NAIROBI, Kenya, April 25 – On Monday, Salina Kosgei completed one of athletics’ rare metamorphosis by winning the women’s race of the 113th Boston Marathon in an epic finale. The margin of victory, one second, was the closest finish the hilly Boston course had ever witnessed in a women’s race.
Kosgei clocked 2:32:16 to squeeze out defending champion, Dire Tune who collapsed into a heap after crossing the line in 2:32:17.
That moment capped a glorious transformation for Kosgei, who started her career as a sprinter (400m/800m) before becoming a Heptathlete, middle distance runner then finally venturing into long distance running.
“For many years, I have tried to win one of the ‘Big Five’ marathons and I could not believe it when it became a reality in Boston.
Her elation upon sealing the victory was understandable. The Boston race is rated alongside London, Chicago, New York and Berlin events as the crème de la crème of world city marathons – the ‘Big Five.’
Kosgei’s previous ‘Big Five’ forays had returned successive fourth finishes (2007, 2008) in London as well as an eighth placing at the same race in 2006.
The same year, she came close to the Berlin title, running 2:23:22, her personal best time in marathon, for second and in 2005, settled for fourth in New York.
“Now I feel that I have done something in my career after those disappointing finishes in London and New York. I have won in other marathons but this was the one. Even if I was to go out now, I will be recognised,” the ever-beaming 32 year-old disclosed.
How did the lanky athlete who has previously won the Paris, Prague and Singapore marathons piece her best career triumph?
According to the mother of two, her tenth (2:29:28) finish at last year’s Beijing Olympics proved to be the catalyst.
“I was desperate to do well for my country and the pressure to perform made me very tense. I had trained very well like I always do before an event and being the Olympics I trained even harder.
“After the race, I was very frustrated and realised, for me to succeed in future, I needed to train while relaxed, not to place too much expectation,” she discloses.
With that in mind, Kosgei began preparing in earnest for Boston, with one eye cast at convincing Kenya team selectors for the August’s World Championships in Berlin to give her another chance to redeem herself.
“I trained in my usual base in Kaptagat without much stress. What I wanted was to get in good shape so that I could still be in contention when the deciding moment came.
“I did not know I could win. I did not know the route and I was afraid of going forward. The cold was dragging our movement especially at the hills. We only started running well after 35km,” she explains.
At that point, it was between Kosgei, Ethiopian Tune and home favourite, Kara Goucher for the title.
“Goucher had promised Americans she would win the race. She made the mistake of pushing the pace to early in the 25km mark at the second hill that is 2.7km long.
“She was the first to kick with 5km while Tune and I relaxed behind her. When she realised she was not dropping us, she tried another kick but we soon passed her as she tired,” the 2009 Boston women’s champ disclosed.
“That is why Goucher cried so much at the end. She wanted it very badly and her people wanted it too.”
Toe to toe, Tune (23) –who won last year’s race (2:25:25) by two second off Russian Alevtina Biktimirova (2:25:27) and Kosgei broke away to contest the title.
With almost a decade between Kosgei and her young challenger, it was time for the elder runner to employ a tactical ploy to floor the champion.
“I had watched Tune’s victory last year and realised she had a stronger kick than I. When it was just the two of us for the title, I decided to trick her.
“With 2km, I kicked and we ran very fast. I knew she would not let me go. I also knew that if I waited until the final bend to kick, she would beat me,” Kosgei reveals.
“At the final bend, both of us had burned out and with 50m to go, she tried to obstruct me by coming in front of me. I did not try to stop her and just relaxed. With the line just metres away, I went forward and she could not respond.
“I was very, very happy for the win. I dedicate it to Kenya Prisons, my coach, training partners and my country that has allowed athletes to do their thing,” Kosgei explained.
Totally burned out, Tune had to be rushed to hospital but she was later released while Goucher, came home third in 2:32:25.
For Kosgei, a Chief Officer 2 at Kenya Prisons married to former hurdler and Superintendent at the same department, Barnabas Kinyor, the entry into hallowed distance running territory had been confirmed.
She becomes only the third Kenyan female athlete to bag the Boston women’s title after four-time champion, Catherine Ndereba, a fellow Prisons officer and 2006 winner Rita Jeptoo.
“My victory is motivation to young athletes that you can start anywhere and win. I still have much time in my career to win more honours.
“Tomescu-Dita won the (Beijing) Olympics at 40. I was very surprised but she is proof that anything is possible with belief.”
Kosgei’s Boston victory has made her confident of being selected in the national team for Berlin’s World Championships.
“I want to resume training for Berlin as soon as possible. I have no other events lined-up because I’m convinced I will be selected to the team.
“This time, I want to do Kenya proud. I know the Berlin course very well and the good thing about it is, no matter the weather, rain or sun, it is always warm,” she offered.
“My aim is to finish what I intended to do in Beijing last year and with the help of God, I can deliver. He helped me so much in Boston, making my time to win come. If it’s God’s will, my time will also come in Berlin.”
Should Kosgei deliver the top medal for her country at the global event, it will not be her first time to stage a golden run in the famed red, green and black strip.
She is a former 10,000m Commonwealth Games champion, running 31:27.83 for gold in the 2002 edition in Manchester.
BIRTHDATE: November 16, 1976
PERSONAL BEST: 2:23:22 (Berlin, 2006)
PLACE OF BIRTH: Simotwo, Keiyo District
MARITAL STATUS: Married to Barnabas Kinyor, the 1994 Commonwealth Games bronze medalist in the 400m hurdles. They have a son, Billy, born in 1996, and daughter, Ruth, born in 2001.
Boston Marathon 1st 2:32:16
Olympic Games Marathon, Beijing 10th 2:29:28
Flora London Marathon 4th 2:26:30
Tokyo International Women’s Marathon 5th 2:30:34
Flora London Marathon 4th 2:24:13
Tokyo International Women’s Marathon 2nd 2:23:31
Flora London Marathon 8th 2:28:40
Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 1st 2:31:55
Berlin Marathon 2nd 2:23:22
Prague International Marathon 1st 2:28:42
New York City Marathon 4th 2:25:30
Paris Marathon 1st 2:24:32