Paul Chelimo Signs with Kiprun, Considering Running 2024 US Olympic Marathon Trials
By Jonathan Gault
March 23, 2023
Two-time Olympic 5,000-meter medalist Paul Chelimo has signed with French brand Kiprun and will race in its shoes at the Berlin Half Marathon on April 2. Chelimo, 32, had been sponsored by Nike from 2018-2022.
“A lot of [brands] wanted Paul,” agent Riad Ouled, who began representing Chelimo a few weeks ago after Chelimo left Jos Hermens‘ Global Sports Communication, told LetsRun.com. “He had offers from Asics, from On, and Nike wanted to renew him. But the project from Kiprun touched something in him.”
Update: A source informed LetsRun that Chelimo did not receive an offer from On. When asked for clarification, Ouled said On had discussed signing Chelimo but did not make an official contract offer.
Until now, Kiprun has had a limited presence in the professional running scene, though it does sponsor a few pros, including Yoann Kowal, the 2014 European champion in the steeplechase for France, Viola Chepngeno of Kenya (66:48 half marathoner), and 2:30 marathoner Méline Rollin of France. Kiprun has powerful backing, however — it is the in-house running brand of French sporting goods retailer Decathlon. While Decathlon closed its last two US locations in 2022, it still offers online sales in the US and remains a powerful global company, bringing in $15 billion in revenue in 2021.
Chelimo represents Kiprun’s biggest signing yet and is part of a push they are making to become more involved in the elite side of the sport. Later this spring, the brand will launch the Kiprun 42 House, a training group for up-and-and coming Kenyan athletes in Iten headed by coach Ben Maiyo. While Ouled said he is not employed by Kiprun, he represents the athletes who will be part of the 42 House and has helped establish the team. Chelimo, who is currently training in Iten, will not be part of the group (he will remain based in Colorado Springs and coached by Scott Simmons), but Ouled said the project appealed to Chelimo (he is from Iten originally), as did his ability to have input on Kiprun’s shoes.
“He was very interested by that and giving feedback,” Ouled said. “…All of the brands offered him a lot of money, but Kiprun gave him consideration and said okay, we want to do shoes as you expect as a good runner. And he liked that.”
In the age of supershoes, any athlete who departs an established brand like Nike for an upstart like Kiprun is gambling that their footwear will be good enough to keep them on a level playing field. But Ouled said he and Chelimo are confident in Kiprun’s shoes and the brand’s ability to quickly incorporate individualized changes into their products because Kiprun makes its shoes at the Decathlon headquarters in Villeneuve D’Ascq, near Lille in northern France.
“Basically, they have their own factory inside their headquarters,” Ouled said. “They don’t have to go, like all the other brands, in China or anything like that to build their shoes. They can make in a couple weeks a shoe that are designed by Paul — when he says okay, I want it more like that or more responding, less cushioning here…We are very confident because the last one that he tried, he loved them.”
Meanwhile, by signing Chelimo, Kiprun now has a top athlete to lead its push into pro running. Ouled could not provide full details on Chelimo’s contract but said he will be with Kiprun through at least the 2028 Olympics, when Chelimo will be 37 years old.
Chelimo’s future plans: a half marathon, a return to Worlds, and maybe the Olympic Marathon Trials?
Chelimo is coming off the worst season of his professional career. After making every World/Olympic team from 2016 through 2021 and winning three medals in that span, Chelimo raced just four times on the track in 2022 and finished 11th at USAs in the 5,000 meters — more than 20 seconds back of winner Grant Fisher. With Fisher and fellow sub-13:00 men Woody Kincaid and Joe Klecker as competition, the 5,000 and 10,000 are incredibly competitive in the United States right now. But Chelimo is less than two years removed from defeating Fisher and Kincaid to win the 5,000 at the 2021 Olympic Trials, and Ouled says Chelimo fully intends on making the US team for this summer’s World Championships in Budapest in either the 5,000 or 10,000 meters.
Before that, however, Chelimo will run just the second half marathon of his life in Berlin on April 2 (he ran 62:19 in his debut at the 2019 NYC Half). Ouled said Chelimo’s recent training in Kenya has gone well and that he is in shape to run fast in Berlin.
“He can break the hour [in Berlin],” Ouled said. “I’m confident with that. I saw some workouts over in Iten.”
After the World Championships, Chelimo will make a decision about what path to follow moving forward. It’s possible he could run the half marathon at the World Road Running Championships (formerly the World Half) in Latvia this fall and then debut at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in February 2024. Or, if this season goes well, Chelimo could try to make his third Olympic team on the track. Whichever option he pursues, he will do it with Kiprun shoes on his feet.