Was her maiden women 10000m world title win in Berlin two years ago when she was barely out of her teens a fluke? That is the huge yoke on the young shoulders for the Bugaa, Mount Elgon runner who became only second Kenyan female athlete to win the world title.
Pointedly, her Kenyan predecessor at the women 10000m Worlds pedestal, 1997 champion, Sally Barsosio, achieved the feat aged just 17!
“I’m not under any pressure to perform since like last time when I won, it can be anybody’s race. My aim in Daegu is to run my own race and try my best, especially now that I know everyone is out to beat me,” the soft-spoken athlete said.
Just like in Berlin when she stunned the fancied Ethiopian distance running machine Meseret Defar and her compatriots to stride to the world title at the homestretch, Masai will feature in the first track final of the competition on the August 27 opening day.
“When I won the first gold for Kenya, it motivated my team mates and that is what I would like to achieve but it will not be easy,” she added.
With the Ethiopians seeking to regain the title they held for 12 years before Masai’s intervention, Masai knows the tougher opponents will be her own team mates, with Pace Sports and Kenya Police stable mate, Vivian Cheruiyot at the front of the queue.
Cheruiyot, who holds the women 5000m title has stated in all intents and purposes her deep desire to go for the distance double in South Korea with a string of stinging performances at both races ahead of the Worlds.
Of overriding interest to Masai, Cheruiyot raced to a 31:07.02 debut win in 10000m in April before winning the same distance at the National Championships with 31:55.8 where the world champion did not feature having secured her ticket to Daegu.
It is not lost on Masai that Cheruiyot became the third runner in successive years to deny her the World Cross Senior women title the last time the pair came head to head in Punta Umbria and while the former was quick to credit the latter, the disappointment of missing the top medal in the 8km senior women race in Spain was not far from the surface.
There has been talk Cheruiyot’s ‘incursion’ into Masai’s territory has caused a rift between the pair who are currently, arguably Kenya’s most talented female distance runners.
“She remains a friend to me and we help each other a lot since we are also under the same manager. Most of the said problems with her have been created in the media, not amongst ourselves,” Masai dispelled the allegations.
“What is most important is the country retains the title and we will help each other in the team. The Ethiopians will be there and other good runners from Europe so we must be careful not to let the title go.”
Masai also has double ambitions of her own having qualified to represent her country in the 5000m by finishing second at the Kenyan Trials.
This season, she has competed in four 12 and a half lap-races and placing in the podium in all to demonstrate her pedigree.
“Being a winner is easy but to maintain so it is important not to run under pressure. What I know is that the best athlete on the day will win,” said the runner who is keen to once again, prove she is not the bridesmaid at major competitions.