NAIROBI, June 25 (Reuters) – Kenya’s Olympic marathon contender Ruth Chepngetich had a remarkable year dealing with training and racing restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic but managed to break the world record for half marathon break.
When preparing for the Istanbul Half Marathon in April, 26-year-old Chepngetich only focused on driving a good, confident race, but in the end she broke the world record by 29 seconds and fulfilled a dream.
“I’ve been thinking about ‘world record, world record’, I can say (now) … I broke the world record in Istanbul,” Chepngetich said in an interview with Reuters. Continue reading
After her impressive victory in Turkey, the 2019 marathon world champion set up camp in Ngong, an hour from Kenya’s capital Nairobi, to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics.
Her compatriot and world record holder Brigid Kosgei is one of her competitors in the marathon.
Chepngetich understands that her own strong performances have increased the pressure.
“I say I should focus on these games because everyone is watching me now,” she said. “I think when someone is at a high level there is a lot of pressure.”
But Chepngetich said that she can only focus on herself and what to do to bring home a medal.
“I’m preparing my mind for the Olympics, I’m focusing on these Olympics,” she said.
The past year was not easy for Chepngetich.
When COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill and restrictions existed to stop the virus from spreading and bring the sport to a halt, Chepngetich had to change her approach to training and run with a small group as few races were available to help her progress to test.
“For me, athletics is my life, I have no other jobs,” she said.
When the races resumed in autumn 2020, she needed time to give full throttle again.
Chepngetich finished third in the London Marathon, which Kosgei won, where she also sustained an injury that she partly attributed to her long break.
“I relaxed and came back to training in full power because I was confirmed in London. So I forced my body until I got the Achilles tendon injury,” she said.
Chepngetich finished second in New Delhi in November and a month later in a 10K race in Madrid.
“I wasn’t 100% because of COVID (restrictions that restricted training and racing),” Chepngetich said.
But these races built her momentum and when she got to Istanbul Chepngetich was able to fly.
“Last year’s races made me more active than before, so I ran well in Istanbul.”
The soft-spoken Chepngetich grew up in Kericho County in eastern Kenya as the son of parents who kept poultry and grow corn. She is the only athlete in the family of five and caught the running virus early around the age of nine, she said.
When she was around 16, running became more than just a hobby. She followed the actions of compatriots Hellen Obiri, Olympic runner-up in Rio in 2016 and 5,000-meter world champion in 2017 and 2019, and Faith Chepngetich, 1,500-meter gold medalist at the Rio Games, and wanted to emulate them.
“I admired her (and promised myself) that one day I would be like her,” she said.
When Chepngetich finished secondary school in 2015, she turned entirely to athletics and started training with older athletes in Kericho, where a local trainer gave her training tips.
In the same year she took part in one of her first professional races in Nairobi, a 10 km run in which she was third.
A few months later, she finished third in a half marathon in Morocco in her first competition abroad.
Performances were encouraging and in 2017 she won victories in Adana, Paris, Milan and Istanbul and improving times gave her more confidence to become a professional athlete. She won her first marathon race in Istanbul later that year.
“This marathon has given me more confidence that I can do more,” she said.
Since then, with her brilliant performance in Istanbul, Chepngetich has increased her performance to become the 2019 world marathon champion and world record holder in the half marathon and will be one of the gold favorites in Tokyo.
Despite all the challenges the pandemic brings, Cheptengish remains optimistic about her outlook, saying she will continue to “think positively to have a nice race”.
Reporting by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Ken Ferris
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