness and well being. It is a key which has unlocked my life and I would like it to do the same for others.”