NAIROBI, Kenya, October 12 – Mary Jepkosgei Keitany underlined her status as one of the burgeoning talents in road running with a majestic win at the World Half Marathon Championships in Birmingham last Sunday.Running from the front, the shy lady simply laid down a marker with a new personal best and championships record of 1:06:36.
It was Kenya’s first victory in the race since Tegla Loroupe’s win more than a decade ago improving on her silver medal in Udine in 2007.
The win also completed a remarkable comeback for the 27 year old who missed all of last year due to maternal duties having married fellow athlete Charles Koech at the back end of 2007. Their son, Jared Kipchumba was welcomed to the world on June 22, 2008.
Not that you would tell going by her tremendous performances this season that have seen her ranked the top woman in half marathon running.
Many up and coming athletes give credit to the stalwarts, like Catherine Ndereba, Susan Chepkemei and Tegla Loroupe, and Jepkosgei is no exception. “People were always praising people like Ndereba and Chepkemei and it made me want to do something similar,” she said.
Born in Kisok village, Jepkosgei Keitany went to Kanjulul and Kisok Primary schools. During that period, she used to take part in school competitions for fun, reaching district level at 5000m. She took her athletics a notch higher in 2002 when she joined Hidden Talent Academy for her secondary school education, specialising in 1500 and 5000m.
Jepkosgei Keitany went all the way to national level in 2003 at 5000m and she repeated the feat in 2004, running in the national 5000m finals at Kasarani. Another national finals appearance marked her final year and, in January 2006, Jepkosgei Keitany travelled all the way to Iten to join a group of athletes training in the area. “I knew I had a talent so I thought I should go somewhere where I can develop and improve it,” she said.
Running a cross country at Chepkoilel in Eldoret in November 2006, she won easily. “It was good to see that my training was bearing fruit,” she said. She impressed the agent and, a few weeks later, she was on her way to Europe for her first outing outside the country.
In December, she ran her first Half Marathon in Sevilla, where she won in 69:06. Two weeks later she won the San Silvestre Olivais 10k in Lisbon, clocking 33:06.
She started 2007 with a 5k race in Le Mans in January where she finished fourth in a race won by fellow Kenyan Veronica Nyaruai. Jepkosgei Keitany timed 16:00 minutes.
Two weeks later, Jepkosgei Keitany lined up in Almeria Half Marathon where she edged out Joan Ayabei to win in 73:02. In February she was in Paris where she finished fourth and a few weeks later came second in an 8k race in Lisbon.
In April, she continued her good Half Marathon form, winning the Humarathon, her third win over the distance. Three weeks later, she got a chance to rub shoulders with the crème de la crème of road running when she paced London Marathon. “It was great to run in London and I ran with the leaders until the 26k mark when I dropped out as my work was done,” she said.
Barely six days later, Jepkosgei Keitany was in France for the Heillecourt 8.8k race but the two races in the month had taken their toll and she finished a disappointing sixth in 14:22. But, two days further on, she roared back to form when she won the Puy-en-Velay 15k race (50:10)
Then, in September, she won her fourth Half Marathon when she clinched Lille Half Marathon in 68:43. After that, she returned home and, when she was picked for Udine; she upped her training at her Iten base.
Of Udine and beyond, she said: “I want to win but even if I get a podium finish I will be fine. I want to continue my development and hopefully get to run in marathons in the near future.”
She lived up to her promise in the Italian City in October running the race of her life to win silver in a new personal best of 66:48 behind Kiplagat who won the world crown.
Jepkosgei would however not build on her 2007 results in 2008 as she took a break to attend to maternal matters.
She was however back with a bang in 2009 starting with 10K race in Bangalore in May where she finished second in a personal best time of 32:09. The in September she clocked her seasonal best in half marathon with 67:00 as she won the Métropole Lille Half Marathon.
Then came her finest moment yet in Birmingham. Her performances are even more welcome given that Kenya has been struggling to get successors to the Catherine Ndereba and Salina Kosgei generation.
But just as we seemed to be running out time, the Baringo born athlete has shot up to the forefront.
Her performances have also alerted marathon race directors worldwide with New York Race director Mary Wittenburg saying she hopes Keitany will be in New York in 2010 or 2011.
Born 18 January 1982
Place of birth: Kisok Village, Kabarnet, Baringo District
Marital Status: Married with child
Manager: Gianni Demadonna
Camp: Adidas camp in Iten
2007 1st Almeria Half Marathon
2007 1st Humarathon
2007 1st Puy-en-Velay (France) 15k
2007 1st Lille Half Marathon
2007 2nd World Half Marathon Championships (Udine)
2009 1st World Half Marathon Championships (Birmingham)