Kenya: Mary Moraa Reveals How Hellen Obiri Saved Her 800m Career

Nairobi — Mary Moraa has completed a hugely successful season with her first ever Diamond Trophy, coming just after winning bronze at the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games title.

But, this would possibly not have been possible were it not for her mentor, two-time World Champion, Hellen Obiri.

Moraa has disclosed to Capital Sports that she was on the verge of quitting the two-lap race, just after switching from the 400m, but Obiri encouraged her to keep going despite a difficult start.

“I never believed I could run 800m. When I started training, it was tough. In my first ever race, I ran 2:06 and it was so tough. I told her that it was very tough and I couldn’t survive and I wanted to go back and concentrate on the 400m. She warned me sternly never to find me in a 400. She told me that I had the ability to improve,” Moraa explains.

She adds; “I had already given up on the 800m. But the motivation she gave me, helped me focus. I kept training and listening to her advice as well as what the coaches told me. I embraced the program with both hands and I always encouraged myself to try and finished.”

Moraa was training with Obiri’s group in Ngong and when they went for long runs, she only managed to keep up with them for the first 2km.

“They would always leave me and even before I got halfway, we would meet as they came back and we ran together because now they had reduced the pace. I would look at her and get encouraged. She started with the long jump, triple jump, then 800m and 1500m and now she is winning world titles in the 5,000m. I told myself that I could also improve,” the nostalgic Moraa adds.

She went on to run 2:04 in her second 800m event, and then lowered the time further to 2:01 by the third. At this point, she started bearing belief that she could actually do it.

“Hellen would tell me “You see, I told you there is going to be improvement”, and that gave me an extra push to keep working,” she explains.

Moraa was originally a 400m runner, having made her name when Kenya hosted the World Under-18 Championships in Nairobi in 2017.

The video of her outwitting current 400m World Champion Alison dos Santos in the mixed relays was a marvel for many Kenyans at the event, where she won an individual silver in the women’s 400m.

She went on to run two more seasons in the 400m until she made the decision to switch to double the distance.

Her coach Ales Sang says it was a joint decision to make the switch.

“The decision to switch was based on a lot of things. Training for the 400m requires a lot, most of which we don’t have here in Kenya. The facilities needed, training equipment and other factors would have made it difficult for her,” Sang told Capital Sport.

“In the 800m, Kenya has the history of performing well from the days of Pamela Jelimo, Eunice Sum and Janeth Jepkosgei. We also looked at her ability and decided this was the perfect race for her. Of course it was not easy at the start but so far, we are happy,” added the coach, who also trains 1500m Olympian Abel Kipsang.

Looking back, Moraa says she bears no regrets at all, and remains thankful to Obiri for the encouragement she gave her never to quit.

Having reached the semi-final at her first ever Olympic Games last year, she has stepped up a notch higher in 2022, winning bronze at the World Championships, clinching the Commonwealth Games title, twice setting a Personal best and twice breaking the 400m National record, topping all that up with victory in the Diamond League.

This has been a dream season for her.

“I can say I am excited and happy with everything I have achieved. This season has been the best for me. My target was a medal at the World Championships and I am glad I did. The World Champs are usually tricky because everyone has trained and is prepared. You need to work extra hard to get something and I am glad I did,” she notes.

With the 2022 season done and dusted, she now retreats for rest and recovery and perhaps a little holiday, but her focus will remain trained on next year’s World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.

“Of course I would like to do well and I hope to start preparing for Budapest. I want to ensure that I am ready and I will not say I am going to Budapest to win. I want to go there and do my best. Whatever it brings, I will be contended with it,” she notes.

Among those she has to contend with in Budapest include America’s World and Olympic Champion Athing Mu, as well as British youngster Keeley Hodgkinson.


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