The 2012 London Olympic Games 10,000 metres silver medallist Sally Kipyego is among many athletes who had big plans for the season which were ruined by the coronavirus pandemic.
The athlete, who became an American citizen in 2017, is now stuck in Kenya and is unable to return to the US because of travel restrictions. Sally had come to the country to train for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games which were moved to next year due to the virus.
Nation Sport caught up with her while she went about her house chores at her home in Sosiot, Chepkanga, Uasin Gishu County. Her husband, Kevin Chelimo, was also present.
We settled down for the interview next to her well-kept garden. She asked us if we thought competitions would resume soon given that the number of Kenyans being infected with the virus keeps rising each passing day.
Sally, who has dual citizenship, qualified for the US marathon team at the trials held in Atlanta. Whereas the US uses trials to pick their Olympic marathon team, in Kenya, top performing marathoners during a given season are selected to represent the country in the Olympic Games or the World Athletics Championships.
After making the US Olympics team, Sally was optimistic that her second chance to compete at the Summer Games would bring good fortune. Despite the Games being postponed, she remains focused on making the medal bracket when she lines up for the premier global sports bonanza next year.
Sally said that presently, she is doing light training to keep fit and will resume a more serious programme in a few weeks. The athlete plans to compete in road races which will be available in the new season.
“I don’t know when I will compete again. In line with government directive on cessation of movement and social distancing, I retreated to my home and avoided major urban areas to keep safe,” she said.
Sally is worried that it may take longer for competitions to resume in Kenya going by the rising number of people being infected by Covid-19. ”While other countries are trying to flatten the curve, the rising cases in Kenya are a major concern,” she said.
Sally said that lack of electricity at her home has affected her training. She would have preferred to train on a treadmill at home but is now forced to train along the road in the morning, which is dangerous.
“We really need power in this place. I would be training using treadmill instead of getting out of the compound and running along the road, there is a risk of picking injuries. We applied for electricity last year but to date there has been no response,” she said.
Sally has a glittering athletics career. She participated in various college races and bagged several awards before graduating at the Texas Tech University.
In 2001 while still in school, Sally made the team that represented Kenya in the World Cross Country Championships in Oostend, Belgium, where she finished in eighth position.
She was back again in the limelight in 2011 when she qualified at the trials to represent Kenya in the 10,000 metres during the Daegu World Athletics Championships in South Korea. Sally bagged silver after finishing second over the distance behind another Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot.
In 2012, Sally represented Kenya in the London Olympic Games where she managed to bag a silver medal behind Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba, while Cheruiyot got bronze. During the same Olympics, Sally missed out on a medal in the 5,000m after finishing fourth in the race.
Her attempt to represent Kenya in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games didn’t go well after she failed to finish in the top three positions. Sally also never participated in the 2017 World Athletics Championships after taking a maternity break to give birth to their first child daughter, Emma Chemwetich, who turns three next month.
After the maternity break, the soft-spoken athlete returned to training. However, this time round she switched to marathon races. In her first attempt at the Boston Marathon, Sally did not finish last year’s edition of the race.
The runner said that she was not disappointed, and she hit the road again in preparation for the next race. She registered for the Berlin Marathon and finished a distant seventh after clocking 2:25:10.
“Returning back from maternity was tough, but I’m happy to have finished the Berlin Marathon. I’m looking forward to improving on my performance when competitions resume after the Covid-19 pandemic,” Sally, who was inducted into the Texas Tech University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2019, said.
This year started with trials for the Olympic Games. Sally trained in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet, because she expected tough competition. She emerged third during the marathon trials after clocking 2 hours 28 minutes and 52 seconds behind the winner Alphine Tuliamuk who led the race in 2:27:23 while Molly Seidel was second in 2:27:31.
Sally said that she was disappointed because she did not check on the course before the trials and as a result, she almost missed the chance to represent the US at the Olympics.
“I had done good preparations because I used to train in Iten from Monday to Saturday. I was sure things would go my way, but the opposite happened. But I am happy I made the team.
“I underestimated the course. When I got to Atlanta, I found out that the course was hilly. It was a difficult race but I’m glad I made it,” Sally said.
Concerning the postponement of the Olympic Games, the athlete said that she was sad, but relieved at the same time because she now has more time to get ready for the Games.
“It was sad because we were getting ready for the season but because of the virus organisers saw it wise to postpone the Games. Athletes have nearly a ready to prepare for the Olympics,” Sally added.
Sally went to the US after graduating from Moi Kapcherop High School. She enrolled at Texas Tech University in January 2005 and graduated in 2009 after being a permanent resident. After 15 years, she and her husband Chelimo got US citizenship.
“Being a US citizen is a great opportunity. This was my dream, and I was overjoyed when I got the citizenship. It was a long process and a long wait, but finally it came to pass,” Sally, who is a nurse in the US, said.
Sally said that she has a lot of respect for former 5,000m Olympics champion Cheruiyot and looks forward to compete against her in Tokyo.
“I raced with Cheruiyot during the 2012 Olympics Games. I really respect her. If all goes well, we shall meet again during the Olympic Games next year. This time round we shall be representing different countries, I’m looking forward to the race,” she said.
Sally hails from a sporting family. Her elder brother, Michael Kipyego, is a former Tokyo Marathon champion and the other one, Christopher Kipyego, participates in road races.
“Michael started running first and I followed in his footsteps. Christopher later joined the team, and it was a great combination for us,” she said.
Born in Tarakwa, Elgeyo-Marakwet County, Sally started running in school where she represented her institution in various championships. She later got a scholarship through former Olympics 800m champion Paul Ereng who visited schools and selected talented students.
“I had added a lot of weight but I put my best foot forward and competed. I got the scholarship to go to the US,” she said.
On training facilities, Sally sad that Kenya has a long way to go compared to the US. She said that athletes in the US have modern training facilities and are given full support. Sally asked athletes to acquire other skills which they can fall back onto after their running careers are over.
“We tend to assume that we are only meant to run and do nothing else. I want to tell my fellow athletes that they need to do something else on the side because running lasts for a given period,” she said.
Concerning doping, Sally said that athletes should stop using drugs and practice clean sports and win fairly.
“I have been running for the last 20 years and I have always competed clean. Taking drugs is stealing. When you take shortcuts to get glory, this affects the other competitors and it will come back to you.
“You need to learn to be honest and always do the right thing to have clear minds and get the right results,” she added.
Sally said that her favourite food is chicken curry and chapati.