Margaret Okayo (ohKAHyoh), Kenya (half-marathon, marathon)
Born 30 May 1976, Masaba, Kisii District (300 km west of Nairobi), Nyanza Province, Kenya.
Single. Secretary, Prisons Service. Lives and trains in Nairobi and in Brescia, Italy.
Manager: Federico Rosa. Coach: Dr. Gabriele Rosa.
1.52 m/ 43 kg. Kisii (Gusii). Fifth of nine children of father's third of three wives. Father a farmer.
Completed Itierio Secondary School, Kisii, 1993.
Began running in school with great success, placing 2nd in 3000m in primary school nationals and competing in secondary school nationals all four years in high school. After school, moved to Nairobi to look for work, staying with cousin who encouraged her running and gained permission for her to train informally with Prisons Service athletes.
Officially employed by Prisons 1995. Finished 2nd to Tegla Loroupe at 10,000m in 1995 World Championships trials, and 2nd to Catherine Ndereba at 5,000m in 1996 Prisons Championships. Placed 6th in 1997 cross country nationals. Not selected for World Cross team, but invited by Dr. Rosa to join Fila Club to train and race in Italy.
Won three Italian half-marathons in three weeks in spring of 1998, most notably Trieste (72:01). Selected for Kenya's Commonwealth Games team that summer—placed 5th in 10,000m. Won Prato, Trieste (70:08) and Rio Half Marathons in 1999, but finished a disappointing 14th in World Half-Marathon Championships in October. Bounced back with impressive 2:26:00 marathon debut in Chicago, finishing 2nd by a single second to countrywoman Joyce Chepchumba.
Three more half-marathon wins in 2000, plus first marathon victory in San Diego's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon (2:27:05) in June. Four months later dropped out of Chicago Marathon feeling ill, but, aiming to make use of her hard training, ran New York three weeks later, finishing 3rd (2:26:36).
Defended her Rock 'n' Roll title in June 2001 with PB and course record 2:25:05, beating 1996 Olympic champ Fatuma Roba, then returned to New York and broke 10-year-old course record with new PB 2:24:21. She topped that the following April with course-record victory (PB 2:20:43) in Boston over world-record holder Ndereba, becoming first woman in eight years to hold New York and Boston titles simultaneously.
Returned to New York in 2002 as strong favorite but suffered severe back spasms early in the race. Finished a brave 6th in 2:27:46 (later elevated to 5th after a doping DQ), but was unable to walk for the rest of the day. Just four weeks later, however, she won Milan in a course and Italian all-comers record 2:24:59, beating defender, course record holder, training partner and 2004 Olympic teammate Alice Chelangat.
Her Boston title defense in 2003 may have been affected by the Milan race. She fell off the lead by 30 km and wound up 4th in 2:27:39. Chose not to contend for place on Kenya's World Championships marathon team and prepared instead to reclaim New York title. Won Rock 'n' Roll Half-Marathon in August and Udine (Italy) half-marathon a month later in PB 67:23, then shattered her own New York record by nearly two minutes (2:22:30) in less than ideal conditions. (Men's winner Martin Lel was nearly three minutes off the course record.) That performance earned her preselection to Kenya's 2004 Olympic marathon team.
She confirmed the selectors’ good judgment in April with a decisive 3 minute 28 second win in cold, wet, blustery conditions in London (2:22:35) over a field that included most of the top Russians and Olympic bronze medalist Joyce Chepchumba. Okayo’s dominance under such conditions should give her Olympic rivals cause for concern. Her tiny body is likely to be much better adapted to the Athens heat than the London cold.
Yearly progression (half-marathon/ marathon): 1997 - 73:12/ -; 1998 - 72:01/ -; 1999 - 70:08/ 2:26:00; 2000 - 69:03/ 2:26:36; 2001 - 68:51/ 2:24:21; 2002 - 68:49/ 2:20:43; 2003 - 67:23/ 2:22:30; 2004 - 72:19/ 2:22:35
Before the New York City Marathon in November 2002, Margaret Okayo had won four of the six marathons she had completed, never missing a podium finish, and setting PBs and course records in the previous three (San Diego, New York and Boston). When she was stricken with back spasms early in the New York race, she soon let go her hopes of another course record and then of defending her title, but she wouldn't quit the competition. She crossed the line 6th in a remarkable 2:27:46 and then could barely stand. After a long afternoon of physical therapy she was able to walk, slowly, and was already making plans for another race. "She wants to show everybody who she is and what she can do," said her manager, Federico Rosa. "She is feeling good and has a lot of power to express."
Once before she had come back quickly from an abortive marathon effort: in 2000, dehydration forced her to drop out of Chicago, but three weeks later she entered New York and finished 3rd.. After New York in 2002, as soon as she could walk she signed up for the Milan Marathon just four weeks later, and won it by more than three minutes in a course and Italian all-comers record.
Clearly, Okayo's tiny frame—1.52 m (5 ft.) and 43 kg (95 lbs.)—conceals a massive competitive drive. Before the unfortunate 2002 New York race, she spoke approvingly about new arrangements for the start that enabled the elite women to run on their own. "In a race only for women," she said, "I can make sure that no one can escape me."
Prepared by John Manners and Sabrina Yohannes for the IAAF "Focus on Africans" project. Copyright IAAF 2002-2004.