In the wake of his marathon world record* at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race in Berlin on Sunday, Dennis Kimetto had some bad news for his rivals.
The man who first burst on to the international scene in 2012 is confident that, at the age of 30, he can have at least another five years at the very top; then he thought again.
“Actually, I think I could still be a very good runner ten years from now, at 40,” reflected Kimetto, a quiet smile indicating this was no joke.
What appears at first, and especially to non-Swahili speakers, as the epitome of shyness, is a man with an inner core of steel; a determination fired by both the memory of seeing the great duels of Paul Tergat versus Haile Gebrselassie on television and of a childhood where money was scarce.
“We didn’t have television or radio at home, so at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney I went to the community centre in the village and watched. The memory of Haile versus Tergat in the 10,000m inspired me. I thought, perhaps I could run at that level,” he added.
The journey has not been easy, even by the standards of a boy growing up in a family of four brothers and three sisters, and parents who were subsistence farmers near the Kenyan town of Kapngetuny.
For much of his childhood, Kimetto had to work on the small landholding rather than attend school. However, when he decided in 2008 to devote time to running, his parents gave him their full support.
“My father said, 'train as well as you can and go for it, you can change your life',” said Kimetto, looking back on six years which have transformed not only his life but that of his family, thanks to his earnings from running. Destiny also played a hand.
Training near his home one day, he encountered what had become a familiar sight to young Kimetto: the group led by Geoffrey Mutai whose training camp was nearby.
Mutai acts as mentor
Mutai invited him to join their run that day, liked the look of his stride and generously said, why not join us full time? The move paid off as Kimetto won 11 domestic races in 2011, including the Nairobi Half Marathon, clocking 1:01:30, but the Kenyan capital’s altitude made the performance worth a significantly faster time.
Yet the distance-running world wasn’t prepared for what happened at the prestigious Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in the United Arab Emirates in February 2012.
“I stood on the start line and looked around. I felt scared, seeing runners like Wilson Kipsang alongside me. Nobody knew who I was,” said Kimetto, who went on to astound athletics cognoscenti by beating the illustrious field in 1:00:40.
He broke the hour for the first time in his next race at the distance with 59:14 in Berlin just six weeks after his outing in Ras Al Khaimah.
A world record over the rarely run distance of 25km followed five weeks later in what was fast becoming a home from home: Berlin. His marathon debut was sensational, finishing barely a stride behind Geoffrey Mutai in what still is still the fastest marathon debut on a record-eligible course of 2:04:16 in Berlin in 2012.
With every race, Kimetto seemed to become even more formidable.
In his Chicago debut last October, he broke the course record with 2:03:45, having won Tokyo earlier in 2013 with another course best.
The first glitch came when he dropped out of Boston this April with a slight hamstring injury but Kimetto proved to be a quick healer.
“When I asked his physio back in Kenya how well Dennis had recovered from his injury shortly before Berlin, he said: ‘Number one. Dennis will be number one, no problem’,” said his Dutch manager Gerard van de Veen.
Having become the first man in history to break 2:03 for the marathon and improve Wilson Kipsang’s previous record by 26 seconds, Kimetto can now relax a little and contemplate the future.
Naturally enough, his opinion whether a sub-two-hour marathon would ever be possible is much in demand.
Allowing for the effects of post-race jubilation and his current level of English, it would be wrong to interpret a nod of the head or a smile as a definite answer either way.
But, after Kimetto’s achievements in an international running career of barely three years, who knows what his limits may be?
Andy Edwards (BMW Berlin Marathon organisers) for the IAAF
*subject to the usual ratification procedures