NAIROBI, Kenya, February 10- As the defending champion, all eyes will be on Priscah Jeptoo when she faces the starting gun for women’s London Marathon on April 13 with the titleholder gunning to go under her 2:20:14 career best for repeat glory.
Reflecting on her chances as she bids to outclass an impressive collection of decorated distance running female stars, Jeptoo also hinted at a possible assault on the world record held by Britain’s Paula Radcliffe of 2:15:25 (London, 2003) or the top mark in a women’s only race of 2:17:18 ran by the same athlete in Chicago the year before.
Organisers have not made it easier for the Olympics silver medallist, widely acknowledged as the best female marathoner on earth at the moment, after adding the New York title on a weather beaten course last November.
The soft-spoken 29 year-old who has dazzled over the past two seasons, succeeding compatriot Mary Keitany as the World Marathon Majors winner, intends to push the pace in the latter half of the race to secure a second successive London crown.
“The field this year is not easy. They know me because last year I won and we have Tirunesh Dibaba debuting.
“It will not be easy in the first part but I will try to do my best on the second,” the woman who produced the second fastest time of 2013, 2:20:50, to win last year declared.
Jeptoo will need to be equally or more impressive on April 13 with three athletes who have run quicker than 2:20, another five who have finished under 2:25, as well as Ethiopia’s three-time Olympic track champion and multiple world record breaker Tirunesh, who will be marking her full marathon debut on show.
Tiki Gelana, the Ethiopian who beat her to the middle step of the podium in London 2012 Olympics as well as compatriots, double World champion, Edna Kiplagat, who played her bridesmaid and Berlin Marathon winner, Florence Kiplagat, form the main competition.
Having apparently ‘benefited’ from a crash between Tiki and wheelchair athlete Josh Casidy that ruled the fastest woman in the field out of contention as she finished 16th Jeptoo believes she will carry her hot streak into 2014.
“I’m in good shape; I can see I will perform well if I continue to train like last year. The way I see my body, it’s coming like last year,” she assured.
“What I did last year gives encouragement to me that I can improve my time and that is my focus to run under 2:20,” the 2:20:14 career best runner from the 2012 edition of the same race where she finished third added.
Having conquered London, Jeptoo opted to skip the World Championships in Moscow, Russia having won the second medal at the 2011 edition in Daegu, South Korea, to bid for the Majors crown in New York.
Despite the harsh almost storm like conditions, Jeptoo sealed her share of the $500,000 jackpot by stopping the clock at 2:25:07 to crown a season where she tasted defeat only once, a no mean second finish (66:11) at the prestigious Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in the UAE on February 15.
“It was a great achievement for me. It was something that I did not know I could be the World Marathon Majors winner. It gave me more encouragement I could make it and improve my time this year,” she spoke of becoming the second Kenyan female after Keitany to ascend to the elite marathon circuit crown.
On the subject of the world record, Jeptoo announced; “It is something we have spoken with fellow Kenyans like Edna or Mary who is on leave. This year we have to think about it and we have to try. It is something that is in my heart, that this year I will try to run a good time and if possible, I will try to chase the world record.”
Jeptoo asserted competing in big marathons had helped forge a reputation as one of the hardest runners to beat over the classic distance.
With the leading pack crossing half way in 1:11:49 last year, Jeptoo injected slight pace on mile 21 (5:11) to get clear of Edna and by 35k, she had extended her lead to 17 seconds then to 58 by 40k for her dominant win.
But even she realises she might be compelled to close faster to outwit a field out for retribution in April against familiar foes and the unknown threat of Tirunesh.