© Copyright – 2012 – Athletics Illustrated
Famed Italian coach Renato Canova, coaches many of the fastest distance runners in the world and advises many others, most of whom are East African. He began coaching his teammates during the mid-1960s in decathlon and other field events. As an athlete he competed at the national level until he felt (as did the Italian Federation) that he had exhausted his talent. Although he reluctantly left competition, he did have his eyes on a coaching career from the age of 12.
He has coached 3000m Steeplechase world record holder Saif Saeed Shaheen, 10,000 meter runner Nicholas Kemboi who owns a personal best time of 26’30″03. He also coaches Dorcus Inzikuru IAAF World Track and Field Champion in 3000m steeplechase, Moses Mosop who owns the world’s second fastest marathon time (not ratified as it was run during the Boston Marathon – 2:03:06).
Canova also coaches Florence Kiplagat, who is a two-time IAAF World Cross Country champion, Wilson Kiprop 10,000m best time (at altitude) 27’26, Silas Kiplagat, IAAF World Track and Field Silver Medalist, Sylvia Kibet who also earned a silver in the World Championships at the 5000m distance, Imane Merga, 2011 World Cross Country Champion and bronze medalist in 10000m at the 2011 World Track and Field Championships, and Abel Kirui, 2011 World Marathon Champion.
For the upcoming 2012 London Olympic Games, Canova has the following athletes taking part
Moses Mosop – 2:03:06
Abel Kirui – 2:05:04
Wilson Kipsang (that he advises in his programs) – 2:05:49
Mary Keitany (coached directly by Canova’s disciple Gabriele Nicola) – 2:18:37
Marathon Runners directly coached by Canova in Kenya, but are Qatari
Nicholas Kemboi – 2:08:01
Ahmad Hassan – 2:08:36
Essa Rashed – 2:10:52
Silas Kiplagat – 1500m, Canova coaches along with Moses Kiptanui – 3:29.27
Sylvia Kibet – 5000m – 14:31.19
Florence Kiplagat – 10000m – 30:11.53
Lucy Kabuu – 10000m – 30:39.36
Lydia Wafula – 800m – 2:02.84
Thomas Longosiwa – 5000m – 12:51.95
Edwin Soi – 5000m – 12:52.40
Wilson Kiprop – 10000m – 27:26.93
The following are coached locally in Kenya by Charles Ngeno, in Keringet using Canova’s program:
Faith Kipyegon – 1500m – 4:09.48
Geoffrey Kirui – 10000m – 26:55.73
Track runners coached directly by Canova, but are Ugandan:
Docus Inzikuru – 3000m steeplechase – 9:15.04
Janet Achola – 1500m/3000 steeplechase – 4:09.51/10:05.30
Aselefech Mergia – 2:19:31
Dino Sefir – 2:04:50
Yemane Adhane – 2:04:48
Track runners with Canova programs, with and without a local coach, in Ethiopia:
Imane Merga – 5000m/10000m – 12:53.58/26:48.35
Yacob Jarso – 3000m steeplechase – 8:12.13
Abeba Arigawi – 1500m – 4:01.96
Track runners with Canova programs, under national coaches in Ethiopia:
Mekonnen Gebremedhin – 1500m – 3:31.57
Yenew Alamirew – 1500m – 3:35.09
Samuel Tsegay – marathon – 207:28
Christopher Kelsall: Kenya is leaving the owner of the world marathon best time (Patrick Makau) off of the Kenyan Olympic team. What are your thoughts about that?
Renato Canova: I completely agree. The fact Makau is the world record holder doesn’t mean he is the best Kenyan. Last year it was not possible, looking at the results of the big marathons, to decide who was the best. Technically speaking, it was better the competition of Boston or Berlin, run in perfect conditions? And Frankfurt, with only a four second difference in spite of a very bad last km, full of turns and with the arrival in a tunnel?
One easy consideration: Emmanuel Mutai defeated Makau in the London Virgin Marathon by more than one minute, and Geoffrey Mutai defeated him in New York by more than one minute. Can this fact mean that Geoffrey could run more than two minutes faster than Makau? And Mosop arrived together with Geoffrey in Boston, so the world record holder is two minutes slower than other athletes. You understand that everything at that level depends on the shape of the moment, and all the preselected athletes are so close in value that some small problem during the preparation can push the best to become number six, for example.
