Catherine the Great just got greater. Catherine Ndereba lived up to her nickname – and her reputation as the world’s most consistently successful woman marathon runner – by regaining the World title she lost to Paula Radcliffe in Helsinki two years ago.
In Radcliffe’s absence – the Briton has not raced a marathon since Paris due to injury and childbirth – Ndereba extended her astonishing success record. A former World record holder, she has now placed in the top two of the last four global championships (three Worlds, one Olympics) and has been a top-two finisher in four of the five World Marathon Majors (WMM).
Ndereba has even won in Osaka before, in January 2006. As she sat on a chair, with ice under her feet to cool her after a race in high heat and humidity, she was asked to sum up the difference between racing a marathon in Osaka in winter and one in summer. Her answer showed that, even so soon after such a trial of endurance, she still had the capacity for humour.
“The Osaka Marathon in the summer and winter are two different things because in winter, in January, I ran the whole race with my gloves on and with something underneath my singlet,” Ndereba said. “But, today, if I had been able to run naked I would have,” she added smiling. “Unfortunately, I could not because I knew that my daughter was watching and she would not like it if mum was running without clothes on!”
Daughter Jane, aged 10, saw mum overcome an anxious moment at 35 kilometres – when she missed her water bottle – to become the oldest winner of the title at 35. Ndereba’s bottle was knocked over by a fellow competitor but she remained cool – in mind of not in body. Rather than being panicked into keeping her place in the lead group, Ndereba went back for her drink.
Asked what was special about this victory, Ndereba said: “This marathon was one of the hardest in my running career because the weather was a challenge. I was amazed to see, at 39 kilometres, that there were more than three runners (in the lead group) and I could not think I was going to win the gold medal.
“After 40 kilometres I felt I had something left. I tried to push it a little bit harder and I was able to maintain the pace up to the finish line.” Her winning time, 2:30.37, was her slowest of any of her marathons.
Even Radcliffe, whose World record of 2:15.25 is more than three minutes quicker than Ndereba’s best (2:18.47, Chicago 2001) and who has run faster than the Kenyan’s quickest three times, cannot match the spread of success enjoyed by the new World champion.
It is hard to know where to start when listing Ndereba’s achievements. She was the first woman to run under 2:19, the first African woman to win the Marathon at the World Championships (2003), she has silver medals from the World Championships (2005) and Olympic Games (2004) and now she has a second World title.
The first woman to win the Boston Marathon a record four times, Ndereba is also a double Chicago Marathon winner. With two second-place finishes in the New York City Marathon, and a runner-up spot in the London Marathon, only the Berlin Marathon in the WMM series has yet to experience her brilliance.
Twice Kenya’s sportswoman of the year, and with 15 Half-Marathon wins and 17 podium finishes out of 18 marathon starts, the deeply spiritual Ndereba can now claim to be the most dominant figure in women’s marathon running. Only in her first marathon, Boston 1999, when she was 6th, has she finished outside the top three.
Asked if running the Osaka course last year had helped her, Ndereba said that her memory of courses was never good. “If you ask me what I noticed all I can remember is the castle,” she said. Hail Catherine the Great, Queen of Osaka Castle.
David Powell for the IAAF