Florence Kiplagat wins the 2010 World Half Marathon title in Nanning (Getty Images) © Copyright
Florence Jebet KIPLAGAT, Kenya (5000m, 10,000m, Cross Country)
Born: 27 February 1987, Kapkitony, Keiyo District, Rift Valley Province
Coach: Renato Canova
Manager: Gianni Demadonna
Team: Kenya Police (joined in 2007)
Training: Ngong, Nairobi
Florence Kiplagat went to 2009 Amman World Cross Championships as one half of the couple out to etch their names in the event’s history as the first reported husband and wife winners of the senior men and women titles.
At the end of the event, Kiplagat still made history as only the second Kenyan winner of the women’s senior 8km race following Helen Chepngeno’s triumph at the 1994 edition in Budapest.
However, her partner Moses Mosop with whom Kiplagat shares a daughter, Aisha born in March 2008, could only muster an 11th finish in the men’s long race, denying movie writers a perfect script. The pair are said to have wed in 2007 and were in the throes of accomplishing the unique feat after winning the men and women senior races at the hotly contested Kenya Trials for Amman.
The couple caused big ripples after that achievement and were inseparable at Kenya’s residential training camp ahead of Amman. The mystery over whether Mosop and Kiplagat are married was subject of intense speculation in their country’s media but both athletes declined to confirm or even talk about it. ‘Running is more important’ they rebuffed reporters who sought to milk stories on their alleged union.
Two years later, the couple who appear not only be intertwined in nuptials but also in their careers are in Kenya’s team for the World Half Marathon Championships in Nanning, China seeking to become the first reported husband and wife winning act in the history of the event.
Unlike most Kenyan athletes, Kiplagat began training after leaving secondary school. She decided to try for a scholarship in the United States or to make her living as an athlete. After less than two months’ training in summer 2006, she finished seventh (15:57.5) in the National Championships 5000m. She thus missed selection for the African Championships in Mauritius, but she was instructed to try out for the 2006 World Juniors. The friendly Kiplagat won the Kenyan trials at 5000m and then hit the heights when she finished a close second (15:32.34) in Beijing behind Xue Fei of China.
The following year, she won the senior women’s race at the national trials before placing fifth at the Mombasa World Cross in her first appearance for Kenya at senior level. Just a few months later, as suddenly as she had caught the limelight, Kiplagat disappeared from it until 21 February 2009, when she completed a stunning victory in the women’s 8km race at the trials for Amman World Cross.
She picked up her story. “After finishing fifth in Mombasa, I competed in the European Golden League and Grand Prix circuit. I also won the trials for the All Africa Games (1500m) but I declined the chance to compete there since I didn’t want to go.” During that period, Kiplagat recorded her then personal best for 5000m (14:40.74) at the Hengelo meet. She was looking a firm bet for the 2007 World Championships in Osaka when she vanished from the scene.
“From July of 2007, I took a break for childbirth,” Kiplagat recalled. “My daughter Aisha was born in March (2008) and I resumed training in August (of the same year). That is when I left Global Sports (and manager Jos Hermens) to join Gianni Demadonna and coach Renato Canova.”
Kiplagat’s tale took an interesting twist when it was reported in the Kenyan and international press that 2007 World Cross silver medallist Mosop had married Kiplagat and the union had begotten Aisha. Canova even posted a blog on letsrun.com website detailing how he had ‘coached the first husband and wife pair to win the national trials’.
“What I can say is that Aisha’s birth re-energised me and, six months after she was born, I felt it was time to reignite my career,” said Kiplagat, who is the third of four children. Her mother is deceased and her father is a farmer with five acres in Kapkitony.
Kiplagat’s first race on the comeback trail was November’s Wareng Tuskys Cross Country meeting in Eldoret where she finished third in the 8km race, early indication of a return to form. Kiplagat then won two European Cross Country Permit meetings in Sevilla (8km) and Elgoibar (6.6km, 21:39) in Spain before she returned home to train for the national trials for Amman.
At the Kenyan selection event, Kiplagat hit the front after 4km and, at 6km, only Iness Chenonge, another athlete enjoying resurgence, could keep up with her pace with a world class field trailing in their wake. In the last kilometre, Kiplagat engaged the afterburners to overcome the equally charged Chenonge by 0.04sec. After the usual engagement with local and international media, Kiplagat took to the stands to watch her partner triumph in the 12km senior men’s race
On 29 March Amman, Kiplagat commanded the heights and ended Kenya’s long wait for another senior women’s medal (15 years) with an unexpected change of elevation from second to first as she closed down teammate Linet Masai up the final climb to claim gold medal and the honour of leading her team to the gold medal as well. After her memorable victory, she fainted.