In this particular case, Makau had physical problems during the preparation, and the same thing happened to Geoffrey Mutai. The time occurring before Olympic is not too long, and if these athletes need to spend long periods of time for recovery it is more rational to put in the team athletes in their full efficiency, that only need to recover their marathon.
CK: Do you feel that Kenyans will continue to run for other countries at an increasing rate in the future?
RC: The Kenyan runners changing citizenship were contacted by the new Federations. This happened with Qatar, having an official negotiation with Kenyan Federation about Stephen Cherono (Saaeed Shaheen), Albert Chepkurui (Ahmed Hassan Abdullah), Richard Yatich (Mubarak Shami), Daniel Kosgei (Essa Rashed), David Nyaga (Daham Bashir), Raymond Katui (Jamal Belal Salem), Nicholas Kemboi and James Kwalia, that maintained the same name.
Instead, there was no official negotiation in the change of citizenship between Kenya and Bahrain for many athletes, the same now with Turkey.
The IAAF changed the rules, but, according to any international law, everybody can be allowed to change citizenship, and the fact depends on the rules of the new country only.
For example, in Italy the requirement is to be resident from 10 years, and there are no exceptions. In Qatar, if the Emir wants, you can change in one hour, or you can be resident from 30 years without having any chances for becoming Qatari.
So, the real question is: How many countries, having the possibility to support Kenyan athletes, can be interested, in the future, to give new citizenships? In Qatar there were several problems. Don’t forget that in Kenya doesn’t exist the possibility to have the double citizenship, also if the new Constitution has this point inside (but there is not yet the law giving rules for this situation). So, at the moment, for Qatar the Kenyan-Qatari athletes are Kenyan citizens, and for Kenya are Qatari. This means a lot of problems for the athletes, when they are out of the National Team: they can go home in Kenya with a Touristic Visa lasting three months only, can’t have any property, can’t have visas (like Schengen or US) in Kenya, and, when their Qatari passport expires, can’t have a new passport if there is not the Olympic Committee asking for a new document.
So, the reality is that the best athletes don’t have any advantage in changing citizenship, especially if Marathon runners. Personally, I don’t think we can see many changes in the future.
CK: Do you see a potential void coming soon in the 10,000m distance as top African athletes move directly to the marathon at a young age now more than they used to? Do you think the top times will not be well into the 26-minute because of this?
RC: The fact track is losing economic strength is very clear. The winner of a meeting in Diamond League receives 10,000 USD, the fourth place receives 3,000, and maybe has to run 5000m in 12’55”. The case of Leonard Komon in Diamond League (Oslo 2010) is emblematic: 9th position with 12’59”, $200 USD of prize, and $500 USD of debt for his ticket (the reimbursement is $700 USD for all the athletes coming from Africa, but the real price was $1,200), so he had to pay $300 USD for running 12’59”… If you are Komon, what next ? Running 10k in NY in the Spring 2011, he won 45,000 USD…
However, the main reason because times in 10000m were no more good like in the past is that this event practically disappeared from big meetings, and remaining in the championships only, became a tactical race, with everybody looking at their position, not at time.
Last year, finally, in Eugene and Brussels we had again two competitions for running fast, and immediately you could see the results. Personally, I had several athletes under 27’ in my career (Nicholas Kemboi 26’30”, Ahmed Hassan 26’38”, Imane Merga 26’48”, Moses Mosop 26’49”, Mark Bett and John Korir 26’52”, Geoffrey Kirui 26’55”), and I know if there were more competitions on the distance their PB could be much better. For this reason, I think the world record is not really at the same level of the world record for the 5000m: the best Bekele could run was very close to 26’, because with their type of preparation it’s possible to run at the double of the PB in 5000 plus 40 seconds (Nicholas Kemboi: 13’01”/26’30” = 28” ; John Korir : 13’09”/26’52” = 34” ; Geoffrey Kirui : 13’18”/26’55” = 19” ; Geoffrey Kipsang, World CC Junior Champion: 13’12”/27’06” = 42”; Ahmed Hassan: 12’56”/26’38” = 46”) if you are a real specialist, so Kenenisa Bekele had the possibility to run around 26’.
