Hellen Obiri Profile: The Ex Netball Player With An Acclaimed Athletics Career

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Hellen Obiri [Photo|Pace Sports Management]

Hellen Obiri is a celebrated long distance athlete whose career has been illustrious. In the 2022 World Championship held in Oregon, Obiri handed Kenya a silver medal in the 10000m race in an electrifying last minute dash that saw world record holder Letesenbet Gidey emerge victorious.

But before Obiri settled on a serious athletic career, she had at one time resolved to play netball despite cutting her teeth in the tracks during high school. She began her career as a pacesetter to veteran athlete Vivian Cheruiyot. In this article, WoK takes a look at Hellen Obiri’s decorated career.

Background and family 

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Obiri was born in 1989 in Kisii County. Her father, Isaac Obure played a critical role in influencing her to pursue athletics. He would occasionally send her on distant chores and was fascinated at her swiftness and speed in execution of the various duties. Obure would then reward her with running shoes. During various interschool athletic competitions, Mr Obure was always present to cheer her.

In my family, we had no athlete but my father used to encourage me to run though I didn’t know which distance was favorable for me,” the soft-spoken athlete says.

Besides, her husband has been a strong pillar in supporting Obiri especially emotionally. Tom Nyaundi says he understands Obiri much more because he spends time with her.

“As a husband, I’m the best guy to be the manager because I always have time with her, I know her, so I understand whatever weaknesses she has and how to correct,” Nyaundi said in a past interview.

The couple is blessed with a 7 year old daughter named Tania. According to Obiri, she worked extra hard after the 2015 maternity break to shed off the pounds she had added because she then had someone dependant on her.

“When you become a mother, you need to work extra hard because you have somebody who looks up to you,” says Obiri.

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Education

Obiri schooled at Ikionga Primary School in Kisii County where she represented the school in various athletics competitions such as 200m, 400m and walking race. She joined Riruta High School and continued sharpening her career.

Obiri then enrolled at the Eldoret’s Kenya Defense Forces Recruit Training School situated in Soy Constituency. She passed out in 2009.

Career 

Obiri (second left) in the recent 10000m race in Oregon that was won by Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia. [Photo|Courtesy]

The two time Olympic 5000m silver medalist changed shift and began playing netball after KDF recruitment. For one year, she added weight and this concerned then KDF coach Sam Maina who had seen a promising future in Obiri. He approached her and convinced her to fit the spike shoes once again.

I simply failed to understand why Obiri would dump athletics when she had the talent..why she settled for netball has always amazed me to date,” said Maina as captured by Nation.Africa.

In 2011, Obiri began her career through the KDF Cross Country Championships where she finished fifth. Then good tidings came her way after she landed a professional management firm called Pace Sports Management. She then transferred to Kaptagat training camp in Elgeyo Marakwet where she rubbed shoulders with established athletes.

She was paired with Vivian Cheruiyot who was by then at the pinnacle of her career. But Obiri was undaunted and remained committed to training for a better future. That same year, Obiri won bronze in the 1500m race at the World Military Games in Brazil.

Read also: Emmanuel Wanyonyi: The Former Herdsboy Now Taking Over Rudisha’s Spot As New 800M King

She served as a pacesetter to Vivian Cheruiyot in the 5000m race during the Shanghai leg of the Diamond League where the latter won in a time of 14:31.92.

Despite Obiri winning in the national 1500m trials, officials left her name out of the 2011 Daegu World Championships because she was considered a greenhorn with little experience. The matter occasioned an outcry which secured Obiri’s ticket to Daegu. But it was a race to forget; she was the only Kenyan who qualified to the finals but sadly slipped and fell during the race and finished 10th.

In 2012 she won the World Indoor Championships in 3000m and went on to qualify for the Olympics in 1500m where was frustrated after finishing eighth. She almost quit athletics as the matter weighed down on her. But in 2013, Obiri won bronze in the 1500m World Championships in Moscow.

The following year, she claimed silver in the 3000m World Indoor Championships held in Poland. Obiri is a two time Olympic silver champion in the 5000m race (2016 and 2020). In 2017, Obiri’s career was simply transcendent as she won in the 5000m thrice in Shanghai, Rome and claimed a world title in London after clocking an impressive 14:18.37 minutes. In 2019, she won gold in 5000m World Championships in Doha.

In July 2022, Obiri emerged second in the Oregon World Championships in the 10000m race which was won by Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia. The latter appeared to run out of gas as Obiri pursued her to the tape. Gidey clinched gold in a time of 30:09.94 minutes against Obiri’s 30:10.02 minutes. Kenyans officials launched an appeal after it seemed that  Obiri had been elbowed by Gidey on the finish line. However an athletic jury dismissed the appeal, saying that Gidey was already ahead of Obiri and deserved the gold medal.


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