TOKYO, February 20 – Reigning Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich believes the marathon world record could soon dip under an eye-popping two hours and two minutes — but insisted he was not the man to do it.
A national hero in Uganda, where he is unable to walk down the street for fear of causing a traffic pile-up, Kiprotich told AFP that he was more concerned with racking up titles than chasing the speed demons as he prepared for this weekend’s Tokyo Marathon.
“For me, it’s more about winning races than times,” the 25-year-old, who backed up his gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics with a world title in Moscow a year later, said in an interview.
“A journalist asked me last year if I thought it was possible to break the world record in 2:02 and I said ‘Ooh, it’s impossible.’ But at the Berlin Marathon (Dennis Kimetto) ran 2:02 so I was wrong to say that.
“I believe that with good preparation and good weather that someone can run under 2:02,” added Kiprotich, competing in Sunday’s race to honour the memory of his baby daughter Elizabeth who passed away from a respiratory illness last month.
Kimetto set a world best of 2:02:57 in Berlin last year but Kiprotich predicted the Kenyan’s record would soon be eclipsed, just not by him.
“The record is possible — someone will break it,” he said.
“I don’t have that feeling that I can break it, but I feel other people can because they’re athletes, people who are naturally born with talent.
“Being Olympic champion and a world champion doesn’t matter as far as breaking the world record goes. Breaking the world record is something special.”
Kiprotich will face a stern test in Tokyo with last year’s winner Dickson Chumba of Kenya aiming to improve on his course-record winning time of 2:05:42 and with twice London Marathon champion Tsegaye Kebede also among a tough field. The Ethiopian’s personal best is 2:04:38.
“My target is just to go for the win,” shrugged Kiprotich, who has yet to run under 2:07.
“I will be up against strong athletes who have run 2:04. I don’t care about the time too much. What is important for me is to win the race. I’m just focused on that.”
– Life-changing gold –
His knack for winning on the big occasion has made Kiprotich a celebrity in Uganda. After the London Olympics, his life changed forever.
“Before London I was unknown,” he said.
“After London I became so famous in my country. It used to be possible for me to walk down the street, now it’s not possible. Everyone stops what they’re doing. Cars stop, people stop and point. Children follow me. I have to be careful.”
The ninth running of the Tokyo Marathon also marks the start of a new race format comprising the world’s top six races — including Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York — under the umbrella of the World Marathon Majors (WMM), offering a $1.0 million purse split between the men’s and women’s champions.
Organisers also confirmed a crackdown on doping with the WMM to help finance extra testing of top runners by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), but declined to give details of the new testing protocols.
Tokyo Marathon chief Koji Sakurai promised that security had been beefed up for Sunday’s race to alleviate fears of a terrorist attack, such as the bomb blast which killed three people at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
“Anti-terrorist training and plans have been stepped up since Boston,” he said.
“The police and fire services will be on heightened alert for any terror threat.”
Mingling with more than 30,000 competitors will be an elite force of police runners wearing cameras that capture real-time footage of the course, along with over 6,000 security officials lining the streets.