Lornah Kiplagat was an early arrival in Rio de Janeiro determined to be fully acclimatised, rested and ready to defend the global road running crown at the IAAF / CAIXA World Half Marathon Championships (Sunday 12 Oct) having run an unforgettable performance in Udine last year.
Kiplagat after having roared to a World 20km record in 2006 was everyone's favourite to triumph again in the second staging of the World Road Running Championships which was held in the picturesque Italian venue.
However few - including the magnificently talented road runner herself - would have forecast the Kenyan born star would shatter Elana Meyer's eight-year-old World record by 19 seconds in 66:25.
With a little reflection it wasn't such a surprise given the outstanding performances of her Kenyan rivals Mary Keitany and Pamela Chepchumba, who until the last five kilometres had responded magnificently to Kiplagat’s title assault in an epic duel.
Kiplagat's former colleagues - she has represented the Netherlands since 2003 following her marriage to coach Pieter Langerhorst - uninhibited response to her free flowing style, produced a perfect advertisement for the global road running championship.
Chepchumba in brilliant half marathon form this year and with a best time of 69:29, will again be in opposition on Sunday along with the equally talented two-times Berlin champion Peninah Arusei who has run even faster, 68:22.
Kiplagat despite being respectful of the entire field, nevertheless feels being essentially a road runner rather than a track and field beast, she will fulfil a hat-trick of successes this weekend.
She made the Olympic 10,000m a classic
That said track fans will remember how it was her furiously fast early pace that eventually led to Tirunesh Dibaba (ETH) and Elvan Abeylegesse (TUR) producing the greatest women's duel in history in this year's Olympic 10,000 metres.
Kiplagat does not regret her tactics, telling the IAAF website in an exclusive interview: "Not at all! I was not strong enough to be top-three that day, due to the fact that I spent a week in the hospital back in May."
"I wanted to see if I could break the field and if so, I would have had a chance for top three. If I would have waited in the field they would have out-sprinted me anyway, so I feel okay about that and at least we saw a great race!"
Kiplagat who feels Dutch supporters don't really understand the track is for her a supplementary discipline, added: "Expectations were too high, people expected me in the top three."
The 2007 World Cross Country champion, added: "But they base this on the three gold medals in cross and road events. However, I've never won anything on the track."
The 34-year-old insisted there was a positive advantage gained by competing in Beijing, said: "I have had a very good preparation and thanks to the Olympics, I did a lot of speed. I trained at my training centre in Iten (Kenya) all the time and haven't done any race since Beijing."
"I have no problems beside the small knee problem so I feel confident," which kept her out of last month's London 5K road race."
Like always, I have no idea who is running
Husband Langerhorst a great motivator in his coaching role, said: "We didn't want to take a risk as she wanted to concentrate on Rio. She missed only two days of training but running a 5km is intense and she was a bit afraid that the injury would be worse."
Kiplagat who arrived in Brazil on Monday (6 Oct), insisted of this weekend's meeting: "I'm really excited and especially because it is in Rio. It's a great place, great atmosphere so it will give me extra motivation."
"Like always, I have no idea who is running. I have not seen any names and am not interested to see the list. I run my own race, no matter who is running. I have my own strategy and don't change this for anyone."
Kiplagat recapping on her World record showstopper in Udine where en route to the finish she also lowered her World 20km record, admitted: "It was a big surprise because I was badly injured in the months before and I was under trained. We planned to go as fast as possible and see how it was going."
"I pulled a muscle early July in London and only after seeing Gerard Hartmann in Limerick, I was able to start easy training four week before Udine. I had only three week of good training and didn't had a lot of time to taper."
Kiplagat isn't making any forecasts of how quickly she will run this year, preferring to just to continue an exciting winning streak which has netted her top prize money and World record bonuses in the last two editions.
She also isn't really bothered whether switching the IAAF World Road Championships back to the half marathon distance is a good or bad idea.
"I really don't care if the distance is changing because I do pretty well from 5km up to 25km," she said. "But I think for the spectators and other people it is more clear to have one distance - just the half marathon.
Tough battle and team contest
Kiplagat will hold centre stage again this year but despite her vast confidence she knows there are some tough rivals in the race offering excellent awards from the US$245,000 prize money, over one the most scenic areas of Rio de Janeiro.
Apart from Chepchumba and Arusei there will be others determined to clip her wings, but countries headed by Japan and Russia, will be more determined to concentrate on dethroning Kenya the team champions for the last two years. The team event is an integral ingredient of the Championships and will be an essential part of the action on the point-to-point course here in Rio.
Dave Martin – PA International - for the IAAF