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Clean sweep for Kenya in Obama's birthplace

Sunday December 08 2019
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Honolulu Marathon women's winner Margaret Muriuki is congratulated by her manager Joke Van de Veen of Volare Sport after winning the race on December 8, 2019. PHOTO | ELIAS MAKORI |

By ELIAS MAKORI

IN HONOLULU, HAWAII

Sport may still be frowned upon in Kenya where politics - and political horse-trading - seem to be the nation's staple, but athletes most certainly continue to positively impact our lives.

Stories of athletes rising from rags to riches might sound like a cliché, but they must be told to inspire future generations.

The story of Titus Ekiru and Margaret Muriuki Wangari is right down this alley.

On Sunday in Honolulu, the city that brought forth USA's first black president - Kenyan-American Barack Obama - they continued to remind USA that Kenya won't get off the American headlines just yet with a sweep of the Honolulu Marathon titles.

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Titus Ekiru on the way to winning the Honolulu Marathon on December 8, 2019. PHOTO | ELIAS MAKORI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

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And what's more, defending champion Ekiru, 27, set a new course record, defending his title in two hours, seven minutes and 59 seconds to become the fastest man over the marathon in the beautiful Island of Hawaii where USA's 44th president was born.

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Honolulu Marathon women's winner Margaret Muriuki (right) is congratulated by her manager Joke Van de Veen of Volare Sport after winning the race on December 8, 2019. PHOTO | ELIAS MAKORI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The wins came hours after another Kenyan, US-based Edward Cheserek, won the curtain-raising mile race on Saturday in three minutes and 53 seconds.

It was 33-year-old Wangari's marathon debut, and she dedicated her 2:31:09 victory to her ailing mother, Agnes Muthoni Kenyua.

From her race earnings, she can afford better medical care for her beloved mum.

"It's been tough. My mother was diagnosed with kidney failure but despite her illness, she has been praying for me," said an emotional Wangari, who left the track (5,000 metres) to focus on the road, making her 42km debut Sunday.

She also dedicated the win to her four-year-old daughter, Lynnolive Jemutai, and husband, Jacob Kipchum Yator.

Fellow Kenyan, US-based Betsy Saina, who has been training in Flagstaff, Arizona, was second in 2:31:51.

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Titus Ekiru after crossing the line in a new course record 2:07:59 on December 8, 2019. PHOTO | ELIAS MAKORI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Saina blamed herself for underrating the tough course in the Hawaiian State capital, failing to match a late lush by Wangari.

"I came here as favourite and I thought I'd push later in the race, but I think I underrated the course a bit," the Iowa State University running legend told Nation Sport.

In the men's race, Ekiru led a clean sweep of the podium and said there's no time to celebrate as he heads back home to prepare for his entry into the rich World Marathon Majors circuit.

He plans to attack the Tokyo Marathon on March 1 and will be knocking on selectors' doors for an Olympic ticket.

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Honolulu Marathon winner Titus Ekiru being interviewed by Hawaiian TV on December 8, 2019. PHOTO | ELIAS MAKORI |

Former winner Wilson Chebet was a distant second in 2:13:13 after experiencing problems with his right thigh muscle in the second half, with Edwin Koech (2:14:19) completing the Kenyan sweep.

Ekiru, paced by Reuben Kerio, third here last year, peeled away like an onion from the lead pack in trademark fashion between kilometre 22 and 23.

Chebet and Koech were unable to respond. Ekiru then motored to the finish alone.

"The pacemakers did a good job," he said.

"I'd wanted 63:30 at halfway and they did like 63:40, which wasn't bad."

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Kenyan sweep at Honolulu Marathon! Left to right: Wilson Chebet (third), Edwin Koech (second) and winner Titus Ekiru. PHOTO | ELIAS MAKORI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

"There's very little time between now and the Tokyo Marathon so I won't celebrate too much this Christmas when I get back to Kapsabet as I have to start early preparations," said Ekiru, who shattered the course record of 2:08:27, set in 2017 by fellow Kenyan Lawrence Cherono.

Again, Ekiru's story has been that of battling poverty to make a living through sport.

The rising star from Turkana didn't finish primary school education, dropping out of primary school at Kosirai in Nandi County due to his family's state of poverty.

But his command of English is impeccable and his focus unwavering.

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Titus Ekiru reacts after winning the Honolulu Marathon on December 8, 2019. PHOTO | ELIAS MAKORI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Honolulu Marathon President and CEO Jim Barahal said he would dish out a cheque for $40,000 (Sh4 million) to Ekiru - $25,000 (Sh2.5 million) for the win, $10,000 (Sh1 million) for the course record and a further time bonus of $5,000 (Sh500,000) for running a sub-2:08 time.

Wangari will take home Sh2.5 million which will certainly go a long way in assisting her ailing mother.

Leading results from the Honolulu Marathon on Sunday

Men:

1. Titus Ekiru (Kenya) 2:07:59

2. Wilson Chebet (Kenya) 2:13:13

3. Edwin Koech (Kenya) 2:14:19

4. Mike Cheshire (Kenya) 2:16:30

5. Jackson Limo (Kenya) 2:17:09

6. Osako Suguru (Japan) 2:17:29

7. Takuya Fukatsu (Japan) 2:19:00

8. Shinya Ohashi (Japan) 2:23:54

9. Taku Harada (Japan) 2:30:32

10. Takaaki Awata (Japan) 2:34:23

Women:

1. Margaret Wangare Muriuki (Kenya) 2:31:10

2. Betsy Saina (Kenya) 2:31:51

3. Renee Metivier (USA) 2:43:17

4. Miharu Shimokado (Japan) 2:45:22

5. Kaoru Nagao (Japan) 2:52:55

6. Eri Oda (Japan) 2:55:39

7. Polina Carlson (USA) 2:57:37

8. Rosanna Breslin (USA) 3:04:49

9. Bree Brown (USA) 3:07:47

9. Akiko Patterson (USA) 3:09:14

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