Kenyan marathoner Brigid Kosgei (Dan Vernon) © Copyright
Feature

After record-shattering run, Olympic glory is next on Kosgei’s agenda


Nobody knew exactly what to expect when Brigid Kosgei arrived for a press point interview in Monaco two days before the World Athletics Awards - for which she was on the final female shortlist of five.

History records that she did not win the coveted World Athlete of the Year award, which went to Dalilah Muhammad, the US 400m hurdler who bettered her own world record in winning the world title in Doha this year.

But history also records that this 25-year-old Kenyan had a stellar season herself. She started it by becoming the youngest woman to win the London Marathon, in a personal best of 2:18:20 – and ended it by knocking more than four minutes off that to set a world record of 2:14:04 at the Chicago Marathon.

That eclipsed the mark of 2:15:25 set by Paula Radcliffe in winning London in 2003, and the Briton was in Chicago to witness the landmark performance, greeting Kosgei in the finish area.

 

Brigid Kosgei wins the Chicago Marathon (AFP / Getty Images)Brigid Kosgei wins the Chicago Marathon (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright

 

Kosgei’s deeds were worldwide news – but even the Kenyan journalists present had gaps to fill in in terms of details about her life.

On Radcliffe’s response: ‘Somehow, she was happy!’

She began to speak quietly, and formally, offering thanks for the invitation to the Principality – which she had not visited before – and also to those athletics followers around the world who had voted her onto the short list.

But it was not long before she relaxed, and soon a smile was playing about her features as she responded to a question about how Radcliffe had been at the Chicago finish line.

“She spoke to me after the line,” recalled. “She was happy, somehow she was happy. Somehow!”

And then, with another ghost of a grin: “She didn’t believe her record had gone.”

Belief was something Kosgei appeared to have inexhaustibly as she moved relentlessly towards new athletics territory in Chicago. She revealed that she had been emboldened by the example of her fellow Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge less than 24 hours before her marathon as he had become the first athlete to cover the marathon distance in under two hours.

Like millions of others, she had watched Kipchoge’s progress in Vienna via a live feed.

Kosgei said that, after watching the entire race live, she “felt inspired”, adding: “I decided to persevere with my own goal, to run more positively and see what was possible.”

 

Marathon world record holder Brigid Kosgei in Monaco (Philippe Fitte for the IAAF)Marathon world record holder Brigid Kosgei in Monaco (Philippe Fitte for the IAAF) © Copyright

 

Even so, she confessed that the magnitude of her achievement had been a shock.

“When I crossed the line it was really amazing. I was not expecting to break the world record.

Perseverance pays

“I was well prepared for the race, and at the starting point I knew it maybe would be a record or not, so long as I would be near to a record. But I was not expecting it.

“But when I got to 15 kilometres I realised I was almost at the record pace. And then for me it was a matter of perseverance, and then I could become the world record holder.”

The question was asked – how had she managed to trim more than four minutes off her London Marathon time between April and October?

“After London I returned to my training camp and I did a lot of practice which would enable me to run well in Chicago,” she said. “By the time I got there I was very well prepared, and that is why I got the world record at that time.

“I didn’t change anything. It depends on how I have been training in Kenya. But maybe I have improved the speed on some of the long runs.

“I run 200 kilometres a week. I do a 20-k run in the mornings, and in the afternoons either 20 or 15-k.”

 

Brigid Kosgei wins the London Marathon (Getty Images)Brigid Kosgei wins the London Marathon (Getty Images) © Copyright

 

Responding to another question, she estimated that, in the course of the year, she has undergone 54 doping tests…

Perseverance, the quality she mentioned several times while reflecting on her Chicago run, is something this 25-year-old has shown throughout her life.

In 2014 Kosgei – who has two brothers and four sisters - had to drop out of the educational system as her parents could no longer afford to pay her fees.

“I could not be sad,” she said. “At that time I just accepted what had happened and focused on other things.”

Her regular training camp, at an altitude of around 3000 metres, is no more than six kilometres away from her home. Hardly a marathon distance.

But she revealed that, for two months before the Chicago race, she remained in camp, while her husband, Matthew Mitei, looked after their twins – a boy and a girl aged six.

“The kids, they know that their mum is doing good work there,” she said.

At this stage is seems unlikely either will follow in her footsteps. “They say to me: ‘I don’t want to run’,” she recalled with a smile.

Target: Tokyo

Training was not on the agenda as she spoke, however.

“I am relaxing a bit, after Chicago,” she said. “So I am maybe jogging once a week. I still have a pain following Chicago. I will start slowly for next year.

“I am preparing to run at the Tokyo Olympic Games. I want to run for my country again.”

Asked about the switch of the Olympic road events from Tokyo to the cooler environs of Sapporo, enforced by the International Olympic Committee amid concerns for athletes’ welfare, she responded:

“It depends on how the climate will be. But I will accept what it will be at the time.

“It will depend upon how I have trained in Kenya. I train at altitude, and sometimes I train in some hot places. So it cannot affect me. I will accept what weather there is at the time. But I prefer a cold marathon!”

Sapporo is going to be all about position rather than time. But how fast does the world’s fastest female marathon runner think females can run the marathon.

Answer: “A woman can run even two hours.”

Was she serious? She looked it.

Mike Rowbottom for World Athletics