CK: If so, is this an opportunity for the athletes that are finishing close to 27-minutes have a chance to improve at that distance because they can compete at the current top level?
RC: Of course, the fact the best African, not supported by their federations and with contracts with the companies very much less important than American or European runners (the ratio is 1:4 or less, so the best specialist in the world, if Kenyan or Ethiopian, Kenenisa apart, doesn’t receive more than $60,000 USD-per-year, while if the athlete is from the US payment could go over $500,000 USD) move to marathon for economic reasons, can give more opportunities to the other runners, that don’t have the same problems of surviving. The fact is that it’s very difficult to find some strong athlete deciding to specifically prepare the distance, and, on the contrary of what many people think, the preparation for 10000m is quite different from the one for 5000m.
CK: Your athlete Moses Mosop, with his personal best of 2:05:03 (or 2:03:06 Boston) obviously is one of the favourites for the London Olympic Games. Does the London course suit him?
RC: The London marathon course is a circuit, with a lot of turns requiring great ability in in the athlete being able to hanging on to the frequency of the action, and probably in hot weather. These are situations that are good for Moses (such as for Abel and Wilson), not the best, instead, for the Moses of Chicago and Rotterdam. The best performance from Moses was the one where he bettered the world record of 30,000m on the track in Eugene, 44 days after running 2:03:06 in Boston. In that attempt, he ran between 17,600m and 18,400m two laps in 61” + 65” for putting another athlete behind, because he was mentally disturbed to have somebody with him, showing incredible easiness in changing pace, and after this he didn’t suffer, going back to his normal pace of 2’51” per km.
Moses moved at the beginning of January from Iten to Ngong, for personal reasons, but that situation was not the best for his training. I went from Eldoret to Ngong 12 times during the first three months of preparation, and always I found a lot of wind and very hot conditions. For this reason, his shape in Rotterdam was not the best, and the bad weather (Rotterdam was terribly windy this year) reduced his motivation, since it was clear it was not possible to attack the world record. However, he didn’t win the race for a big tactical mistake. I think all the Kenyans, after last year, went to underrate Ethiopians. For that reason, Moses spoke, before the race, with Sammy Kitwara and Peter Kirui, agreeing to stay together until 32k, and after everybody could go for his race. At 25k, Kitwara lost contact because of calf problems, and Moses waited for him, losing seven seconds during the next one km. Yemane Adhane, when he saw Moses 30m ahead, spoke with Getu Feleke and they pushed the pace-maker, increasing the speed. Moses continued to wait for Sammy (Peter Kirui was already out) and accumulated other 12 seconds of gap (19 in two kms). When he realized Sammy couldn’t come, Moses started running fast again, but, when at 30k his pacer stopped, he remained against wind alone, while Adhane and Feleke had still the pacer for other two kms. So, Moses couldn’t close the gap, and at 41 km there were the same 20 seconds of difference, reduced to 14 in the last 1195m, when it was too late.
In any case, also if Moses was not at his top (the best Moses could do was close the gap in two km), without that tactical mistake he could be the winner. And, if he can run 2:05:03 when the shape is not the best, with tactical mistake, we can hope for something important in London if everything can work in good way.
Now, already he is back in Eldoret, and from now on I can follow directly every day all the athletes of the Kenyan team, all in Iten or Eldoret, in order to avoid problems that, of course, we have to face (now the heavy rain season started).
CK: Will Mosop be able to run 2:02 on the right day? Would that take a rolling course like Boston or a flat course like Rotterdam?
RC: Of course Mosop can run under 2:03 when his shape is the best and the conditions are perfect. He doesn’t need any advantage: needs only not to have some disadvantage!
Moses runs well in marathons that are a little bit hilly, like Geoffrey Mutai. Some hills can help the athletes with their attitude in changing the technical action, and can enhance the concentration because of the variations of the stimuli. Long up-hills are a damage for the performance, short up-hills instead require an increase of acceleration lasting few seconds only, and immediately after, in the downhill, it’s possible to relax maintaining high speed.
But also Abel and Wilson can take advantage from this situation, like most Kenyans are used to training on hilly courses. Look at the profile of the courses where Leonard Komon bettered the WR of 10k and 15k (called Seven Hills), and you can understand why running on track frequently can be slower than running an exact distance on road.
CK: How do you feel about the IAAF not recognizing the Boston course for world records?
