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Ereng reminisces on gold medal win in 1988 Olympics

Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05

coach

Ociris Alvarez / The Prospector

Cross-country head coach and track associate head coach Paul Ereng, has trained an NCAA champion, 27 NCAA All-Americans, 73 conference champions and four NCAA regional champions.

   Hard work and self-confidence can take an athlete great distances. For cross country head coach and track and field associate head coach, Paul Ereng, 800-meters was more than enough. Ereng is a native of Eldoret, Kenya, and won the Olympic Gold Medal in the 800 in Seoul in 1988.

At the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, Ereng was already a young promise in the track, but he wanted to do more than just compete, he wanted to excel as an athlete.

“First of all, when I got into college, my intention was to run the 400 meters and maybe the 4 x 400 relay, but when I got there the coach had a different plan and he wanted me to compete in the 800 meters instead,” Ereng said. “I had never competed in the 800 before that, so I decided to go along with what the coach wanted, as long as I could also run in the 400. I wanted to run in two events.”

During his first indoor season, Ereng suffered a hamstring injury while running the 400, which forced him to abandon the competition. His freshman year was the only time he participated in the indoor championships, but with the help of his coaches, trainers and his strong will, Ereng was ready for the outdoor season.

“The hamstring kind of bothered me, every time that I tried to go faster it was an issue, so I had to back down from running in the 400 meters,” Ereng said. “I found out that the 800 meters was a lot easier for me, because I didn’t have to stretch the muscles as much as I was doing in the 400 meters.”

Having to forfeit in his specialty, and having only ran in the 800 for just a couple of months, Ereng was able to excel and eventually obtain the 800 national title at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship.

After the NCAA National Championship, Ereng went back to Kenya to attempt to earn a spot on the Olympic team. During the trials, he was able to finish third to earn the last spot to represent his country in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.

“I remember that for the preliminary rounds in the Olympics, I had to run four back-to-back rounds,” Ereng said.  “I had to be very conservative during the competition to avoid aggravating the injury.”

Once again, the Kenyan was able to manage getting into the final after he improved his own personal record during the semifinals.

The Olympic final of the 800 meters featured the defending champion from the 1984 Olympics, Brazilian Joaquim Cruz and Moroccan Said Aouita, who at the time possessed world records in the 1,500, 2,000 and 5,000 meters.

The Seoul Olympic stadium was the venue and Ereng was set on lane four, with his fellow Kenyan Nixon Kiprotich to his left and the favorite Aouita to his right. As the gun went off, Cruz and Kiprotich took an early lead. Ereng, as he had done in previous rounds, maintained a conservative, but steady pace. With less than 200 meters to the finish line, Ereng was in seventh place, but as he approached the curve he started to increase his speed quickly. In the final 100 meters, Ereng moved up to second place with only Cruz in front of him. Ereng eventually left Cruz behind to take the lead and earn the gold medal.

Ereng’s victory was so unexpected that the announcer confused him with his countrymen Kiprotich. The composure and determination allowed him to win the Olympic medal despite having an injury.

“My intention was not to win the race. At the beginning of the year, I set four goals for myself; the first goal was to win the NCAA Championship, the second goal was to make the Olympic team, my third goal was to reach the Olympic final, be a finalist and my fourth goal was to be a medalist,” Ereng said. “When I went into the final, I knew there was a possibility of getting a medal; my goal was to run a specific time every 200 meters of the race. That was the commitment which allowed me to win.”

Ereng won the gold medal in an event that he had less than a year competing, and to this day, he believes that if he had more experience he could have broken the world record.

 Later on, Ereng also won gold medals in 1989 and 1991 at the Indoor World Championships in Budapest and Seville, respectively.

He graduated from Virginia in 1993 with a degree in religious studies, and is now part of the coaching staff for both cross-country and track for UTEP. He has been part of the staff since 2003 and earned his master’s degree in educational administration in 2010.

Ereng said his objective now is to take promising UTEP athletes and prepare them to succeed.

“When you believe in yourself, when you have the support system and you do what you are asked to do, and when there is good communication with the people you work with, there is always a very high possibility of success,” Ereng said.

Edwin Delgado may be reached at prospector@utep.edu.

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