Is New York Marathon champion Joyciline Jepkosgei the next big thing in the long distance race?
Picture this: you are on the start-line alongside a four-time champion who also happens to hold the women's only world marathon record, the Tokyo Marathon champion, seven sub 2:25:00 athletes and you are making your marathon debut in one of the toughest courses in the world. What are the odds that you will emerge victorious?
If races were determined before the real action, Jepkosgei wouldn't have stood any chance. In fact, she wasn't anyone's favourite before the race. And rightly so.
“I was a bit nervous when I submitted my entry into the race. My goal was just to finish the race because I was competing against world beaters. I honestly wasn't looking at the position I was going to finish in," Jepkosgei told Nation Sport on phone from New York.
The world half marathon record holder crossed the finish line first in 2 hours 22 minutes and 38 seconds, over a minute ahead of four-time champion Mary Keitany who timed 2:23:32, to win one of the biggest races in the world on her debut over the full distance. She was just seven seconds shy of the course record set way back in 2003 by Kenya's Margaret Okayo. Ethiopia’s Ruti Aga sealed the podium in 2:25:51.
“I had heard tales of how tough the course was and I was prepared especially for the hilly part in the last few kilometres,” said added.
The strategy was simple - stick with the leading pack and wait for the right time to kick. Jepkosgei's husband Nicholas Koech, who is also her coach, had warned her not to get carried away in the early stages - a mistake many debutants over the distance make - even if someone tried to make what most people consider a suicidal dash early on.
“My coach gave me instructions that I followed and by the time we were at the 35km mark, I had the energy to kick and to my surprise, Keitany didn’t follow me,” added Jepkosgei.
The 26-year-old, who trains in Iten, Elgeyo Marakwet County and Ngong, Kajiado County, has now shifted her focus to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
"I now know what to do,” she said before confirming she is interested in a place in Team Kenya for the 2020 Summer Games.
Kenya's Jemima Sumgong - who is serving an eight-year ban for failing a drugs test - won the Olympics gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
The marathon races - both men and women - will now be hosted in northern Japan and not Tokyo after the International Olympics Committee made the decision citing the extreme weather conditions expected in Tokyo during the Games.
Other Kenyan women marathoners who are eyeing a place in the Olympics team include World Champion Ruth Chepng'etich and World marathon record holder Brigid Kosgei.
Jepkosgei was in New York for the second time this year having won the New York City Half Marathon in March in 1:10:07 ahead of compatriot Mary Ngugi Wacera (1:11:07) while Ethiopia’s Buze Diriba (1:11:07).
Jepkosgei was scheduled to run her first 42km race in the Hamburg Marathon in April but withdrew at the last minute citing injury.
She was later named as one of the pacemakers for the London Marathon women’s race where a world record attempt played out.
“I was named as one of the pacemakers in London Marathon where I managed to pace up to 30km and I must say this helped me to gain some valuable lessons despite not finishing the race,” added Jepkosgei.
Keitany hailed Jepkosgei's performance in new York.
“She is indeed a good athlete and has a bright future. Her first 42km race and she managed to win is something she must be proud of,” said Keitany.