Wilson Kipsang says that the memory of Sammy Wanjiru’s wonderful victory in the Beijing 2008 Olympic marathon will be in the minds of the Kenyan runners who take to the same Beijing streets for Saturday morning’s marathon.
The men’s marathon will be the first event decided at the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015. Kipsang and teammate Dennis Kimetto are the logical favourites. Kimetto holds the world record; Kipsang is the immediate past record-holder.
Kipsang was a rising talent when he watched Wanjiru power his way to the Olympic title, running an Olympic record 2:06:32 and leaving his rivals and onlookers gasping alike, the former literally, the latter in amazement.
“He inspires me so much,” Kipsang said at a media conference on Thursday (20). “Coming back to the same place inspires me.
“At that time I was not at the top, but now I think I am at a similar level and I can perform like (Wanjiru).”
You can quibble about what proportion of any performance is inspiration, versus what part is preparation and what part perspiration. There will certainly be a good amount of the latter on Saturday, with temperatures a little cooler but still in the mid-to-high 20s.
And with Kimetto, Olympic, and defending world, champion Stephen Kiprotich and a strong Ethiopian trio headed by Lelisa Desisa in the field, tactics may play a decisive role. In his only other championship marathon appearance – a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics – Kipsang blitzed the field from 10km to 25km before ultimately giving best to Kiprotich and two-time world champion Abel Kirui.
Kipsang’s mistake then was “not tactical”, however. “My biggest mistake was missing my water bottle at 5km and then going back to get it.” It cost him about 30 seconds, almost 200 metres in distance.
“I had to start all over again,” he explains.
His London experience had driven home the virtue of patience in the marathon, Kipsang says now.
“You have to save your energy. If you try to go too fast, you lose energy and you lose water too fast.”
As in 2008, expected heat, humidity and air quality in Beijing have featured prominently in pre-race discussion. Once again, however, the conditions may fall on the comfortable side of dire, though the absence of shade on significant parts of the course will make life more difficult.
Kipsang does not worry too much about the conditions. “We have to run with the conditions available, whether that is hot or the air is not good. I’m happy with what we’ve got.”
Though he no longer holds the world record, Kipsang is happy to forego a chance at regaining it in favour of competing at his first World Championships.
Kipsang says the Kenyan team has prepared well. Asked about the possibility of a medal sweep – the team’s third member is Paris Marathon winner Mark Korir – he assesses the chances as “high”.
But he does not endorse the view that the race will necessarily be between the current and former world record-holders.
“The Ethiopians, especially Desisa, and (Stephen) Kiprotich – these are the guys who can give us the biggest challenge,” Kipsang says.
“In such competition and in such conditions, everyone is a threat,” says Kipsang. “I won’t be watching Dennis only. I have to keep a close watch on everyone who is running with us.”
Kipsang says the Kenyans will run as a team but will also be looking for the individual medals in the latter stages of the race.
On the age-old medals-versus-records argument, Kipsang does not endorse the “world records can be broken, medals last forever” position.
“To win a medal is very important,” Kipsang acknowledges, “but to hold the world record is very important, too. There are more medal winners than world record-holders.”
In either case, given his phenomenal consistency – six times faster than 2:05 – Kipsang believes he can have more of both.
“I can break more records, run fast times and win more medals,” he says.
He can achieve at least two of them on Saturday. Asked to predict a winning time, Kipsang says: “The course is flat; if the temperature is not too high it will be fast. Maybe 2:07, 2:06.”
Len Johnson for the IAAF