by Bret Bloomquist
Saruni On Familiar Path
Michael Saruni lacks the element of surprise—that out-ofnowhere factor that fellow Kenyan Emmanuel Korir brought to the boards 12 months ago—but so much else seems so familiar.
Once again a UTEP underclass halfmiler, one fairly new to a big spotlight, one being trained by Paul Ereng, is throwing out a set of markers that are becoming stunning.
Last year, Korir announced his arrival with an oversizedtrack 1:46.50 at Vanderbilt that presaged a pair of NCAA 800 titles and a contract with Nike.
This year, the sophomore Saruni topped him with a 1:45.92 opener at Vandy.
Korir’s second foray in ’17 was a WR 600 off a 1:14.97 in Albuquerque. Saruni’s second race this year was a WR 1:14.79 in Albuquerque (T&FN, January).
“Same thing; it looks like he’s following the same script Emmanuel was following last year,” UTEP head Mike Laaksonen says.
“He’s opened up on a mission, he wants to break every one of Emmanuel’s records and take it one step higher.”
Actually, his still-training partner, still-UTEP classmate Korir is not the only person he’s chasing.
For his third race of the season, Saruni ran a 1:45.19 in Lubbock that stands as the No. 2 collegiate time ever, behind only coach Ereng’s 1:44.84 from ’89 with Virginia.
Ereng’s record will last “as long as it lasts; as soon as he gets a good race the record will come back home, so that’s good,” the coach says. “But I always tell him, ‘Don’t chase times, let the times come. Stay relaxed, don’t worry about it, just run your race.’ ”
“I don’t look at records,” the 22-year-old Saruni says. “Right now I don’t know what to expect. I’ll see where my training takes me and hope for the best. I’m training every day just to win the NCs. I’m doing what my body tells me to do, using my talents the way they are supposed to be used.”
A big difference between Saruni and Korir is that Saruni brings a history into the season, and a rather strange one at that.
Saruni—with PRs of 45.69 & 1:45.82—also had an impressive frosh year; it just got overshadowed, first by Korir, then by some unfortunate incidents.
After getting DQed at the NCAA Indoor, he put himself in position to challenge Korir outdoors before getting tangled with his teammate with 200 to go just as both had charged from last to first.
He later took 3rd at the Kenyan WC Trials, got caught up in some Byzantine federation politics and by the time that was cleared up it was too late for him to get a visa to compete in London.
The whole mess at the NCAA outdoors still baffles him.
“I was right there, then I was on the floor, everyone was passing me,” Saruni says. “It made me more hungry, made we want to go for it one more time. I never watched it. I tried to google it one time but I couldn’t find it. [It hurt] for a short while, but I got over it. I still can’t believe it, but I had to let it go.”
Says Ereng: “He’s matured; now he’s more in control, control of what he wants to do.”
The comparisons with Korir only go so far. A 3:46.15 performer at altitude, Saruni is a conference champion in the 1500—Ereng thinks he has sub-3:35 potential in that race—and while he doesn’t yet have the sub-45 sprint speed of Korir, he isn’t far behind that.
Saruni “has the same tools,” Ereng says. “He might be able to run 44 in the 400, 1:43 in the 800. Emmanuel has the speed, but with Michael, you don’t often see a guy who can run that fast in the 15 run 45. Usually they run 47, 48. I think he can run a super 15, he’s just never focused on the 15.”
He also has a great training partner in Korir.
“That helps a lot; I don’t know who else could spar with him,” Laaksonen says. “Emmanuel keeps him honest, they compete at every practice.”
And on the weekends, Saruni competes against times from both Korir and Ereng, even if he isn’t focused on them during the race.
The 600 record “was a great feeling, I didn’t expect that,” Saruni says. “Honestly I was not prepared for that race, but something got into me and man, it was something else.”
It’s all happening again.