One of the finest runners to ever compete on the roads passed away on November 1st. Joseph Kimani of Kenya and KIMbia Athletics won virtually every road race that mattered on the American circuit in the mid-1990′s, setting records as he went, before dying of pneumonia at age forty.
In 1996, Kimani left the track for the roads and found eye-popping success. Front and center in a litany of achievements was his nearly-unthinkable 27:04 at Peachtree, to set the AIMS-recognized world’s best for 10k on the roads — an improvement over the 27:20 world’s best he had run in Cleveland just weeks prior which had already taken an incredible fourteen seconds off of the standing world record. That Peachtree run was an improvement of a staggering 52-seconds over the previous course record and remains the fastest performance in the history of this prestigious event, with no athlete coming within even 18-seconds of the mark. The next year he would run 33:31 for 12k in Evansville, IN to collect the world record at that distance. As a world’s best, Kimani’s 27:04 stood for six years: it wasn’t until the legendary Haile Gebreselassie ran 27:02 in 2002 that Kimani’s mark was bettered.
Much like his history-making run at Peachtree, Kimani’s win at the 2000 Bolder Boulder showed just how peerless the Kenyan was when fit and feeling good: his 57-second victory remains the largest margin in event history. Sixteen seconds came off the course record at Falmouth in 1996, a 31:36 that is still the 2nd-fastest time in race history. The fastest Cooper Bridge Run performance was slashed by 39-seconds. And those runs are just a few entries on Kimani’s CV. When it comes to listing his road victories, one has to dig to find a significant 10k-15k race from which he didn’t take home the laurel wreath: Bolder Boulder (2000), Utica (1996, 1997), Falmouth (1996), Beach to Beacon (2000), Bay to Breakers (1997), Gasparilla (1997), Bellin (1997-2000) and the Azalea Trail Run (1995, 1997, 1999) all gave stage to his brilliance. In recounting this touchstone career, Tom Ratcliffe — Kimani’s agent and director of KIMbia Athletics — said simply, “[Joseph] has to be considered one of the best road racers of all time.”
After dominating from 10k to 15k in 1996 and 1997, this road specialist moved up in distance. In an era when a small handful of men had cracked the one-hour barrier, Kimani ran 60:30 at the 1998 Tokyo Half-Marathon and came back to run 60:04 on the Lisboa course, two months later. At the time, he was holding personal bests of 13:12 and 27:28 on the track — with a 6th-place finish in the 1995 World Championships at 10,000 metres — but it was truly on the pavement where he fully shined.
In addition to being a fierce competitor, Kimani was well-liked among his fellow athletes. Godfrey Kiprotich, fourth place at the World Half Marathon Championships in 1994, was a training-mate of Kimani’s. Godfrey remembered his friend thusly:
My most memorable memory about the late Joseph was his sleeping habits as a way of recovery. Our late colleague would sleep for thirteen to fourteen hours daily — and two to three extra hours of napping! You would easily mistake him for a bed-ridden sick person until he wakes up and starts charming the whole house with his endless laugh.
At the time of his death, Kimani continued to hold the records at Peachtree (27:04), Bellin (27:46), and Utica (42:40) — and for 12k, the world over. He was laid to rest in Eldoret this past week.