A bruising battle in the desert. That is how newly-crowned women’s world marathon champion, the pint-sized Ruth Chepng’etich, described the women’s marathon race held on Friday that pitted her against the defending champion, a two-time winner, the Commonwealth Games gold medallist and the weather.
To win, the 25-year-old Dubai Marathon champion withstood high temperatures in the region of 37 degrees Celsius, all the while lurking in the shadow of defending champion Rose Chelimo until the 35km mark when she took over the proceedings to eventually win the race in 2 hours, 32.43 seconds.
After the race which took runners through the Corniche, a waterfront promenade extending for seven kilometers along Doha Bay in Qatar’s capital, Chepng’etich likened the race to a tough battle.
“The race was very tough for me. Since I started my athletics career, this is the toughest race I have competed in. I am happy and I thank God for the victory,” Chepng’etich, who was followed by second-placed Cherono (2:0241) and Namibian Helalia Johannes (2:34.25).
Her love affair with athletics started almost 20 years ago at Sigowet Primary School in Kipkelion Constituency of Kericho County.
“I started competing in athletics in primary school, then I graduated to Momonet Secondary School in Kipkelion and I continued competing. Being a day scholar, I could train before and after school and this laid a strong foundation for me in athletics,” she tells me at Team Kenya camp in Doha.
'HAD NO TRAINER'
After secondary school and having no trainer just yet, the budding athlete continued training on her own until Italian agent Federico Rosa of sports management company Rosa and Associati came calling.
“At Form One, I competed in 5000m races and then moved to 3000m steeplechase from Form Two to Four. I then tried cross country before scaling up to the half marathon after finishing secondary school studies,” she says.
And the athlete has made solid progress in her career since then. In 2016, she won Adana Half Marathon in Turkey, Paris Half Marathon, Milano Half Marathon in Italy, and finished second in Nairobi Half Marathon.
In 2017, she graduated to the full marathon. Her first major victory was at the 2017 Istanbul Marathon, which she won in a time of 2:22.36 and went on to retain the title the subsequent year in a course record of 2:18.35.
Last year, she wound up second in Paris Marathon with a time of 2:22.59 but won Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon in 2:17.08 – which made her the third fastest time marathoner in his history.
The first born in a family of three brothers and one sister confesses her love for athletics at every opportunity. She dedicated Friday’s gold medal to her daughter, Sherlene Chepkemoi, who is nine years old.
She sees the gold medal she won on Saturday as a sign of good things to come for Team Kenya.
“The gold medal will open the way for Team Kenya athletes to win more medals. That is how I see it.”
Although none of her siblings has taken up athletics, her parents, Steven Lang’at and Milka, were among the first people to congratulate her on Saturday morning after she won the marathon.
“My parents who live in Kericho County are happy with my progress.”
Interestingly, anger had fuelled Chepng’etich’s march to the title, and the 35km mark was the turning point.
“It is at the 35km mark that I realised I had a real chance of winning the race. Along the way, I had missed a water point, and I felt sad about it. I was so annoyed and I then got myself sandwiched in between the competitors and I contemplated giving up, but I kept pushing hard. I told God ‘please give me the will to fight on and the energy to keep pushing hard’,” Chepng’etich says with a smile.
The athlete who finished second in 2015 Paris Marathon has sent out a passionate appeal to Kenya’s male marathoners who will compete in Doha on October 6.
“The marathon course in Doha is tough. You must do your part by preparing well for the race, then pray to God,” she said.
Date of Birth: August 8, 1994, Rift Valley Province, Kenya
2017 Istanbul Marathon, 1, 2:22:36
2018 Paris Marathon, 2, 2:22:59
2018 Istanbul Marathon, 1, 2:18:35
2019 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon, 1, 2:17:08
2019 IAAF World Championships Marathon, 1, 2:32:43
5,000m- 15:17, Istanbul, Turkey, 2017
10,000m-31:08, Istanbul, Turkey, 2017
10km -31:12, Port Gentil, Gabon, 2019
Half Marathon-1:05:30, Istanbul, Turkey, 2019
Marathon-2:17:08 Dubai, UAE, 2019