Updated 11 July, 2012
Mary Jepkosgei KEITANY, Kenya
(Half Marathon, Marathon)
Born 18 January 1982
Place of birth: Kisok Village, Kabarnet, Baringo District, Rift Valley Province
Marital Status: Married with child
Manager: Gianni Demadonna
Camp: Adidas camp in Iten
Mary Jepkosgei Keitany has evolved to be a power pack in distance running since she announced her arrival on the grand stage with silver at the 2007 World Half Marathon Championships.
Having proven her mettle by smashing the World Half Marathon record in February 2011 at Ras-al-Khaimah, where she set about to attack the course on a solo charge, Keitany stepped up to the plate with another resounding victory at the London Marathon barely two months later; a feat she repeated this year.
Keitany’s exploits in the Middle East saw her joined the hallowed company of distance running icons namely, Catherine Ndereba, her idol, and Tegla Loroupe, as the only female World record holders from Kenya.
Many up and coming athletes give credit to the stalwarts, like Ndereba, Susan Chepkemei and Tegla Loroupe, and Keitany is no exception. “People were always praising people like Ndereba and Chepkemei and it made me want to do something similar,” she said.
Born in Kisok village, Keitany went to Kanjulul and Kisok Primary schools. During that period, she used to take part in school competitions for fun, reaching district level at 5000m. She took her athletics a notch higher in 2002, when she joined Hidden Talent Academy for her secondary school education, specialising in 1500 and 5000m.
Keitany went all the way to national level in 2003, at 5000m, and she repeated the feat in 2004, running in the national 5000m finals at Kasarani. Another national finals appearance marked her final year and, in January 2006, Keitany moved to Iten to join a group of athletes training in the area. “I knew I had a talent so I thought I should go somewhere where I can develop and improve it,” she said.
Running a cross country at Chepkoilel, in Eldoret, in November 2006, she won easily. “It was good to see that my training was bearing fruit,” she said. She impressed the agent and, a few weeks later, she was on her way to Europe for her first outing outside the country, winning
the San Silvestre Olivais 10km in Lisbon on December 30, clocking 33:06.
She started 2007 with a 5km cross country race in Le Mans in January where she finished fourth. Two weeks later, Jepkosgei Keitany lined up in Almeria Half Marathon, where she edged out Joan Aiyabei to win in 1:13:02.
In April, she continued her good Half Marathon form, winning the Ivry-Vitry Humarathon, her second win over the distance. Three weeks later, she got a chance to rub shoulders with the crème de la crème of road running when she paced the London Marathon. “It was great to run in London and I ran with the leaders until the 26k mark when I dropped out as my work was done,” she said.
Barely six days later, Keitany was back in France for the Heillecourt 4.7km race, but the two races in the month had taken their toll and she finished a disappointing sixth in 14:22. However, two days further on, she roared back to form when she won the Puy-en-Velay 15km race (50:10)
Then, in September, she won her third Half Marathon when she clinched Lille Half Marathon in 1:08:43. After that, she returned home and, when she was picked for the World Half Marathon Championships, in Udine, she upped her training at her Iten base.
Of Udine and beyond, she said at the time: “I want to win but even if I get a podium finish I will be fine. I want to continue my development and hopefully get to run in marathons in the near future.”
She lived up to her promise in the Italian city in October, running the race of her life to win silver in her then new personal best of 1:06.48, behind Lornah Kiplagat who won the world crown.
Keitany would however not build on her 2007 results in 2008, as she took a break to attend to maternal matters.
In 2009, the genial and shy lady made a resounding comeback after taking a year out to attend to maternal duties, having married fellow athlete Charles Koech at the back end of her memorable breakthrough year.
Their son, Jared Kipchumba was welcomed to the world on 22 June, 2008. Not that you would tell, going by her tremendous performances in her comeback season that saw her end the year with the three best marks at the distance.
She was in fact back with a bang in 2009 starting with a 10km race in Bangalore, in May, where she finished second in a personal best time of 32:09. Then, in September, she clocked 1:07:00 to win the Lille Métropole Half Marathon, making her the fastest at the distance that far in 2009.
Her time of 1:07:00 was then the fastest in 2009 making her one of the favourites in the English city of Birmingham that hosted the World Half, especially in the absence of three-time champions, Britain’s Paula Radcliffe and Lornah Kiplagat, the Kenyan born Dutch runner who had won the three previous editions.
Heading to Birmingham, Keitany outlined her hopes to improve on her silver medal from two years before. “I’m going there to get gold, although I’m aware there will be stiff competition, especially from my team mates, but I’m ready for them.”