RC: I was not surprised last year. There are rules that are very clear, that everybody knows. The consideration about how much a race can be aided is always something subjective, and sometimes the rules can damage some competition. For example, the Great North Run, Half Marathon in Newcastle, England has the same situation as Boston: the difference in elevation between the start and finish is too big, but there is no advantage, because all the gap is in 300m, very steep descent, that penalizes the athletes instead giving some advantage. But that’s the rule…
CK: So in a situation where all the drop is in a short space like 300m, do you think the rules do not apply appropriately?
RC: I think it’s very difficult to have exceptions, connected with the real difficulty of every course. I consider very much what is more unfair is the fact that, about women, the world record of the past obtained in mixed races can be valid, but from now can be beaten in competitions for women only. This is a big stupidity. To say that mixed races are not allowed on the track is a stupid point, because we speak about two different situations, and what we have to do is only to guarantee the same conditions for all the women running road races. Athletics is not one sport, but a combination of several disciplines, each one with different rules, and the exercise to compare one with another is a waste of time.
CK: For example?
RC: For example, there is the limit of 2 m/s tailwind in sprint events, and long and triple jump, for having the approval of a legal result; but a strong wind against can strongly aid discus and javelin throwers, but there is no rule about it: why? In the case of decathlon, the limit of the favourable wind is not 2 m/s, but 4 m/s, and the athletes are not disqualified after one false start, but have a second chance. So, if for example Bolt goes to better his world record during the 100m of a decathlon, after having a first false start, the record is ok or not? You understand there are different rules for every specialism, so there is no problem in considering the WR for women the best ever run on the distance, in any condition, also because 99% of road races have the same start for men and women. But what is not possible to accept is that IAAF can consider valid the record with the old format, and now is no more possible to have the same situation… This is not only a technical stupidity, but something against any international law, because the point of “par condicio” is cancelled in unfair way.
CK: Are you doing anything very specific with Mosop’s training to prepare for the type of course that London is providing?
RC: We try to increase the agility, and we need more speed on track. On the other side, we plan to go for long runs not so early in the morning, but when is more hot, for having adaptation in case of high temperature, this not only with Moses, but with Abel and Wilson, too.
CK: What exercises do you feel increase agility, hills I suppose?
RC: We must use a lot of short sprints uphill, a lot of short variations of speed (on track and road), and specific drills with changes of direction. The athletes need to be able to reduce the length of their strides increasing the frequency, and not only in one direction. I think we go to use some exercise normally used for Soccer and Football players.
CK: A 27-year-old world-class Kenyan’s blood lactate levels: does it stay high for a much shorter period of time than your 2:10 marathoner? (if so, then the athlete would be able to run harder again, sooner)?
RC: It’s exactly the opposite. Kenyan and Ethiopian top runners are able to run the full marathon at a blood lactate level very much higher than European or American, so they have the ability to run with high lactate for long time. This depends on the quality of the athletes, but mainly on their new type of training, including many sessions of intervals over the traditional Lactic Threshold. Ten years ago I considered lactic workouts as enemies for a marathon runner, now I use them in order to teach their body to use a part of lactate as new source of energy. Of course, at the same time we need to stimulate the body in quickly removing the produced lactate. Synthetically we need to use training that is able to produce more lactate, and at the same time to stimulate the velocity of removing it. For this situation, we need to use recovery at high speed, specifically variations of speed on long distances. For example, for an athlete running under 2:05, or under 2:20 women, we use 24/26 km alternating km in 2:55/3:15 or 3:15/3:35, in altitude (consider the difference of about three seconds per km from 2,400m and sea level, plus other three seconds for training shoes on rough roads compared with tarmac with racing shoes), and you can see how the average of these workouts is about the marathon pace we use in the competition.
CK: Did you make a conscious decision to include more time spent at LT because of new information coming out at that time that lactic acid was discovered to be a source of energy, rather than just a waste product?
