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Another mum set to challenge O'Sullivan for comeback gold

Another mum set to challenge O'Sullivan for comeback gold
Pat Butcher for the IAAF
24 January 2002 - Much is being made, inevitably of Sonia O’Sullivan’s decision to run in her home country’s promotion of the World Cross Country Championships in Dublin, just three months after the birth of her second child. But O’Sullivan is not the only new mum looking to regain a title - Jackline Maranga’s last outing in the World Cross resulted in victory in the 4k race up the road, so to speak from Dublin, in Belfast ‘99.

While O’Sullivan is more in the modern mode - like another former champion, Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway, who virtually fell out of the bed onto a treadmill after the birth of her first child Gaute, the Irishwoman was jogging within days of the birth of her two children - Kenyan Maranga is more of a traditional mother, that’s to say, she had virtually a whole year off after daughter Mokera was born in October 2000. But she is now in full training, with a view to gaining selection at the Kenyan Trials, at the traditional venue of the Ngong Racecourse, on the outskirts of Nairobi, on February 23.

Maranga is one of a swathe of Kenyan women, emerging as a collective force to rival their all-conquering men, who have won the senior world team title every year since 1985. The Kenyan women, for example won the 8k team race in Ostend last year with ease. Never a cross-country specialist as a youngster, Maranga nonetheless had the very impressive record of three successive world junior silver medals on the track - from her incredible youthful performance in Seoul ‘92, when she finished second, with an age 14 world record in the 1500 metres to Yi Lu of China; following which she dropped down to the 800 metres in Lisbon ‘94, for another second place, to Mioara Cosulianu of Romania; culminating her world junior career with another second place in Sydney ‘96, this time to Kutre Dulecha of Ethiopia, back in the 1500 metres.

But senior success and victory were not long coming. Maranga broke the Kenyan 1500 metres and mile records five times in the next two years. She won the African games 1500 metres title in 1998, following that with the Commonwealth title and record, again at 1500 metres in Kuala Lumpur. The next year, she succeeded O’Sullivan as the World Cross 4k champion, winning in Belfast with as much ease as the Irishwoman had done the year before, in the inaugural 4k race in Marrakech (O’Sullivan won the double that year). Maranga went on to finish third in the season’s Grand Prix rankings at the 1500 metres. But marriage to fellow international, Tom Nyariki, an ankle injury, and the birth of Mokera has resulted in a virtual two year hiatus in her career.

Now just 24, she is on a gradual comeback trail. While husband Nyariki busies himself with the motel/nightclub, that he has had built in their now hometown of Nakuru - they are both from upcountry in Kisii - Maranga is training with Moses Kiptanui’s group fifty kilometres away in Nyahururu. In order to cater for Mokera, her KIM management has arranged for her to stay in a private chalet, with an au-pair on hand.

Maranga started jogging last summer, and finished 10th in her first race, in Nyahururu at the beginning of December, with a fourth place back at home in Kisii just before New Year. Her next targets are the Armed Forces Championships next weekend, February 2, and then the Nationals on February 23, both at Ngong (the location, incidentally for the Karen Blixen novel, Out of Africa).

A reserved woman, similar in that respect to many of her colleagues,  Maranga is not in the business of prognosis. “I cannot predict. I just want  to improve, enough to get back to where I was before. I’d like to win in Dublin, and defend my Commonwealth (1500m) title in Manchester”.