Determination aptly describes Florence Jebet Kiplagat’s drive to earn the coveted Olympic Games marathon ticket.
She has taken a roll of honour in long distance running clad in national colours and a bonus at a World Major Marathon series race.
And with her bristling talent, superstar Kiplagat now longs to go one better at the forthcoming Virgin London Marathon.
She dramatically ended Kenya’s 16-year-old gold drought at the 2009 World Cross-country Championships in Amman, Jordan, before she later descended on the World Half Marathon title in Nanning, China, in 2011.
The victory motivated her into making her 42-kilometre debut in Boston Marathon last year, where a career-threatening injury ruled her out midway.
Inspired by her role model and guardian Michael Kiplagat, a former Berlin Marathon winner, she seized the opportunity and proved her critics wrong, running away with last year’s Berlin Marathon title.
She won the German flagship 42km race – one of the ‘Big Five’ WMM series – in a jaw-dropping 2:19.44. The brilliant mark slid her to Olympic standard ‘A’ qualification but she has to prove her mettle at the Virgin London Marathon in forth night.
Like that of the Berlin Marathon, the London Marathon course is flat and offers the highly talented Kiplagat an advantage in the chase for places in Kenya’s marathon team to the London Olympics. Athletics Kenya chairman, Isaiah Kiplagat, has said the Olympics marathon squad will be named on April 30.
The London Marathon action gets underway form around 11am, a timing that befits Kiplagat’s surname Jebet, which means “broad daylight”.
Ready for the battle
“For a long time, I have suffered injuries but this time round, I am ready for the battle. I really want to make the team to the Olympics,” Kiplagat told Monday Sport after her training session on speedwork at Chepkoilel University College recently.
She has often stood out unpredictable in her races and the soft-spoken Kiplagat can pull a surprise in London.
“I am preparing well and I hope to be in great shape. I know it is quite difficult since nearly all top stars will compete, but I will run my own race,” Kiplagat.
Reigning London marathon champion, Mary Keitany, World Championships marathon winner Edna Kiplagat and Dubai marathon titleholder Lucy Kabuu are among the stars chasing Olympic slots in London Marathon.
Kiplagat says Kenyans could retain the title, given her in-form athletes.
“We have some of the best athletes, some with a sub-2:20 time, while others have won top marathon races, so the battle will be difficult,” she said.
But the 25-year-old Kiplagat remained cautiously optimistic. This is not bad for a girl who played football while schooling, just like world 1,500m silver medalist Silas Kiplagat and marathoner Nelson Kirwa Rotich.
“I didn’t take part in athletics at primary and secondary school. I was a football striker in my primary school’s team and led the team to the nationals at Bukhungu Stadium in Kakamega, and was in Kenya’s team to the East and Central Africa primary school games in Kampala, Uganda.”
Kiplagat was forced into running after completing Form Four when her uncle William Kiplagat, a marathoner, told her to either run full time or strive to attain qualifying mark for United States University track and cross-country scholarships.
She sat for her Form Four exams at Sergoit Secondary in Keiyo North in 2005, the same school world 3,000m steeplechase record holder, Kenyan-turned-Qatari Said Shaheen attended.
She lived at William’s home, where he was training and running athletics camp at a nearby trading centre.
She says William, who runs an athletics club at Kapkitony in Keiyo South, paid her school fees and after competing secondary school education he supported her with basic needs.
“In 2006, I began running after facing many economic challenges upon finishing school. William one day suggested I go for morning run, saying I could be a good athlete, but I chose to pursue scholarships for fear of training on a full-time programme.”
Failed to secure college
When Kiplagat failed to secure a college she started attending local athletics meetings and won 5,000m heats at the Athletics Kenya weekend series in Eldoret.
Under the guidance of her strict uncle, she comfortably won the Rift Valley track and field championships 5,000m final at Kitale Municipal Stadium and was selected for national trials for the World Junior Championships in Beijing, China, in 2006.
At the nationals, she easily won the explosive nationals and later sounded her entry at the global stage, bagging silver in her 5,000m speciality.
The rest is history. Kiplagat has since bagged the biggest prize in distance running, basking in the lucrative World Cross Country and World half marathon crowns, and stands out among the few high-achieving athletes in the country.
After she gave birth to her daughter Aisha in 2008, Kiplagat resumed training under Italian track and field agent Gianni Demadonna and coach Renato Canova.
The latter says he has prepared Kiplagat well and hopes she will qualify for the Olympics.