Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The shy girl who conquered London

PHOTO | GLYN KIRK Men's elite race winner Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia (R) and women's elite race winner Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya (L) pose with their shields after winning their respective categories in the 2013 London Marathon in London on April 21, 2013.

PHOTO | GLYN KIRK Men's elite race winner Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia (R) and women's elite race winner Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya (L) pose with their shields after winning their respective categories in the 2013 London Marathon in London on April 21, 2013.  AFP

By COPPERFIELD LAGAT [email protected]

The odds of lack of school fees did not dwarf her drive for athletics greatness.

Priscah Jeptoo’s textbook running style and focus to make her family’s lot better, blended well with her long strides to fetch her gold on her second shot at the London Marathon on Sunday.

But athletics analysts in Eldoret criticised her final breakaway at the 30th kilometre mark, saying, a similar strategy had failed her during last summer’s London Olympics where she won silver after a big gap lead.

She was born at Chepnoet, a village that sits at the foot of  Kebiyet Hill in Nandi North District.

While in primary school, Jeptoo, a second-born in a family of five, ran 1500 metres and was nick-named “Ndereba”, but little knew she would make a future marathon guru just like Catherine Ndereba.

Her spirited passion for athletics propelled her from little contests, where she dominated in 1500 metres to provincial level, at times finishing in top five positions, while running barefoot.

But Jeptoo’s zeal to claim a fair slice in athletics did not end there, even as she would fade off several times at zonal levels in primary school athletics competitions.

Robert Ng’isirei, who was a teacher at Itigo Girls, said he spotted Jeptoo’s potential to be a world beater in primary school.

“Jeptoo came from a humble family, but she had an immense ability in athletics, and I secured her a slot in Itigo so I could coach her closely. Her determination showed she was a champion,” said Ng’isirei, now one of the key coaches in Athletics Kenya.

While at Itigo, Jeptoo would wake up early and brave the morning cold while she took her jogging before prep.

She completed high school in 2007, amid financial difficulty. In the same year, Jeptoo began training lessons in Kapsabet, where she would share lessons with Boston Marathon champion Rita Jeptoo, under Italian coach Claudio Barardeli. Later Priscah shifted her focus to road racing.

She continued training up to 2008, when she started competing in top level contests, and gave her first shot, finishing eighth in Saint Silvester Road Race, that year.

Jeptoo won Douro-Tal Half Marathon and Corrida Festas Cidade do Porto 15-kilometre race in 2009, which acted as a curtain-raiser for her record-breaking marathons. In the Porton Marathon late that year, she punched a dazzling time of 2.30.40 in what was her marathon best and course record.

The following year, she smashed her personal time, after thrashing Ethiopia’s Fate Tola, winning the Turin Marathon, and recording her fast 2:27:02 after losing to silver a year before at Padua Marathon.

The year proved good for her, as she was part of the pack that swept the medals board for Kenya after she won silver at the 2011 world championships, which were hosted in Daegu, where she narrowly lost to Edna Kiplagat (whom she beat to second place on Sunday’s London marathon).

Sharon Cherop bagged bronze medal to ensure Kenya national anthem hit speakers three times in Daegu.

In 2012, she lost to Priscah Jepleting at the Discovery Kenya Cross Country and set a half marathon personal best of 1:10:26 in her win at Goyang Joongang Half Marathon the previous year.

While competing at the Paris Marathon in the year, Jeptoo blew off opposition from her country sister, Agnes Kiprop and Ethiopia’s Koren Yal, and continued bettering her best to pen 2:22:55 hours.

Although she had taken a big lead in 2012 London Marathon, she was named in the squad for London Olympics last, courtesy of her performance in the London Marathon. She valianty chased an Olympic gold, but settled for silver after Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia.

She proceeded to win Portugal and RAK half marathons in 2012 and 2013 and then struck gold at London Marathon on Sunday, with a personal best of 2.20.15.

Last weekend, at her Chepnoet home, there was ululation; villagers had crowded at Jeptoo’s home as their own raged on road race war with the world in the English capital.

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