Iten Sunday lived up to its self-proclaimed title of “Home of Champions” in spectacular fashion when the Elgeyo Maraket County capital produced a double victory at Sunday’s high-profile London Marathon.
Wilson Kiprotich Kipsang overcame a major travel hitch, highlighted by the theft of his passport last week, to break the London course record, winning in a new time of two hours, four minutes and 27 seconds.
His victory came a few minutes after his Iten neighbour and double World champion Ednah Ngeringwony Kiplagat won the women’s race in 2:20.21, beating another resident of Iten, Florence Kiplagat to second place.
Kipsang and Kiplagat live just 700 metres apart at Mindililwa in Iten and both were voted the best marathon runners for 2013 by global elite road running organisation AIMS.
The Daily Nation team was given access to the lounge at Kipsang’s Keellu Resort in Iten town where the world marathon record holder’s mother Grace Cherop watched the race with the rest of the family.
“I thank God! This is God’s way of punishing whoever stole my son’s passport,” the star’s elated mother said amid song and dance at the hotel which was full of elite athletes and fans.
“I’m now rushing back to my home in Moiben to prepare for the celebrations...my son has told by phone that he will arrive on Tuesday and I must make sure a proper feast of beef, millet ugali and mursik (fermented milk) is ready for the big party. I’m going to slaughter a few bulls...”
Cherop’s other children — three boys Sammy Kipchumba, Boaz Cheruiyot, Gilbert Kiplagat, and two girls Janet Kiprotich and Sarah Kiprotich — could barely hold themselves back and cheered feverishly as Kipsang, a 32-year-old policemen, an Olympic bronze medallist in London two years back, raided his reserve tank to unleash the energy that catapulted him into the final stretch at the Mall and towards the course record.
Kipsang’s three children Bethwell Koech, David Kiplagat and Kiptoo Kipsang also jumped up and down, urging their dad on as he brushed off a spirited final challenge from 2012 Paris Marathon champion Stanley Biwott, to reclaim the London title he last won in 2011.
“Moments before the race, he told me four words — I’m going to win — and knowing Wilson, I knew he had something up his sleeves,” said the winner’s manager, Gerard van de Veen, by telephone from London.
“It was a bit windy and the pacemakers did not provide a steady pace so the world record could not fall again, but we are very happy with the results under these conditions,” added van de Veen of Kipsang’s management company, Volare Sports, which is based in the town of Voorthuizen, Netherlands.
Kipsang last September shaved 15 second off compatriot Patrick Makau’s previous mark to set a new world marathon record of 2:03.23 at the Berlin Marathon.
Celebrations were equally feverish at the High Altitude Training Centre where over 200 fans, including Sylvia Kibet, twice silver medallist in the 5,000 metres at the IAAF World Championships in Berlin (2009) and Daegu (2011), packed a viewing centre set up by ABC Bank.
“We have seen the potential in sports business in Iten and the North Rift and we are making a deliberate effort to invest in sports finance,” Kipkosgey Rogony, ABC Bank’s Eldoret branch manager said.
The bank is sponsoring the training, kitting and participation of upcoming runners in international road races.
“This double victory demonstrates that we are indeed the county of champions” Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, who was following the race keenly from Nandi, said.
“I now appeal to the county government to leverage on the success of our athletes to attract investors. This is motivation for our youth and we invite people to visit Elgeyo Marakwet and meet the champions!”
There was additional interest in Sunday’s Virgin Money-sponsored London Marathon due to the participation of First Lady Margaret Kenyatta who was running for her ‘Beyond Zero’ charity that seeks to raise money to purchase 47 mobile clinics.
The crowd was dispersing at around 6pm as news filtered through from London that Mrs Kenyatta had pushed past the 32-kilometre mark in the 42.195-kilometre race, running among 36,000 fun and charity runners.
“It’s been going smooth so far and the crowds here are fantastic,” Maina Kigaga, head of the First Lady’s press corps, said by phone from London.
“The crowd is huge and we can barely move!”
Mrs Kenyatta spent two weeks training in Iten in the build-up for Sunday’s race under the guidance of former World champion Douglas Wakiihuri, Kenya’s first winner of the London Marathon.
Following the race at her home metres away from ABC Bank’s viewing centre in Iten was 2011 London Marathon champion Mary Keitany, who is slowly knocking herself into running shape after the birth last year of her second child.
Keitany is Sunday’s runner up Florence Kiplagat’s neighbour at Mororia on the Eldoret-Iten road.