World-record holder Kosgei ready to set more milestones
Can anyone stop Brigid Kosgei? The 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon champion took women’s endurance running to a new level at the Chicago Marathon last October, setting a remarkable new sporting milestone when she obliterated the world marathon record – held by Paula Radcliffe for 16 years – by a staggering 81 seconds.
It was a performance for the ages that altered everything for her. “It changed my career,” explained Kosgei on Thursday, as she addressed a virtual press conference before applying the finishing touches to her preparations to defend her London title on Sunday 4 October. “It made me more encouraged to do a lot of training and focus so that I could try to break that record again.”
Which brings us to the unique rescheduled Virgin Money London Marathon elite races this weekend, which will be staged on a ‘biosecure’ looped course around St James’s Park. International athletics has had a long, troubled year to negotiate before getting close to learning just what 26-year-old Kosgei is capable of next. It could be something special.
But although Kosgei has said she believes she can lower her record of 2 hours, 14 minutes, 4 seconds to 2:10, she’s not about to make any more predictions. The Covid-19 pandemic, naturally, had disrupted her training plans and changed expectations.
Her world record, or at least Mary Keitany’s women’s only race landmark of 2:17:01, might have been a target in the spring, but the new-look race has left her sounding cautious, however straightforward she makes training ‘just’ 190km a week sound.
“For two months now, I’ve been training with a little group after they announced the London Marathon would be held. But going back some months, I was training alone. It’s affected most of us in Kenya,” Kosgei said.
“Due to this pandemic, I cannot say I’ll run this way or that way, because coronavirus means we did not do enough training, like last year. So I want to try my best only on Sunday.”
Kosgei’s best, her opponents have increasingly found, has proved far too good over the past two years. She’s begun to look as dominant as her compatriot Eliud Kipchoge, with magisterial victories in her last three marathons – the last two Chicago races and her emphatic 2019 London win.
“We will try,” she said, when pressed on the prospect of another super-fast time, but was quick to dismiss the idea that her hi-tech running shoes were responsible for such feats.
“The shoes cannot run,” she said with conviction. “It’s the person who runs.”
Kosgei did not have to look very far on Thursday to be reminded of the need for a cautious approach. For the record-breaker was sitting just a few socially distanced metres away from one of a host of formidable rivals ready to make Sunday’s race another classic.
Kosgei and her fellow 26-year-old Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich explained they don’t know each other very well but they both know this is not a one-woman show.
Sunday’s cooler climes will doubtless feel very different to the stifling 30-degree heat and high humidity of Doha, where Chepngetich won the world marathon title. The 2:17:08 marathoner got round in 2:32:43 on that most trying of early-hour runs, which demonstrated perfectly why she has the battling spirit to match her dazzling talent.
“I’m happy to be in London. I’m ready to compete on Sunday. I’ve trained well, I’m feeling good and I’m ready for the run,” she explained, sounding particularly pleased to be running on the sort of looped course that Doha also offered. Kosgei, on the other hand, admitted that she thought she would find running the laps “difficult”.
And it’s not just a two-horse race – the duo’s distinguished compatriot and an unquestioned all-time great, 2018 London champion Vivian Cheruiyot has a CV that demands respect. Although she hasn’t won a marathon since that 2018 win (she was second here last year) and has just turned 37.
The Kenyan challenge will be bolstered further by Frankfurt Marathon champion Valary Jemeli, who’s a 2:19:19 performer, but all four will be as wary as ever about the threat posed by their Ethiopian neighbours, headed by 32-year-old Berlin Marathon champion Ashete Bekere and one of the sport’s rising stars, 22-year-old Alemu Megertu, a winner in Rome last year.
Ethiopian hopes would have been even higher if the exciting young talent Degitu Azimeraw had not had to remain at home after testing positive for Covid-19. Her absence is a poignant reminder of why this race has to be confined to a biosecure bubble without the usual cheering throng lining the streets.
Yet Chepngetich best explained why she feels this year’s London Marathon will remain a triumph, with its 45,000 ‘virtual’ runners still giving it a unique feel in the background.
“It will not change things too much because people will be cheering us on TV,” said the world champion. “We will all be there in spirit.”