RC: The fact lactic acid was discovered to be a source of energy is not something new, because already 40 years ago physiologists studying athletes knew this fact. The real problem is in the balance between the advantages (under the point of view of energy) that lactate can give, and disadvantages, connected with a higher level of saturation in the muscle fibers. If we are able to reach a high intensity in the extension, we can change the permeability of the membrane, increasing the velocity to remove lactate. So, more lactate doesn’t remain in the muscles fibers, but a part of it can be used as energy. That’s the reason because I speak of “Turbo Diesel” compared with the old system of pure “Diesel”. So, of course my decision was conscious, but I had the opportunity to change the level of the proposed workouts after looking at the results of this new system. Now, the best African athletes can run a half-marathon around 6 mml of lactate, and the full marathon about 4 mml, and this is something the traditional physiology didn’t consider possible.
CK: When you first started coaching, what was the defining motivation for you to decide to become a coach?
RC: I decided to become a coach when I was 12-years-old, looking at a TV match between Italy, France and Spain. I had a stroke of lightning, and this passion was my guide for all my life. I have to consider myself a very lucky person, because I put together passion, dreams and profession. I started my official coaching in 1965, when I was still an athlete. My first athlete in Italian National Team was my teammate, Giorgio Zanfini, who was selected for the World Cross Country Championships (at that time, Grand Prix of Nations, not yet World Championships). Having already several young athletes in the junior national team, the Italian Federation asked me to quit competing to become a national coach, but I had the dream to represent Italy in one International competition, and wanted to continue as an athlete. In 1969/70, it was possible to go in the Italian National Team in decathlon with something more than 6,000 points, since the event was very weak, and I had a PB of 5,966 points. So, I trained very hard during that winter, but in April 1970 the federation signed for me the renunciation to be an athlete, because they wanted me as coach. I was very angry, but of course they had reason…
I have PB in all the athletics events. I was a normal athlete, not very strong, but with the will to try every event, from 100m (11.9) to the marathon (2:53:22) from 110 HS (16.3) to Long Jump (6.62), from Shot Put (…9,99 !) to Hammer Throw (22.35 !). Of course, with this background, I became in Italy the head coach for Multiple Events from 1975 until 1985, also I continued to coach runners in my Club (Fiat IVECO).
My motivation was to help athletes to reach their best. I think Athletics has great educational values, because there is the possibility to have a measure of yourself. I strongly believe in these values, and that’s the reason because I can’t accept the idea of doping: not because you become a cheater with other athletes, but because you go to cheat yourself.
The most important motivation I have now is to understand the real limits of every athlete, and to try to create the best conditions in order to reach the goals that their talent can allow. So, for me the satisfaction to beat a world record with a strong athlete as Shaheen, or to guide an athlete to run 2:10 in marathon if his talent is not very good, is the same, when I can see the athlete at the level I thought possible before starting to coach him.
CK: You work primarily with African athletes. Would you work with non-Africans in the future? What do you look for in an athlete that motivates you to coach him or her? (other than the obvious talent).
RC: I worked with non Africans in the past, and not only Italian. I was the Technical Scientific Director of Italian Federation until 2002, when I resigned because I didn’t see passion and knowledge in the new members of the federation, but only arrogance and presumption, and I could not work in these conditions. As coach, I coached Sergey Lebid, the French-Moroccan Rakiya Maraoui (from 37’ in 10000m to 31’56” and 2:28 in Marathon), and many Moroccans in Italy. But the motivation of Africans in running is higher than in Italy. One of the problems we have in Europe is the way of coaching, too much pseudo-scientific, but really very far from what athletes need. Sometimes I speak with a new young coach, who has a young athlete of medium level, and he seems to know everything, instead doing a lot of stupidities. It seems that now there is no more the will to discuss together, in order to grow as experience using the experiences of the other coaches too. Now everybody thinks to have some secret in training, and I can’t accept the idea we don’t share what we know with other coaches. Maybe that the world of today changed too much, for a man now 67…
CK: Makau is self-coached. Do you know his program well? Any chance you may be able to coach him in the future?
RC: I don’t know very much about Makau’s program. I know very well how Geoffrey Mutai and the best runners in Rift Valley train, because there is a good circulation of technical concepts, the most part coming from myself at the beginning of 2000. Around Iten and Eldoret, we meet frequently, and with many athletes we discuss training (so, when you read “self-coached”, understand there is some methodology behind it). But Makau lives and trains in the Masai Area, in Ngong and, for what I know after the experience of this winter with Moses, I don’t think is the best area for training. In any case, I’m always ready to coach athletes asking to be followed by myself, directly or through another coach, like now the case of the most part of Ethiopians marathoners.
