Our correspondent from Eldoret, Kenya writes about a guy he saw training, Stephan Kiprotich, and the Olympic marathon. In his piece he exhibits some of the introspection needed to understand why the Kenyan men had so many challenges in London.
Stephen Kiprotich, Uganda, gold medal, 2012 London Olympic marathon,
photo by PhotoRun.net
IS IT THE TRAINING ENVIRONMENT AFTER ALL?
Asbel Kirui, silver, 2012 London Olympic Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net
After reading a post in Yahoo Sports News this morning that the men set to run the
Olympic marathon today were the best runners ever assembled, I expected a tough
competition for the Kenyan team, more so from the Ethiopians whose team consisted
entirely of sub 2hrs 5 minutes. But to my surprise, the real competition actually
came from someone whom I have always been crossing paths with here on my morning runs,
it was only today that I learned his name and that he runs for a neighboring country.
I am talking of none other than the now reigning Olympic Marathon Champion, Stephen
Kiprotich of Uganda. He has been training most of the year here at Kaptagat alongside
Emanuel Mutai who was placed in the 17th position.
The loss to the Ugandan did not seem to upset the audience in the hall that I have been
frequenting lately to watch these Olympic events. It was as though their expectations
had already been lowered enough by the earlier results in which they had been having
so much hopes only to be stashed, not once, but a number of times. The fact that a
Ugandan with a Kenyan name won was more favorable than when someone else had won.
Wilson Kipsang, bronze medal, 2012 London Marathon,
photo by PhotoRun.net
It wasn’t all that exciting watching the race until Wilson Kipsang pulled ahead after
crossing the 10km mark, catching up with Franck Almeida of Brazil who seemed to have,
knowingly or unknowingly, been a pace maker for the race to that point. Looking at
the watch, they had crossed the mark in over 30 minutes and so it appeared the
world record was safe and out of question, but the Olympic record was still a
possibility. Kipsang continued opening the gap till he was over a hundred meters
ahead of the chasing pack that still consisted of all the pre-race favorites:
Two Kenyans, the Ugandan and three Ethiopians, among others.
At around 25km, a wave of panic and shock spread across the audience in the
room when Kipsang seemed to stop all of a sudden, then jogged slightly back
to pick his drink which he had almost missed. This may have affected his
rhythm because the chasing pack which by then consisted of Kiprotich of
Uganda, Abshero of Ethiopia, who never finished the race and Kirui of
Kenya, began to close up on him soon after that. The Ethiopian began
to falter a few meters behind and the three athletes now in the lead
seemed to communicate together and reached a consensus on the right
pace to use as they ran parallel to each other. I can only guess the l
anguage they were using!
Their union lasted only until they were at 35km and it became each man for himself;
and God for them all. Kipsang started the surge and Kirui followed closely behind,
the Ugandan appearing as though he was about to lag, but not leaving a clear gap.
At 37km, the Ugandan took the two Kenyans by surprise in overtaking them and beginning
to create a gap. Kirui struggled to react, but appeared to have reached his maximum
ability and was just longing for the race to end while still in the same position.
It was the same for Kipsang, in third position.
The Ugandan began to celebrate on reaching the 40km mark. A man in the hall observed
that there was nothing that could ever be done to someone who was so sure of winning
while just two kilometers away from the finish. At the homestretch, Kiprotich could
no longer conceal his smiles. He snatched the Ugandan flag from one of the fans
cheering besides the route and began to raise it about 50 meters from the tape as
he came to cross the finish in a time of 2hrs, 8 minutes and 25 seconds. The two
Kenyans followed to win the other two remaining medals.
As it came to the close of the Games, I know there are many lessons runners as well
as fans have learned, and one of them is that Kenyans are beatable. Perhaps, it was
only the training environment after all that used to put them ahead of the rest.
Mo Farah of Great Britain came and trained here in Kenya at Iten and ended up winning
two gold medals. Now, the same has happened with the Ugandan.
In my opinion, I believe that Kenyan athletes have now seen the level of competition
in the long distance running rising to a different level and will now be prepared
enough in the coming championships.
However, many cannot help but ask themselves the question: Is this the beginning
of the end of Kenya’s dominance in long distance running? To me, I would say that
it is just but the beginning of a new era of serious training, good preparations
and gripping competitions during major championships.
Meb Keflezighi, fourth place, 2012 London Marathon,
photo by PhotoRun.net