Updated 17 July 2012
Priscah JEPTOO Chepsirot, Kenya (Half Marathon, Marathon)
Born: June 26, 1984, Chemnoet Village, Nandi District
Height: 1.68 Weight: 49kg
Coach: Claudio Berardelli
Manager: Federico Rosa
Marital Status: Married to Douglas Chepsirot, son Faustin Kipchumba born 2008
Her unorthodox running style, where she appears to be in pain as if she is being forced to run, should not fool anyone. Priscah Jeptoo has blossomed to carry a potent threat in female ultimate distance running, having strung together a sequence of eye-catching performances in recent seasons in the toughest race on earth - the marathon.
The soft spoken, Jeptoo is yet another cornerstone of an emergent generation of Kenyan female athletes with strong family backgrounds that has emerged from the shadows of traditional dictates to take the world by storm.
She’s in the illustrious company of decorated runners – two-time World Marathon champion Catherine Ndereba, double Daegu gold medallist Vivian Cheruiyot, World Championships winner Edna Kiplagat, two-time London Marathon winner Mary Keitany and Boston queen Sharon Cherop – to cite a few whose spouses have taken the backseat to inspire their wives to forge a successful career in athletics, going against the grain of African customs that place the man as king.
Like her peers in this group, husband Douglas has shelved his own running career to support Jeptoo, who bears his surname with pride in addition to her own, taking care of the home and family investments whenever she is engaged in training and travelling for competition.
“I met him in Kapsabet where we were training. I came to appreciate the assistance and advice he was giving me and we decided to start our family. He has been a major reason for my success, ensuring that I get the right training and being there for the family when I’m away running,” she enthused.
Of course, meeting the man of her dreams could have not happened had she not taken up the sport that provided the glue that bound them.
Jeptoo started running when she enrolled at Chemnoet Primary School, in the village of her birth, for her formative education before she moved on to Itigo Girls High School, in the Kenyan Western Province where she cleared her O-Levels in 2004.
“I did not succeed with running in school but my mom, Beatrice Samoei who was a 1500m runner, was an inspiration for me in the sport. I started in 400m and went on to 800m and 1500m but I used to be beaten for pace,” she reported her early indulgence in athletics. “I tried to make the national team for junior competitions but I could not, but my love for the sport saw me keep trying,” she added with the Trials for the inaugural World Youth Championships in 1999, where she failed to seal a place in the Bydgoszcz squad the high point of her nascent running career.
After Itigo, Jeptoo, the fourth born in a polygamous family of 11, retreated back home to help her family with chores. “My father had a large family and we were all involved in working in our farm to ensure my brothers and sisters went to school and we had enough to eat,” she explained.
A meeting with Martin Lel, the three-time London Marathon titleholder and fifth finisher at the Beijing Olympics, opened a new chapter in her life since despite fulfilling her domestic role, Jeptoo sustained rudimentary training. “I told him I was still interested in running and making a career out of it and he invited me to his camp. I had realised then that I would never be good on the track and that is why I decided to train for the roads,” she told of the decision that was to alter her life for good from the back end of 2006.
Having noticed her rich prospects, Lel eventually introduced her to his Rosa & Associati management company and coach Claudio Berardelli and the take-off to the elite circles of distance running was launched.
Two races early in 2007 in Brazil marked the start of her distance running career, where she marked her half marathon debut with a 1:17:02 performance at the Sao Paulo Half with a second-place finish and less than a month later, returned eighth (34.20/10K) at the Tribuna Road Race in Santos.
Having cemented her relationship with Douglas Chepsirot, whom Jeptoo met in Kapsabet during her training runs, son Faustin Kipchumba was added to their young family as she took maternal leave from competition. “I fell for him since at first, he was helping me with my training and with time, it became like team work since he was advising me and being my friend. I was overjoyed when Faustin was born because then I knew we had to work hard to ensure he enjoyed a decent living,” she confessed.
On her return to competition at the 2008 New Year’s Eve São Paulo Road Race, Jeptoo crossed the tape in 53:58 for seventh over 15km.
Jeptoo returned stronger in 2009, with four podium performances in the four events she started – all run in Portugal. A career best 34:05 at 10km was achieved on her opening race of the year, when she finished second to home runner, Marisa Barros, in Lisbon. Jeptoo then won the Regua Half in 1:12:17 before posting another victory at the Porto 15km road race (49:52) where she turned the tables on Barros.
In her marathon debut in November, Jeptoo came out on top of a very tight race for the podium places and set a course record of 2:30:40 at the Porto Marathon to round off a fulfilling year and underpinning her emergence as a prospective force in distance running.
In 2010 she sustained her podium run. Her campaign started with winning the Ribarroja Half Marathon, in Spain in an improved time of 1:11:13, where she beat future 2011 All Africa Games silver winner and 2012 Africa Cross gold medallist Joyce Chepkirui to second. Jeptoo then finished second at the Sant’Antonio Marathon in Padova, Italy where she ran 2:30:53 after being outkicked to the finish by compatriot Rael Kguriatukei (2:30:18) in the last two kilometres.
She showed marked improvement at the annual Torino Marathon, held in November in wet and slippery conditions, where she outran Ethiopia’s Fate Tola to win the race in a then new personal best of 2:27:02 as she dipped under 2:30 for the first time. “I thank the organisers for giving me the opportunity to run in Turin. I am happy with my PB and the second fastest time in the history of this race,” she told IAAF after the race.