Upon arrival at the British city, Keitany was caught up in drama on the eve of the race, when she was among a group of top athletes, including compatriot Sammy Kitwara, who were trapped on their way to the press conference when a lift got stuck between floors. “I thought we would collapse in there, it was very hot,” Keitany said.
On October 11, she dusted herself from the 50 minutes of anxious waiting and fears of dehydration to post a commanding catch-me-if-you-can victory in 1:06:36, the fastest time after Lornah Kiplagat’s World record in the same event in 2007.
Such was the sheer form of her display that it was no wonder Keitany argued that she might have beaten Lornah Kiplagat’s then World record of 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,” said Keitany, who became the second Kenyan winner at the event after triple laureate Loroupe (1997-1999). “Also, the ground was slippery and it was very windy.”
And she was not done; Keitany checked in for the lucrative Airtel Delhi Half Marathon on 1 November and once again, caused jaws to drop when she seamlessly clocked 1:06:54 to leave the course record in pieces after taking off at World record pace earlier in the race.
Keitany, who took the top prize of 25,000 dollars, said that she had Kiplagat’s 1:06:25 record in mind when she started. “The course was excellent and the weather was not bad. I hope to come back next year,” she said at the time having twice come close to achieving her goal.
It was her third career sub 1:07, meaning she now held four of the top-10 timings on the all-time lists and following that sequence of barnstorming runs, Keitany’s elevation to the full marathon became a matter of when, not if as the distance running world eagerly awaited.
Keitany ran sparingly in 2010, the year that saw her anticipated ultimate distance debut finally unfold in the streets of New York, but most importantly, she broke her first World record albeit at the rarely acknowledged 25km.
She opened her campaign with victory at the Zayed Half (7 January) in Abu Dhabi where the field was conquered in 1:07:14 before placing second (28 February) at the "World’s Best" 10km road race in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with the ticker stopping at 31:09.
Her big moment arrived on 9 May at the Big Berlin 25km, when she motored almost unchallenged to 1:19:53 to confine Japan’s Mizuki Noguchi’s previous all time best over the distance, set at the Berlin Marathon in 2005 of 1:22:13, to the footnotes of history.
Keitany ran her own race at the front, assisted by pacemakers, on a fast even pace throughout – even on the final uphill stretch leading back to the finish at the Olympic Stadium – and was on schedule for a time of around 1:20 throughout the race. So dominant was her performance that Keitany was almost five minutes ahead of runner-up Alice Timbilil who stopped the clock in 1:24:38.
"I have prepared long and intensively for this race and I had expected to break the World record," Keitany said. "But I did not expect to break it by such a margin and to run sub 1:20.” Keitany added, with compatriot Samuel Kosgei, (1:11:50) who won the men’s race, also setting a World record.
Some three weeks later, a 31:06 career best showing over 10km was enough for victory at the BUPA Road Race in London on 31 May, before she prepared for her full marathon debut by crushing the opposition in 1:08:50 at the Lisbon Half (26 September).
With the buzz surrounding her debut at the New York Marathon providing most of the pre-race fodder, Keitany set about attacking the Five Boroughs on 7 November with intent, but at the closing stages of the race, fellow debutant, America’s Sharlane Flanagan and compatriot Edna Kiplagat were pushing for the top honours.
Inside Central Park, with two miles or so to go, Flanagan made a move and built a five-metre lead; but not for long, and soon she was fading and third.
Then Kiplagat struck. She moved ahead, slowly at first and then looking back and seeing daylight behind her, she confidently increased the pace, crossing the finish line in 2:28:20. Behind her, Flanagan passed the broken Keitany to take second in 2:28:40. Keitany held third in 2:29:01.
“I learnt my lesson and next year, I will surely ensure that I’m able to finish races. I have started well in marathon. I guess I have to adjust to running the full marathon since I ran out of energy when we came close to the finish and when I saw her (Kiplagat) go, I could not respond,” she declared upon her return.
With targets locked and loaded, Keitany approached 2011 with purpose and it did not take long for her to command international headlines.
On 18 February, Keitany finally obliterated Lornah Kiplagat’s WR by a yawning 35 seconds in the Ras Al Khaimah race, where she clocked 1:05:50 for victory after running most of the distance solo.
Her manager, Gianni Demadonna, who was in Kenya at the time, could not disguise his joy, “I'm so delighted with her performance. Even though we knew she could achieve it, we did not state that she was going for it before the race since we do not like putting our athletes under pressure to perform."
"Our plan is to make her a marathoner to win the Olympic title in 2012 (in London) and capable of doing 2:18," added Demadonna. "We planned for her to do one half marathon before the London Marathon in April where we are targeting a 2:25 performance and she in on course for that."
