From grass to grace: Kosgei overcomes past of lack, desperation to scale heights of athletics

Wednesday March 18 2020
By BERNARD ROTICH

It sounds ironic, but being sent away from school for lack of fees was godsend for Brigid Jepchirchir Kosgei. It propelled her to a life of stardom and unimaginable success.

Brigid's dreams came crashing in 2012, or so she thought. Then a Form Four Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education candidate at Tulwo Girls High School in Nandi County, she was sent home for lack of school fees and registration payment.

She left for home depressed, knowing that she would not be sitting the final exam for lack of money. That was not the first time that she was being sent away because she could not pay her fees.

A thought crossed her mind. Instead of going home, why not go to her fiancée's house instead? Having previously met at various athletics championships, the couple decided to begin training together.

At that point, she decided to concentrate on athletics.

As we settle for the interview, Brigid says she knew her life had hit a dead end because of the poverty at home. The soft-spoken but firm athlete told this writer that she could only speak to Nation Sport after training. Her training camp is about 150km from Eldoret in Gishu County.

Brigid says pleas by her mother Margaret Yego to return to school fell on deaf ears. She had made up her mind to concentrate on athletics and there was no turning back. Brigid says she does not regret the decision.

In 2012, Brigid's husband Mathew Kosgei encouraged her to train for road races. He told her that preparations for a marathon race were tough.

But Brigid's mother remained adamant because she wanted her daughter to go back to school and continue with her education. She believed that education is the key to a better life.

JOINED KAPSAIT CAMP

“I used to run in school. When I met my husband we started training together after I dropped out of school until 2014 when I was blessed with my children who are twins [Faith Chepchumba and Brian Kibet],” says Brigid, who is under the Rosa Associati Management.

Brigid says when she started training for road races with her husband, every morning they would meet her coach, Eric Kimaiyo, training his athletes from Kapsait Athletics Training Camp in Elgeyo Marakwet. Kimaiyo got interested in her and invited her to join the camp in Kapsait.

The couple made arrangements for him (husband) to remain at home and take care of their young children as she enrolled in the camp in 2015.

She reported to the camp every Monday and left on Saturday so that she has ample time to concentrate on her career.

Brigid says she is not disappointed with the decision she took because her growth has been steady since then.

The London Marathon champion will be defending her title when she lines up for the Chicago Marathon on Sunday. She expects stiff competition.

Brigid will be competing against her compatriot Betsy Saina, who has been training in Iten, Elgeyo Marakwet, Jordan Hasay and Madai Perez among others.

She is returning to the Chicago Marathon for the third time. She emerged second in 2017 where she clocked 2:20:22 before winning the title last year with an improved time of 2:18:35.

Brigid trains for her major assignments at the high altitude Kapsait Athletics Training Camp.

Nation Sport caught up with the athlete doing her long-run with a group of male athletes from the camp. Brigid says she is well prepared for the battle ahead and she is seeking to reduce her personal best time.

"I have done proper preparations, and my aim is to retain my title on Sunday [today]. I want to run a good race by reducing my personal best time,” says Brigid.

Britain's Paula Radcliff is the record holder of 2:17:48 she set in 2002 with the help of male pacesetters.

Brigid hinted at attempting to set a new course record because of pacemakers and good weather. She is also mulling breaking the world record of 2:17:01 set by Mary Keitany (women only) during the London Marathon in 2017.

“This year we are lucky to have pacemakers. I hope to run well if the conditions allow and if possible run a course record and world record time. I won’t rest until I achieve my dream because this is my career,” says Brigid, who has a personal best of 2:18:20.

Last year during the Chicago Marathon, she ran a lone race from the 30km mark before winning in 2:18:35 in heavy rain. Brigid beat Ethiopians Roza Dereje (2:21:18) and Shure Demise (2:22:15) to second and third positions, respectively.

In 2017, Brigid finished third at Copenhagen Half Marathon in Denmark. The same year, she won the Bogota Half Marathon in Colombia before finishing second in the 2017 Chicago Marathon in a personal best time of 2:20:22. Her time in Chicago was the sixth fastest ever at the marathon.

Brigid later won the Honolulu Marathon, smashing the course record by over five minutes.

Last year, she was the London Marathon runner-up after finishing behind compatriot Vivian Cheruiyot before clinching Chicago Marathon title after clocking a personal best of 2:18:35.

Brigid started this season with a win in the London Marathon in April after beating a competitive field and clocking 2:18:20. Vivian came second in 2:20:14 with Ethiopia’s Roza Dereje emerging third with 2:20:51. Keitany settled for fifth position with a time of 2:20:58.

Last month during the Great North Run Half Marathon, Brigid clocked the fastest time in the world after timing 1:04:28 in the women’s race.

She also surpassed the world record time of 1:04:51, currently held by compatriot Joyciline Jepkosgei, which she clocked during the Valencia Half Marathon in 2017. However, the North Run course is not eligible for a course record.

Brigid led a Kenyan clean sweep with Magdalene Masai emerging second after running in 67:36, while her elder sister Linet Masai sealed the podium places in 67:44.

Brigid says she was sure that she had clocked a world record time but was disappointed when she was informed that the course was not eligible for records.

“I usually use races like the Great North Run to gauge my performance. I was in good shape when I participated the race and that is why I ran well. I will still plan for the world record next season,” Brigid says.

EYES ON RECORD

She says that her coach had asked her to run a fast race and if no one reacts and follows her, she should maintain the pace to the tape.

“I was following my coach’s instructions. I was supposed to run a fast race that is why I was alone from the start to the tape. That made me the fastest woman despite the record time not being recognised. But I haven’t given up,” adds the athlete.

Brigid says she loves Kapsait because of the high altitude and the hilly terrain which has always given her good results.

“I love the terrain in Kapsait and the weather, which has always given me good results. I won’t shift to any other place because this is my best training ground,” adds Brigid.

Brigid was born in Sinon village at Kapsowar in Elgeyo Marakwet. The 26-year-old is from a family of eight children.

Her first race was the Porto Novo Marathon in Italy in which she says she emerged as the surprise winner.

“When I won the race, I knew my star had started shining and I continued working hard in training and following my coach’s advice. That is the secret of my success. I have always respected my coach,” she tells Nation Sport.

In 2016, she emerged second at Lisbon Marathon behind Sarah Chepchirchir after clocking her personal best of 2:24:45 before participating in various local races.

Brigid was recently named as one of the top 40 women in a survey done by sister paper Business Daily.

Her coach Kimaiyo says that he will be preparing her to go for the world record in marathon soon.

"We are going to plan with her on how to go for the world record in future. I believe she can lower that time and this is her right time when she is still in great shape," Kimaiyo says.

Brigid’s training mates includes Mexico Marathon champion Vivian Kiplagat and World Under 20 5,000m champion Edward Zakayo, among others.

Her parting shot. “I will be seeking a certified course next year so that I can break the world record.”