05 DEC 2008 General News Singapore

Kibet plans another surprise in Singapore

Luke Kibet of Kenya celebrates winning the Men Marathon's gold medal in Osaka (Getty Images)Luke Kibet of Kenya celebrates winning the Men Marathon's gold medal in Osaka (Getty Images) © Copyright

The marathon is one of then hardest races to predict, which is hardly surprising, given that a lot can happen in the two hours plus that it takes to run the 42.195 kilometres. So it’s appropriate that Luke Kibet, a ‘surprise’ World champion last year should choose to run a race - The Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon on Sunday (7) – that has thrown up it share of shocks in the last six years, since the race was revamped.

Kibet’s colleague, Amos Matui came from behind twice to win the event in 2005/6, but just when he thought that he had ‘lost’ a tenacious pacemaker last year, and was on his way to a hat-trick of victories, the pacer – another Kenyan, Elijah Mbogo – materialised on his shoulder and shot away to win in a personal best and course record of 2:14:23.

That the record is relatively slow, compared to many big city marathons is testament to the the less than favourable conditions in Singapore, i.e. a temperature that rarely strays as low as 20C, with high humidity. But equally, it is testament to the excellent organisation and spectacular location that so many people choose to run the Standard Chartered event. The mass marathon has attracted more than 15,000, and with the ‘half’ and 10k entry, over 50,000 people are expected on the start line early Sunday morning.

“I talked to a lot of my friends who came here before, and they all said it was a very good race,” said Kibet. “The conditions don’t frighten me. Osaka was similar to here. I run well in conditions like this.”

Kibet, 25, was due to compete in the Melbourne 15k last weekend, as a prelude to Singapore. But a fall in training a few days earlier put paid to that plan. “I hurt my left shoulder, which prevented me going to Australia, but it’s fine now, I feel in good condition.”

But there is plenty of scope for another surprise. Last year’s top five men have returned, and a late addition to the field is Tariku Jufar of Ethiopia, who was third in Hamburg earlier this year, in 2:08:10, making him half a minute faster than Kibet on paper.

Masai and defending champion Ashebier lead women's field

And Kibet is not the only Kenyan World champion in Singapore. Edith Masai has got an even better record. Three-time World Cross short course champion, all won when well into her thirties have made Masai a phenomenon even in Kenya, a country and athletics community used to extraordinary talents.

Masai was eighth in Osaka last year, and has not run a Marathon since her second place here last year to Alem Ashebier of Ethiopia, who was another surprise winner, and returns to defend her title.

But Masai, now 41, is eager to make amends. “I thought I was over a sickness last year when I came here, but it returned two days before the race, so I was not in good health,” she said. This year, she has had an excellent summer of racing on the US road circuit. In July and August, she won four road races out of six, and was second and third in the other two. Other contenders in the women’s race are Russians, Irina Permitina and Silvia Skvortsova, both of whom, like Masai have run close to 2:27.

Pat Butcher for the IAAF