On 17 April, in front of a keen British public, as The Mirror described, “Mary Keitany pounded out an Olympic warning to Paula Radcliffe on the streets of London yesterday. Only Radcliffe has run a faster time than that clocked by the flying Kenyan in turning the Virgin London Marathon into a procession,” as she proceeded to complete a sparkling 2:19:19 victory and a career best performance that ushered her into the limited class of sub-2:20s.
“I was confident and strong that I could accomplish such a victory since I was well prepared, the course and the weather were great. My aim is to improve on this so that I can continue winning and maybe in future, I will try the World record. I’m so happy and I’m returning home to celebrate with my family,” Keitany said upon arrival back home.
After winning the Lisbon 5km road race on 29 May, she duly defended her Lisbon Half title (25 September) in 1:07:54 as she prepared to return to New York for the second bite of the Big Apple pie.
On 6 November, Keitany went off at a crazy pace that appeared to be turning conventional wisdom about this course on its head. She was flying through the early miles, ignoring all cautionary tales of the toll the course can take, seemingly intent on shattering the course record. By mid-race, her lead over the nearest competitor was well over two minutes.
However, her punishing pace saw her trail off in the last 11km as Ethiopian duo, Firehiwot Dado and Buzunesh Deba sensed blood before pouncing on the flailing leader to occupy the first two positions with Keitany, who barely held on for the finish, staggering home in 2:23:38 for her second successive third finish.
“I felt my body start seizing close to the finish and even when they caught up, I tried to respond but I could not go. I was sure of what I was doing until when I started feeling tight and this cost me the victory and course record I so much wanted,” she said upon her return.
When asked whether she had considered the tough course as an impediment to such tactics, she answered, “Geoffrey (Mutai, who won the men’s race) did the same for the men and besides, I was there last year and I knew what I expected.”
Keitany retreated home to recover and embark on training for the Olympic year and on 15 January 2012; she was named among the six probables for London by her federation, in addition to being penned for a title defence of the marathon in the Olympics city in April.
She kicked off the season with another win at the Ras Al Khamiah Marathon in February in a time of 66:49 which is the second best in the world this year (at 11 July 2012).
April though would be the toughest challenge of the season yet, as she lined up for the London marathon, competing against fellow probables in Florence Kiplagat, Edna Kiplagat and Priscah Jeptoo.
She rose up to the challenge smashing the Kenyan and African record to become the third fastest woman in history as she led an all-Kenyan team to the podium.
Keitany kicked away from her compatriots in the last four miles to clock 2:18:37, 10 seconds quicker than the great Catherine Ndereba's 11-year-old mark. She was more than a minute ahead of world champion Kiplagat, who broke 2:20 for the first time to take second with Jeptoo third. Her fabulous performances secured her spot at the Olympic Games with a dominating display in the London sunshine as Kenyans completely dominated by filling the first five places.
"The time was OK. The weather here all week has not been good but when I saw the sunshine this morning I knew it would be all right for me. I'm so delighted to win for the second time in London. We worked together until 35km and then I felt good so I decided to make a break. I was tired but I knew I could finish strongly. "I knew I could run 2:18 but to break Catherine's national record is special for me."
Keitany thus goes into the Olympics as the odds on favourite to make history by becoming the first Kenyan woman to win the Olympic marathon title. “It’s all about working hard in training and ensuring that we are well prepared for the race. That I have run in London will be good but the pressure will be immense. Kenya has a very strong team with Priscah and Edna and I believe we can do great things.”
10,000m: 32:18.07 (2007)
10km: 30:45 (2011)
Half Marathon: 1:05.50 WR (2011)
Marathon: 2:18.37 AR (2012)
Half Marathon: 2007 - 1:06.48; 2008 - ; 2009 - 1:07:00 AR; 2010-1:07:14; 2011-1:05:50 WR; 2012-1:06:49
Marathon: 2010 - 2:29.01; 2011 - 2:19.19; 2012 - 2:18:37
2006 1st Sevilla Half Marathon
2007 1st Almeria Half Marathon
2007 1st Ivry-Vitry Humarathon Half Marathon
2007 1st Lille Half Marathon
2007 2nd World Half Marathon Championships (Udine)
2009 1st Lille Half Marathon
2009 1st World Half Marathon Championships (Birmingham)
2009 1st New Delhi Half Marathon
2010 3rd New York Marathon
2011 1st Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon (WR)
2011 1st London Marathon
2011 3rd New York Marathon
2012 1st Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon
2012 1st London Marathon
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2007-2012