NAIROBI, Kenya, April 17- Boston Marathon women’s champion, Rita Jeptoo, had just finished her media obligations at the finish area when her exuberant joy was ruthlessly cut short.
Few metres away at the doping control room, another star of Monday’s race, men’s runner-up Micah Kogo, was patiently waiting for doping control officials to collect his sample when the celebratory atmosphere outside suddenly turned to bedlam.
Soon after, the two elite athletes and their compatriots as well as dozens of other competitors were ushered into a room in their hotel and told to keep still.
As they watched mayhem descend outside from a window, the realisation they had barely escaped with their lives begun to sink in as family members back home frantically rang when the devastating news that two bombs had detonated where they had majestically strode into distance running history over a couple of hours before.
Jeptoo who won her second women’s title since 2006 and Kogo who blessed his marathon debut by scooping silver in the corresponding men’s race returned home on Wednesday night, conscious of the close shave they had with the Grim Reaper.
“The truth is it is only God’s grace that saved me. I was the last athlete to be with the media at the finish area and I was at the footsteps of the hotel when the blasts happened.
“When I got in, at first I did not know what was wrong since many of us were walking well from the finish line and moments later, I was being tugged by security and told there was a problem outside and there was no leaving the hotel,” Jeptoo, who scooped the women’s crown in 2:26:25 recalled as her eyes turned wet.
“Later, all athletes were told to go to one room and that is when they explained to us what had happened and we started watching it on the news. I cried so much since I knew it was less than a minute since I had left the finish area which was less than 50m from the hotel.
“The first thing that came to my mind was my daughter. It was only God who got me out of that finish area. I was asking, God had helped me win and why now was he putting me into further trouble,” she added as she re-lived the pain of the blasts that claimed three lives and 180 more injured.
Kogo who ran 2:10:27 on the other hand was replaying his fantastic achievement of denying Ethiopians, winner Lelisa Desisa and Gebre Gebremarriam the 1-2 by bravely coming between them in the podium.
“I want to thank God since we went with our own speed and finished inside 2:10 and about 2:15, I was in doping control when there was a huge bang, very big bang and I asked myself what was happening.
“I tried to calm down because I was in the hotel and we were not allowed to go outside until the next day. Later, we saw the news and since the hotel was ten metres from where we were, we saw people screaming, lying down flat on the floor and immediately, they did not realise what the bomb was,” the former 10,000m runner who won bronze at the Beijing Olympics over 25-laps said.
“I was worried because the crowd was so huge and thinking about it and a bomb blast; I knew it would affect many people since it happened where most were.
“An eight-year-old boy and two others died. I was on the safe side (hotel) and I was texting and calling people back at home since everyone was trying to call me and asking are you guys okay but what was outside there was bad. Why would someone want to do such a thing? These guys who set a bomb in a crowded place like that, what are they going to benefit?” the bitter runner who was among those who saw the attacks steal the thunder from the actual racing bitterly stated.
“Next year, I will return to Boston again despite what happened. This year, I was strong since I had trained well, changed coaches and the route was not new to me.
“At 35km, I saw the European ahead and Sharon (Cherop) had told me there was a girl ahead and I was surprised to see the Portuguese. I decided to chase her hard since she would have won and I went all the way,” Jeptoo, who is now coached by Italian Claudio Berardelli explained.
“What I achieved in my first marathon is great and I feel very motivated. This will be my distance from now on and before I can aspire to compete for my country, I need one more to gain experience,” Kogo added.
As both runners left Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Marathon into the biting cold with members of their families welcoming them back home, the unbridled delight in conquering the ultimate distance was visibly absent as they departed to recover from the barbaric act of terror that has united the world in grief.