Brigid Kosgei seeks Kenyan Olympic marathon redemption

Sports Tokyo 2020

Kenyan runner Brigid Kosgei, pictured in Brazil in December 2019, is hoping for a podium spot at the Tokyo Olympics. AFP
Kenyan runner Brigid Kosgei, pictured in Brazil in December 2019, is hoping for a podium spot at the Tokyo Olympics. AFP

Nairobi, Kenya | AFP

by Ailéen KIMUTAI

World record holder Brigid Kosgei has the unenviable task at the Tokyo Olympics of restoring Kenya’s image in the marathon, which suffered a huge dent after the 2016 Rio Games.

Compatriot Jemima Sumgong became the first Kenyan woman to win an Olympic marathon gold in Brazil, but she subsequently tested positive for the endurance booster EPO and was banned for eight years.

Kosgei, who ran the fastest women’s marathon of all time, clocking 2hr 14min 04sec in Chicago in October 2019, is eyeing a medal on Saturday in Sapporo to spare Kenyan blushes.

Organisers moved the marathons from the capital to avoid Tokyo’s punishing summer heat but temperatures in Sapporo are currently in the 30s, which will make the race a tough challenge for the entire field.

“I know it wouldn’t be easy winning the gold medal... but I will go out there and take my chances since this is my first Olympics,” Kosgei told AFP.

Like so many athletes, Kosgei travelled to the Olympics after 18 disrupted months due to the coronavirus crisis.

“It is unfortunate that we didn’t have many competitions to help us prepare us for the Games since the Covid pandemic led to many race cancellations,” she said.

A late starter in the sport, Kosgei -- a mother of eight-year-old twins -- had a difficult time growing up in a large family of seven children to a single peasant mother in Elgeyo Marakwet in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

Like many of the girls in her village, Kosgei saw athletics as a vehicle to help her escape a life of destitution.

Her first marathon was in Porto, Portugal, in 2015 when the 27-year-old made a dream debut, winning the event in 2:47.59.

‘Sharing the limelight’

Kosgei credits her coach Erick Kimaiyo, a former winner of the Honolulu marathon and a runner-up in the 1997 Berlin marathon, for believing in her and helping to nurture her raw talent at his Kapsait training camp situated outside Nairobi at over 9,600 feet (2,900 metres) above sea level.

“I had grown up listening about the great marathon achievements of Catherine Ndereba and Tegla Loroupe, but I didn’t expect that I could one day be sharing the same limelight with them,” Kosgei said.

“But it was Kimaiyo’s belief in me that helped to propel me and see myself succeeding as a champion marathon runner.”

The mentorship resulted in two contrasting victories at the 2016 and 2017 Honolulu marathons, with the difference in winning times between the two events -- 2:31:10 and then 2:22:15 -- further illustrating the power of the forged partnership.

She has won the London marathon twice and set a half-marathon course record of 64min 28sec at the Great North Run in northeast England in September 2019.

However, having missed the 2019 Doha world championships, Kosgei is hoping the Covid-affected Olympics will provide the big stage for her -- and redemption for Kenya.

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© Agence France-Presse

Tokyo 2020 AFP