‘’I would like to thank God,” she told iaaf.org after the race. “Kenya has not won since 1994. We are determined to perform at the same level as Kenyan men.”
Fresh from her Amman triumph, Kiplagat won a 5km cross country race in Alà dei Sardi a week later (5 April) before returning home where she was befittingly garlanded as a hero, earning $4,000 (Sh300, 000) for winning gold from the Kenyan Government in addition to a further $4,166 (Sh312, 500) presented by Kenya Commercial Bank, sponsors of the local cross country circuit for bagging individual top honours and her share in the team title.
She opened her track campaign with a barnstorming 30:11.53 national record in 10,000m that supplanted the 30:26.50 previous Kenyan best clocked by Masai at the Beijing Olympics. Kiplagat’s new personal best, registered while finishing second to Meselech Melkamu when the Ethiopian set the African record of 29:53.80 in Utrecht (14 June), elevated her to the tenth quickest 10,000m runner of all time.
Kiplagat then skipped the 10,000m Kenyan Berlin Trial on 27 June that was part of the National Championships where she was expected to runaway with a World Championships ticket.
She then lowered her 5,000m personal best to 14:40.14 with a sixth place finish in Oslo (3 July). Later that month, at Kenya’s Berlin Trials, Kiplagat was again a no show on the track but having been given wildcard selection for Berlin in the 10,000m, she took her place with the rest of her country’s team.
“She has been suffering from a minor strain and we decided not to risk her at the Trials. Kiplagat will have recovered sufficiently to help her country’s chances in the women’s 10,000m,” outgoing national head coach, Julius Kirwa, who was instrumental in her selection, said.
“I’m always willing and ready to represent my country and Berlin is no different. Winning at the World Cross has motivated me further to bring 10,000m gold back home,” the affable Kiplagat said.
All the while, selectors were hoping she would recover in time from a knee injury picked in training, but their gamble did not pay off as Kiplagat limped to the finish in 31:30.85 for 12th and in such excruciating pain that she had to be carried off the track with the leg heavily strapped.
“I thought it would have been wise to drop out in the 17th lap but my country sent me here to finish and I decided to do that,” she explained.
Expected to mount a defence for her World Cross title at the beginning of the year, Kiplagat was a no show at the February 20 Kenyan Trials for Bydgoszcz after failing to beat her knee injury in time to work her way to shape. In her absence, Emily Chebet went on to retain the senior women title in Kenya’s hands at the World Cross in Poland.
After months of rehabilitation, Kiplagat resumed competition in Eldoret on the weekend of 8 and 9 May where she won the 1500m in 4:11.2 during the 4th Athletics Kenya meeting. “I wanted to see how my knee would respond to hard running. I chose 1500m since I could not push it for long,” she told reporters.
She made her IAAF Diamond League (DL) bow at the Shanghai meeting on 23 May where she returned 15:23.30 for 11th. Other DL excursions yielded her 3:40.72 PB over 3000m (Lausanne/8th) and 14:52.64 SB in 5000m (Paris/9th) in addition to a 12th finish in London (15:22.99/ 12 August). Kiplagat failed to bag a place in Kenya’s team for Nairobi 2010 Africa Athletics Championships, after coming sixth in 32:46.99 at the 25 June Trials.
On 4 September, she raced to an auspicious half marathon debut in Lille, France where the 2009 World Cross winner clocked 67:40 to take a comfortable eight-second victory over compatriot Peninah Arusei (67:48). With her fast debut over 21 km, Kiplagat checked herself inside the All-time top 20 over the distance in addition to occupying number 5 in the 2010 list.
Following her barnstorming half marathon debut, Athletics Kenya gifted her with a place in Kenya’s team for Nanning where she aims to succeed Mary Keitany, who will be making her full marathon debut, as the official queen of 21km running.
5000m: 14:40.14 (2009)
10,000m: 30:11.53 (2009) NR
Half Marathon: 67:40 (2010)
5000m: 2006: 15:32.34; 2007: 14:40.74; 2009-14:40.14; 2010-14:52.64
10,000m: 2007: 31:06.20; 2009-30:11.53; 2010-32:46.99
2006 2nd World Junior Championships (5000m)
2007 5th World Cross Country Championships (senior race)
2009 1st World Cross Country Championships (senior race)
2009 12th World Championships (10,000m)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2009-2010