Mary Keitany’s ruthless and emphatic victory here today in the IAAF/EDF Energy World Half Marathon Championships was followed swiftly by an expert suggestion that we may just have seen the first major triumph of the next Olympic women’s marathon champion.
Keitany recorded 1:06.36, a time remarkable in the circumstances. It was a windy morning, the roads were wet and slippery, the course was hilly, she was distracted in the first half of the race by an opponent clipping her heels, and there was nobody to push her from the sixth mile.
Oh yes, and Keitany spent 50 minutes stuck in a lift the day before, thinking she would dehydrate. She was on her way to a press conference in the Repertory Theatre but was trapped with eight others. “I thought we would collapse in there, it was very hot,” Keitany said.
No wonder Kenya’s latest World champion argued that she might have beaten Lornah Kiplagat’s World record 1:06.25 had circumstances been more favourable. “If I’d had somebody to assist me, and we had run together, maybe I could have broken the World record, Keitany said. “Also, the ground was slippery and it was very windy.”
Many a spectator watched in awe, not least Mary Wittenberg, the ING New York City Marathon race director who is also a member of the IAAF Road Running Commission. Wittenberg was impressed not only with Keitany’s running but also her attempts during the race to encourage Ethiopia’s Aberu Kebede, the last runner to stay with her, to take some of the pace.
Keitany gestured several times for Kebede to come past instead of running permanently in her slipstream. This contributed towards Wittenberg’s overall impression of an assured athlete.
“Mary clearly has what it takes,” Wittenberg said. “What she showed today was not only that she could run fast but that she can command a race. She has a dominant personality, it strikes me, on the field. She is out there directing other athletes in what to do. She has the speed, the strength, and it looks like mental tenacity to be one of the best we have ever seen.”
Wittenberg said that Keitany’s run had instantly put her high on her list of athletes to sign for next year’s New York Marathon (this year’s race is too soon, on 1 November). “I think she might take a little while to build but I can see a 2011 big (performance in) New York going into the London 2012 Olympics,” Wittenberg said. “We will look to have her in New York in 2010/2011 based on what she wants to do.”
Having said in the build-up to this race that she wanted “to run marathons in the near future”, Keitany kept tight-lipped today about when she was thinking of making her debut. “I don’t know when,” she said. “I will discuss it with my coach and manager.”
Apart from a brilliant half marathon time – second only in history to Kiplagat’s mark – Keitany has another good thing going for her as she looks ahead to the marathon: she is a mother. It seems to go with the package these days – Paula Radcliffe, Constantina Dita, Catherine Ndereba, Irina Mikitenko spring to mind – and the 27-year-old Keitany took 2008 out to give birth to her first child.
Runner-up to Kiplagat over the half marathon at the 2007 World Road Running Championships, Keitany, who married athlete Charles Koech towards the end of 2007, gave birth to a son, Jared Kipchumba, on 22 June 2008. She returned to competition in May this year, running a personal best 32:09 for 10km to win in Bangalore. She was selected for Birmingham after running 1:07.00 in Lille on 5 September.
Keitany is the first Kenyan winner since Tegla Loroupe, a former marathon World record holder, in 1999. The folks back home can expect a party. “I’ll call my relatives, my family, and then we can celebrate together the victory I got today,” she said. “Maybe we’ll have a party.”
The whole of Kenya should be celebrating their women athletes. And not only Keitany’s victory here and that of the Kenyan team but for the year they have had collectively. Ethiopian, Kenya’s traditional rivals, have been forced into a back-seat for the year-long ride.
Kenya’s invincible spell began with Florence Kiplagat’s victory, and team gold, in the World Cross Country Championships, in Amman, Jordan, in March. Then came Vivian Cheruiyot’s triumph over 5000m, and Linet Masai’s over 10,000m, at the World Championships in Athletics, Berlin. And now this. No wonder Keitany wasn’t rushing to think ahead.
David Powell for the IAAF