CK: You mentioned drugs. There seems to be so much suspicion from the public with many athletes and that suspicion seems to be pervasive through all countries. Do you feel that drugs are still a major issue in endurance sports?
RC: Also if I know there are drugs able to increase the ability to transport oxygen, I continue to think these drugs, like EPO or CERA, can’t work with the top African athletes. I don’t have any proof about this, but I have kinds of proofs that people looking at the effects of doping don’t have. The proof I have is very simple: I have many athletes between the best in the World, with some world record holders, AND THEY ARE COMPLETELY CLEAN. I can put my hands on fire they are clean. NOT ONE OF THEM ASKED ME DURING THEIR CAREER FOR ANY SUPPORT, LEGAL TOO. It was not part of their mentality to look for any type of aid. The top African athletes have an incredible confidence in their mental and physical ability, knowing their results depend on themselves only. The most part of these athletes, when not able to have a good result, don’t look for any excuse, simply accept the idea to be defeated by somebody else stronger in the race. If you believe you can run your best only using drugs, and you don’t want to use, you create a big limit to your motivation, and never can reach results connected with your real talent.
I remember, years ago, a pseudo-scientific article speaking about the advantages of using EPO in a competition of middle distance. In that article, several doctors spoke about 8” in 3000m and steeple, between 15” and 25” in 5000m, between 40” and 1’10” in 10000m. I explained I have seven athletes able running between 26’30” and 26’55” in the last eight years, and I know they are totally clean. So, do you think I can suppose they could run under 27’ taking EPO ? And, if I have several athletes at that level, who I know are weaker than Bekele, why I have to think he needs some drug for running 26’17”?
The reality is something different. Athletes of this level, after three to four months of strong aerobic training (aerobic with high intensity, not easy run), can increase their total volume of blood percentage by 20-25%. This means to have, in some case, one and half liter of blood MORE in their cardiovascular apparatus.
The real problem is the capacity of the “container”. If the athlete has a great elasticity in his tissues, there is no problem. In other case, this increase can’t happen, and these are the cases where EPO can work (but all the top are in the first case).
Another point many people don’t understand is the difference between STIMULI and ADAPTATION, when we speak of training in altitude. If you are an athlete living at sea level, the hypoxia you find at 7,000 feet provokes a STIMULUS, and the normal answer is to increase the ability in producing erythrocytes. In this case, after some time, you can see an increase of the hematocrit depending of the increased number of red cells. But in the case of athletes living in altitude, there is not this effect; on the contrary, THERE IS ADAPTATION. And for adapting to this situation, the body increase the volume of the cells, not their number. So, we can say that altitude is a factor of improvement, but works in different way, depending on the duration of the stay.
CK: I understand that there is some new version of EPO. Or a new drug that works like EPO. Is it not yet detectable by WADA? (regardless) is WADA even close to keeping up with the issue?
RC: Sorry, but I don’t know anything about new drugs. What I know is that every week, in Kenya, we have no less than ten tests from WADA or IAAF anti-doping agency, also because the number of Kenyans in top-30 in the world is very, very high. What I can say is that I’m happy if the controls become very tough, but I need the anti-doping people responsible to respect the athletes in different way. For example, last year, before London Marathon, they arrived the night before the race for testing Viktor Roethlin, remaining in his room until 1:30 in the night. Also this year, in Rotterdam, they arrived at 5:00 o’clock in the morning, going to wake some athletes for having the test in the early morning. This behavior is not correct: the athletes are all in the same hotel, are there for competing, nobody escapes, and remain their all the day. What I don’t like for the most part of doctors involving in anti-doping is that they have a behavior like every athlete can be guilty, and athletes are disturbed by their suspicious behavior. Different the case of the doctors managing tests AFTER the competition: normally they are more friendly, and the athletes don’t get annoyed.
I’m for a different education about the values of athletics. I’m for preventing doping, and this is possible when the athletes find in their activity moral values, not when they have only to fear some disqualification. I’m the first against doping, because I don’t want the athletes go to cheat themselves, but I can’t agree with the system used. I need to teach young people that robbing a bank is something ethically wrong because you don’t respect other people, not because you can be arrested after the fact. I believe in education, not in repression, as first step of a clean sport and a clean way of life.