Jeptoo made headlines in 2011, after finishing second at the Discovery Kenya Cross Country behind Priscah Jepleting in January in Eldoret before winning the Goyang Joongang Half Marathon, setting a new personal best of 1:10:26 hours for the distance.
Jeptoo followed up with a significant breakthrough at the 2011 Paris Marathon, she successfully held off challenges from compatriot Agnes Kiprop and Ethiopian Koren Jelila to be the first woman across the line, recording a time of 2:22:55 hours. This knocked off more than four minutes from her previous best and was the second fastest run ever recorded on the course. “I’m very happy today in Paris, because I wasn’t expecting to win”, Jeptoo remarked post-race. “It is now a new personal best and this fulfills all the good training.”
That performance did more than she had bargained when it saw her named in the Kenyan women team for the Daegu World Championships. “I could not believe it when my name was announced. I had done well in Paris, but being asked to run for my country as a result was totally a surprise,” she recounted.
In South Korea, Jeptoo was part of history at the Gukchae-bosang Memorial Park when she participated in the first ever-male or female podium clean sweep at the World Championships marathon, as teammate Edna Kiplagat beat her to the gold (2:28:43 to 2:29:00) with a sustained acceleration on the final lap of the looped course.
There was drama at the last water station at the 37km mark, when Sharon Cherop, who went on to win bronze (2:29:14), clipped Kiplagat’s heels as they came away from the table and the favourite hit the road. As Cherop helped the eventual winner to her feet, Jeptoo waited instead of haring off and when they were sure their teammate was alright, the trio charged on for the medals.
“The race today was difficult, since it was my first time to run in such humidity and also for the national team. I knew the second part would be faster, especially when Kiplagat pushed the pace at 30km and decided to follow her since we were ready to fight for our country and we are very happy for 1-2-3,” Jeptoo said after the awesome display of teamwork.
She returned to competition in November, placing third amid a strong field in Atapuerca before coming to the tape unopposed in a much weaker event in Soria. “Prior to this year I haven’t raced on cross country races but I’m enjoying the experience very much; my third place in Atapuerca and today’s success are a confident booster for me thinking of my next outings; honestly, it hasn’t been a difficult victory,” confessed Jeptoo for the IAAF website after the victory.
Even better tidings were to come for her in 2012, where once again a second-place finish at the January Discovery Cross in Eldoret marked her competitive introduction to the campaign. It was not a surprise when later that month she was named by Athletics Kenya among the six probables for the London Olympic Games alongside Kiplagat, Sherop, 2011 London winner Mary Keitany, Berlin champion Florence Kiplagat and Lydia Cheromei, runner-up at 2011 Dubai.
The field was whittled down to five after Cheromei finished sixth in Dubai at the end of January before Sherop won in Boston to potentially narrow the London Olympics race to two slots.
Four of the remaining probables clashed at the 22 April London Marathon and incidentally occupied the first four places in another record-setting performance by Kenyans at the World Majors event, with the finishing order being Keitany (2:18:37, Area Record), Kiplagat (2:19:50, PB), Jeptoo (2:20:14, PB) and Kiplagat (2:20:57, SB).
Four days later, the federation unveiled their much anticipated London line-up, where Jeptoo was named alongside two-time London winner Keitany and Kiplagat as Sherop, who had contested two marathons at the time, was shelved at her own behest. “I felt I will not give my country the best after running in Dubai and Boston,” the Daegu bronze winner stated.
“When I was included in the list, I was the slowest runner and I did not rate my chances highly,” Jeptoo graciously stated despite her performance in London shedding over 2 and a half minutes from her previous lifetime best and allowing her to break the top 20 in the all-time lists in 18th spot. “I was very happy and I want to give my best, although I cannot predict where I will finish. Just like in Daegu, we shall work together to ensure we repeat what we did and make more history so that this generation of female marathoners can be remembered for long,” she added.
Spouse Chepsirot said despite his own career not hitting the heights of his wife, he is only too happy to help her hit the highest peak. “I act as her training partner, masseur and we cooperate together in giving encouragement to train. I ensure she follows the programme given by her coach and also take care of what we have when she is away to competition or in serious training,” Chepsirot asserts. “I’m very happy she will be competing at the Olympics and also feel part of her success, such as when she was second in Korea. We celebrated as if she had won, since everything she achieves is key if you consider where she has come from in the last few years,” he adds.
“Being with a stable man is the best thing any woman can have, especially when she has to work so hard in her career. Douglas is my support and I can rely on him and I believe that is why I have been improving, since I’m not worried about what is going on back at home,” his adoring wife returns the compliment.
Half Marathon: 1:10:26 (2011)
Marathon: 2:20:14 (2012)
Half Marathon: 2007- 1:17.02; 2008- -; 2009-1:12:17; 2010-1:11:13; 2011-1:10:26
Marathon: 2009-2:30:40; 2010-2:27:02; 2011-2:22:55; 2012-2:20:14
2009 1st Porto Marathon 2:30.40
2010 1st Torino Marathon 2:27.02
2011 1st Paris Marathon 2:22.51
2011 2nd World Championships Marathon, Daegu 2:29.00
2012 2nd London Marathon 2:20.14
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2012