TOKYO, JAPAN (KTSM) – It was the night Emmanuel Korir has dreamed of his entire life.
Running in the 2020 Olympics final of the men’s 800 meters in Tokyo on Wednesday, the former UTEP national champion cemented his status as the best half-miler on the planet, winning the 800m gold medal in 1:45.06.
It’s another gold medal in the 800 meters for Kenya, as Korir follows in the footsteps of David Rudisha, as well as his coach at UTEP, Paul Ereng, in winning Olympic gold.
“First I am so happy to achieve this gold medal. I felt like I am in Heaven. I am thankful to everyone back at home. Those who have kept supporting us,” Korir told the Kenyan Standard after the race. “It was tough for us all the way and I am still urging Kenyans to cheer us all the way especially the athletes who are still yet to compete. I know we still have something better to come.
“This is a big thing for me after failing to qualify for the final in the 2017 and 2019 world championships,” continued Korir. “But today is my day. It’s been my prayer to be an Olympian, and today I am.”
His Kenyan countryman, Ferguson Rotich, finished second, while Poland’s Patryk Dobek grabbed the bronze medal.
Korir trains with fellow Kenyan and UTEP assistant coach Paul Ereng, who won the 1988 gold medal in the 800 meters, the first Kenyan to do so. He was ecstatic for his pupil on Wednesday in El Paso.
“First of all, let me welcome him to the club,” Ereng said with a smile. “When you join that club, there’s a lot invested in you. Every kid, every person thinks you are special, so carry that name properly and carry it well.”
After finishing in third place at the Kenyan Olympic Trials in June, Korir has looked to be in top form ever since. Beginning with a second place finish at Diamond League Monaco in July (in a race with 10 other Olympians), Korir appeared to be on a mission in Tokyo.
He entered the Games with the second-best odds to win gold and proved worthy of that in the early rounds; he won his first round heat last Friday, then cruised to a second place finish in his semifinal heat.
It all culminated in the gold medal victory on Wednesday night in Tokyo. Hanging with the leaders for the first lap, Korir made his big move with 250 meters to go, moving in to first place on the curve with about 200 meters left.
“There was nobody who wanted to take the pace, so I just said I was going to control it,” Korir said. “The Australian guy, Bol (Peter, who led off the last bend), he did something good for me.”
From there, Korir’s trademark strong kick and head bob took over, as he out-raced Rotich and Dobryk in a full sprint down the final 50 meters. Korir crossed the finish line with arms outstretched, immediately celebrating his gold medal accomplishment.
Ereng said he spoke to Korir on the phone in the hours leading up to the race to perfect the race strategy with him. In a slow race that fit Korir’s style as a wicked kicker down the stretch, Ereng mapped out the perfect blueprint for a Kenyan victory.
“It’s good that I was able to talk to him, because I told him to do A, B, C, D, and he did that which is good,” said Ereng. “I told him one of two things would happen; one, the race would be too fast from the beginning, so figure out the place where you’re comfortable. Two, the race would be very slow, which would play to (Korir). So find the distance where you make your move and the move takes you all the way to the finish line.”
Korir is just the third UTEP athlete to ever win a gold medal in track & field. He joins Bob Beamon (1968, long jump) and Ria Stalman (1984, discus) as the only Miners to ever achieve the lofty status of an Olympic gold.
Kenya has now won gold at the last four Olympics; Korir follows Wilfred Bungei (2008) and world-record holder David Rudisha (2012, 2016) in winning gold. In total, Kenyans have won six golds in the 800 meters, all of them since 1988, when Ereng became the first to do it.
The Kenyan superstar is accustomed to winning on big stages. He won the 2017 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor national championships in the 800 meters in his time at UTEP. After turning pro, he’s won big on the Diamond League circuit, and possesses the sixth-fastest 800 meter time ever recorded (1:42.05).
Nothing will top what he did on Wednesday night, though, as Korir tasted Olympic gold, and immortality, on the track in Tokyo.