Salina Kosgei lifts a thumb and forefinger, with a couple centimetres, or less than an inch between the two digits. “I was that close to a bronze medal,” she says with a smile. That was in the 1994 Commonwealth Games 800 metres in Edmonton, Canada, where her then fiancé, Barnabus Kinyor did win a bronze for Kenya, in the 400 metres Hurdles.
But in the early nineties, after marriage and first child, Billy, now ten, a combination of a leg injury and a stomach ailment ended Barnabus’ career, with impressive figures of 48.58 for his speciality, and 1:44.95 for 800 metres.
Salina, just 30, on the other hand can afford to smile, because, after that pause to have Billy, and then later, Ruth, aged four, her career has gone from strength to strength. “I couldn’t get races as an 800 metres runner (despite a best of 2:01), so we decided that I should start running long distance. I saw what people like Ndereba and Chepkemei were doing, so I began with cross country in ’99, and two years later, did 10,000 metres”.
From just missing out on Commonwealth bronze, she went to “easily winning,” in her own words, the 10,000 metres in Manchester 2002. Another pause to have Ruth, and she went the full distance, ie started running marathons.
Paris and Prague victories, fourth New York, second Berlin
“I didn’t run so well in the 10,000 metres at the World Championships in Paris (2003), so that’s when I decided to run the marathon”. Having finished eighth on the track the previous summer, she took the City of Light by storm in Spring 2004, when she returned to win the Paris Marathon in a startling debut time of 2:24:32.
She followed that with a win in Prague the following year, and then finished fourth in New York last Autumn. Any chances of a top spot in London this year evaporated when she slipped and fell when taking a drink after just five kilometres.
“I hurt my leg quite badly, then used a lot of energy catching up with the leading group. My leg was really hurting, the cold got to it, I think, and after 21k, I couldn’t hold on. I jogged 21k, but I still did 2.28,” she says with much justification.
That reverse was put right in Berlin three months ago. She couldn’t cope with race favourite, Geta Wami of Ethiopia, but she was a clear second in the German capital, with a personal best of 2:23:22.
Plenty in reserve
Another marathon before the end of the year, especially in Singapore, with its reputation for heat and humidity might seem like overcooking it. But she agreed to join a team formed by her training partners, Irene Jerotich, who won in Nairobi, and Rita Jeptoo, who plans to run the next leg, in Hong Kong in the New Year.
She says she is tired, and will have a three weeks rest, but the way she waltzed round the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, in 25C heat and high humidity, ripping nearly three minutes off the course record, with 2:31:55, suggest that there is plenty in reserve.
“They said it was cooler than normal, but it didn’t feel like it at 25k,” she says. “But it felt easy today. I only ran because of my friends, and I didn’t want to strain to do a good time, it’s too hot anyway”. Yet she looked the freshest person on the famous Padang in the centre of Singapore, as she posed for photos after the race with Barnabus, Billy and Ruth. And the way she is strolling around the hotel foyer prior to our post-race chat just three hours after the race, you’d think she’d been doing nothing more strenuous than shopping in the celebrated Singapore malls.
Kosgei comes from a family of nine, from Keiyo province, in Marakwet. She now lives and trains in Eldoret, hometown of Kipchoge Keino, the godfather of Kenyan distance running, and a town which probably boasts a higher number of Olympic gold medallists than southern California. Both she and Barnabus are members of the Kenyan Prison Service, but whereas he is on active service in Katamanga, 120k away – they travel back and forth each weekend – she, like most successful Kenyan runners, holds a nominal post of Inspector.
The couple also own a small farm of ten hectares near Eldoret, but this latest windfall, $25,000 for the Singapore victory will probably go on property rather than augmenting her small herd of cows. “I don’t need more cows. I think maybe we’ll buy some property to rent,” she says.
She’s happy, after consultation to leave training schedules to former Kenyan marathoner, Amos Korir – “it varies from week to week, depending how I feel, he always asks me” – and race management to Gianni de Madonna. Next outing is a toss-up between London again or Rotterdam next spring. She is nothing if not pragmatic. “it depends who offers the most start-money”.
Kosgei doesn’t see a term to her career yet, but she would like to plug a career gap, and run in the Olympic Games. “I’m not too interested in the World Championships, but I would like to run in Beijing”. Given that the conditions in the Chinese capital in August 2008 are likely to be similar to Singapore this last weekend, Kosgei may not be far off the ultimate prize in athletics.
Pat Butcher for the IAAF