Nairobi — Conseslus Kipruto sat back at his home in the Kenyan Rift Valley and painfully watched as Moroccan Soufiane El Bakkali won the Olympic Gold medal in Tokyo, dethroning him from the title he had won five years back in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Conseslus was not in Tokyo to defend his throne, but was at home, battling the physical and mental battle of returning from injury.
Just a few weeks back at the Kenyan trials for the Olympic Games, Conseslus had hobbled off after just four laps, clearly struggling to sustain the tempo and return to action after an injury that plagued him ever since he won the world title in Doha in 2019.
"That was the most painful and difficult thing for me watching at home. I was the defending champion and that made it even more painful because I was not there to defend my title and fight for my country," Conseslus says, reminiscing his emotion from that painful race where Kenya lost the steeplechase Olympic title for the first time in slightly over four decades.
Adds the steeplechase king; "This event is ours as a country and watching us lose it in Tokyo was not easy. This is something that motivates me to come back and in my mind, I want to make sure that I defend my title in Oregon and we bring the glory back. I still have hope we can do it."
Conseslus has struggled with injury and even before the 2019 World Athletics Championship in Doha, he had to put up a home-built swimming pool to aid his recovery from injury.
He went on to clinch the title in one of the most sensational finishes in a steeplechase race, but since, then he has struggled to remain on top with injury.
Speaking to Capital Sports, Kipruto says it has been a tough mental and physical journey.
"It has been very difficult. As an athlete, to try and compete again after training is so hard. The mentality to race after a long time is not easy to achieve. I have been struggling from training and I push myself so much,"
"Sometimes I get lost in my mind during training and when it comes to racing I start well but drop off after two or three laps. It has been difficult to break that barrier mentally," he added.
The 27-year old has however said he has battled the journey of recovery and is now ready to bounce back to the top. He says he has received a lot of support during his time of struggling and now wants to repay the faith shown in him by his coaches, training partners and friends, with winning titles.
"My training partner Abraham Kibiwott, my coach, my manager, Athletics Kenya and so many other people have tried to push me to come back stronger and I want to thank them. They are always there to encourage me and tell me to push even when I don't have the mentality to train. They are always encouraging me to keep working," said Conseslus.
He completed his first race in almost three years when he competed at the National Championships last week, where he requested to run in the final to gauge his recovery. He finished in fifth spot, in a race won by his training partner Kibiwott, but the most important thing for him was that he finished.
"I just wanted to finish the race and show my mind that I can do it. I also wanted to show Kenya and the world that I am back and it was really good for me to finish the race. I know I am not in good shape, but by July when I go to the World Championships to defend my title, I know my body will be okay," he added.
He is also planning on running a good race at Saturday's Kip Keino Classic, a leg of the World Athletics Continental Gold Tour. After the Classic, he will head out to Doha for the season-opening Diamond League where he also hopes to run a good race.
"The Kip Keino Classic will be a good opportunity for me to race. The more races I get the more motivation I get to continue in my comeback. For me it doesn't matter how I will race or what position I finish. I just want to get that mentality back and keep improving,"
"After this I want to go to Doha where my target is to run under eight minutes," further says Conseslus.