Eyeing an elusive double

Eyeing an elusive double

Kenya's Edna Kiplagat will look to defend her world marathon title in Moscow

Eyeing an elusive double

Kenya's Edna Kiplagat will be heading to next month’s World Championships in Moscow with a record in her mind. No woman has ever defended the world marathon title and Kiplagat is aiming to be the first.

"Defending is hard," Kiplagat said in an interview at Iten, a small village in Kenya's Rift Valley, where most of the country's champion runners train. "If you're running for the first time, no one knows who you are but going to defend, everybody is going to look at you."

Kiplagat, who was 20th in last year's Olympic marathon, said victory in Moscow would help put the disappointment of London behind her, especially as the only woman to win two marathon world titles was compatriot Catherine Ndereba in 2003 and 2007.

"It would be a great achievement," she said.

Kiplagat spearheaded a Kenyan medal sweep at the 2011 Daegu World
Championships but the marathon team for Russia has been weakened by the absence of several top runners, including Olympic and world silver medallist Priscah Jeptoo.

Instead of seasoned campaigners like Jeptoo and Mary Keitany, twice London Marathon winner, a host of little-known athletes will line up with Kiplagat.

However, she believes the youngsters can replicate the success of Daegu, although the Kenyan public is largely sceptical. "They are still young but they are strong so they are able to do their best for a one, two, three finish," she said. "We don't want to put pressure on ourselves over what happens if we don't win."

Kenya's marathon coach Abraham Kiplimo has described Kiplagat as the "leader" of the five-women marathon team, a role the 34-year-old has embraced. "When we meet together I remind them that the goal for a championship is like any other big marathon," said Kiplagat.

"Though I also tell them that at city marathons there are only a few of the world's best athletes but at Moscow they are going to compete with the whole world so they need to be very focused and careful about how they think about the race."

Looking ahead, Kiplagat said she had not decided which marathon to run after the worlds and is only focused on Moscow. But the 2010 New York Marathon winner is looking forward to again racing with Keitany, who is her rival on the road but a close personal friend outside athletics.

Keitany has taken a break from athletics after giving birth recently, interrupting a rivalry that saw the two Kenyans fight for London Marathon honours in 2011 and 2012. Keitany won both races with Kiplagat finishing third and second respectively.

"Most of the time when we are at home, we visit each other or talk by phone, she encourages me," said Kiplagat. "But it's a little bit hard when I'm racing because I'm used to racing next to her."

Kiplagat finished second again in this year's London Marathon behind compatriot Jeptoo but said the race felt a little strange without Keitany. "I missed racing with her. It's like I was missing something in the race," she said.

While coach Kiplimo believes in Kiplagat’s ability to lead her team to victory in the women’s event, he feels Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede will be their main challenger in the men’s event.

Kiplimo said overcoming the 2013 London Marathon winner Kebede, who is also an Olympic bronze medallist, will be vital if Kenya are to win men's marathon gold for the fourth world championships in a row.

"Kebede is our biggest threat. He is a tough guy, as is one of the Eritreans, and they are not easy... but we have no worry at all, we are well prepared," said Kiplimo, who also coached Kenya's marathon team in the Daegu World Championships.

In the men's team, double world champion Abel Kirui is injured while London Olympics bronze medallist Wilson Kipsang has withdrawn from the team to focus on other races.

Kenya's marathon world record holder Patrick Makau and established runners Geoffrey Mutai and Emmanuel Mutai will also miss the championships.

In their absence, the team is made up of young athletes who are largely unfamiliar to the Kenyan public and have relatively little experience.

"I know maybe the country is worried because we don't have Abel, Geoffrey, Emmanuel or Wilson Kipsang, but as a coach I'm satisfied," Kiplimo said, adding that distance runners like Mike Kipyego and Peter Some will be celebrated in Kenya if they win the Moscow marathon.

"I've trained them, tested them, prepared them psychologically, they are very good," Kiplimo said.

"So we have gold, we have silver, we have bronze, especially in the men."