Cathal Dennehy, one of our sports’ finest writers, wrote this piece for @runblogrun on Monday, considering the fine performance of Geoffrey Kamworor in the city of New York on November 5, 2017.
Five years ago, it was clear this day was coming. It was September 2012, and at the Berlin Marathon Kenyan marathon heavyweights Geoffrey Mutai and Dennis Kimetto were duking it out for the win – two marathon stars who were very much the finished product.
But two minutes back the road, the future of the event was running towards the finish, a 19-year-old chugging along on his marathon debut to clock 2:06:12 and finish third: Geoffrey Kamworor.
In the years that followed that youngster developed into a champion, taking two wins at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships and two wins at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Over 10,000m he found only Mo Farah too good in 2015 – as everyone else did over a six-year span – but despite all that success Kamworor had yet to fulfil the marathon promise he showed in Berlin.
Until, that is, Sunday morning in New York, when he truly arrived and claimed victory in 2:10:53, over former world record holder Wilson Kipsang, who ran 2:10:56.
The killer blow was inflicted in the 25th mile, Kamworor shredding his way through it in 4:31 as he moved over the rolling hills of Central Park, which carried him seven seconds clear of Kipsang.
“I knew I made a decisive move and I never thought of him coming,” Kamworor said today, back at the scene of his greatest triumph. “I never knew he was coming until I heard people shouting in the last stages, then I looked back, saw him and tried to push towards the finish line.”
He was tiring towards the end, but Kamworor had enough in his legs to get home three seconds clear, sealing his first win in an Abbott World Marathon Major after several near-misses.
One of the first people to congratulate him was a man who had been there for almost every step of his journey, the guy who has taken this event into a different stratosphere: Eliud Kipchoge.
“Eliud is my training partner, my friend and my mentor,” said Kamworor. “He encourages me that anything is possible, provided you work hard.”
The pair trained together at their base in Kaptagat for much of the summer, Kipchoge looking towards the Berlin Marathon and Kamworor with his sights trained on New York. There was no racing or competition in workouts, says Kamworor, only coaxing each other along to a higher level.
“Normally we keep together,” he said. “In training it’s about teamwork, assisting each other and working together.”
For many years, they have been under the tutelage of Patrick Sang, who is staking a good claim to be the world’s best distance-running coach. The 1992 Olympic steeplechase silver medallist has developed Kamworor into a versatile champion, who is just as effective on the road and track as he is over the natural terrain of cross country. Heading into New York, Sang knew his protÃ©gÃ© was ready.
“He told me you have done all the training that is needed to win New York,” said Kamworor. “It’s now up to you to go and show the world.”
Sang is known for being more than a coach to his charges; he’s also a mentor and friend.
“He is such a nice coach, an amazing guy and he was an athlete himself so he understands a lot about athletics,” said Kamworor.
In recent years, the pristine reputation of Kenyan distance running has become tarnished somewhat by a string of doping cases, though Sang’s group in Kaptagat has been free from any such scandal. Kamworor believes the situation is improving through both a rise in athlete education and in out-of-competition testing.
“For now they are doing a better job by getting to the athletes, telling them to stay away from drugs and work hard,” he said. “In Kenya there are more tests than other years and it’s really improving. The athletes are not working by themselves as much. I am with others and you can see that without drugs, you can do it with hard work.”
His win on Sunday capped a memorable year for the 24-year-old, which began with a gold medal at the World Cross Country in Kampala, Uganda, where Kamworor ran down local favourite Joshua Cheptegei on the final lap.
“It’s a fantastic year for me: winning gold in cross country and a big marathon here,” he said.
For now, all that’s on the horizon is a hero’s return to Kenya, after which Kamworor will sit down with Sang and lay out his plans for 2018. His performance on Sunday may have heralded his arrival as a big-time marathoner, but he has no plans to make that his sole focus just yet, particularly not with a Farah-sized hole now opened up on the track.
“I am getting a lot of experience running marathons, and I hope to do great things,” he said. “I feel I am a great marathoner but I’m still thinking of running track and cross country. That’s why I still want to go to track in 2019: I still need that medal in the 10,000m.”