By Myles Edwards. Reporting from Iten, Kenya
Interview published on runnersworld.com Thursday 13th October 2011
Mary Jepkosgei Keitany, the 2011 London Marathon champion, ran her first race in 2006. The Shoe4Africa road race, a 10k (but now a 5k) awarded prizes to the first 20 finishers. Mary was 21st. It could be argued that this result provided the catalyst for the altitudinal heights which the 5 ft 1” Kalenjin’s career has now reached. However, it was evident when speaking with her in Iten,Kenya, on Saturday that her granite-like determination was engrained in her long before that race.
Coached by Gabriele Nicola, Keitany is now a multiple world record holder. Growing up as a child inKenya, Mary was not short of role models and she states Paul Tergat and Tegla Loroupe as her idols. Having athletes such as these to look up to not only planted the seeds of inspiration but instilled a burning desire for Mary to try and match their achievements.
Her coach, Gabriele Nicola, provided great insight into the reasons behind her success:
“Mary is talented, she is light and she has a big engine. Some people are born to run fast. However, on top of this she has a professional attitude and great discipline. There is no secret. Talent is useless for people if they do not have the correct attitude.”
Speaking with both of them earlier this week, it was clear to see the huge amount of mutual respect and admiration they have for one another. Mary said:
“Gabriele does a great job as our coach and his training is very good. The best thing is that he is always with us and is very supportive when showing us what exactly to do.”
(By ‘us’ Mary is referring to the elite group which contains Sharon Cherop, Helena Kirop, Agnes Kiprop, Lydia Cheromei, Peninah Arusei and Hilda Kibet. These athletes are coached by Gabriele Nicola and some managed by Gianni Demadonna.)
With already world records galore to her name, I quizzed Mary on whether she saw Paula Radcliffe’s world best of 2.17.42 as an achievable target. She responded in her typical modest but confident manner:
“It is maybe possible. Now that Florence (Kiplagat) has also run 2.19 there is competition there to maybe do it sometime.”
Mary was unsure as to whether Radcliffe’s world record should stand. The time of 2.15.25 was controversially deemed ineligible by the IAAF last month due the presence of male pacemakers:
“I am not sure. It is a good time. What I do believe is that a male pacemaker does make a difference when you are looking to run that pace. It will not be possible to get a woman to pace for 2.15.”
With her sights set firmly on victory in next month’s ING New York City Marathon, Mary feels that she has improved a lot since her third place finish in the race last year:
“I have worked very hard since last year. I want to go faster. I want to control the race from the start and make it quicker.”
Winning the 2011 London Marathon stands out as Mary’s favourite achievement to date, but she would not be completely drawn on whether it would be enough to guarantee selection for the 2012 Olympics:
“I will do New York first, that is what I am focusing on. After New York, I can think about the Olympics but until then it is very important to have complete focus on my next race in New York. If I run well there, then I think that the two performances will be enough.”
Gabriele elaborated on Mary’s thoughts regardingKenya’s 2012 Olympic selection:”The problem is not with selection.
“The aim is to be ready and stay free of injury for the Olympics. We hope that Mary will stay okay from now until then. You cannot predict what will happen between now and then but the three most likely to be selected are Mary Keitany, Edna Kiplagat, and Florence Kiplagat.”
Although the focus of this cheerful, pocket-sized rocket is firmly set on the streets ofNew York, be under no illusions that barring injury or illness, she will unleash her artillery of weapons on her favourite course in 2012.
Mary Keitany career record
In 2007, she made her mark internationally with a second place behind Lornah Kiplagat (who won in a world record half-marathon time) in the IAAF World Road Running Championships inUdine,Italy. Following the birth of her first child in June 2008, her first race back was the World 10km inBangalore,India, in May 2009, where she finished a very close second behind Aselefech Mergia ofEthiopiaand ran a personal best 32:09. Four months later she won the 2009 Lille Half Marathon inFrancein a time of 1:07:00–making her the seventh fastest ever over the distance. Next was the 2009 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships inBirmingham, which Keitany won, breaking the Championship record with a 1:06:36.
In 2010, she broke the world record for 25 kilometers inBerlin, winning in 1:19:53 and also scooped first prize in the Abu Dhabi Half Marathon. This year she went on to break the world half marathon record in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE with a time of 1:05:50, breaking a record along the way for 20k (1:02:36) and setting world bests at 8k and 10 miles. Keitany then earned her emphatic win inLondonin April, covering the 26.2 miles in 2:19:19.