The Kenyans are coming – and this time with real intent. And for the first time since 1988, Thompson Magawana’s Old Mutual Two Oceans record of 3 hours 3 min 44 sec, which has stood for 31 years, looks vulnerable.
Kenyans are not new to Two Oceans – John Wachira won way back in 2009 and 25-year-old Justin Kemboi Chesire came from nowhere to clinch victory last year, which was as unexpected as it was decisive. But the anticipated full-on assault on the Two Oceans record from the best runners on the planet has been absent. Until now.
And in the 50th edition of the “World’s Most Beautiful Marathon”, where the elite field is sprinkled with talented debutants, the name of Abraham Kiprotich shines like a beacon. Running in the colours of France – Kiprotich opted to claim citizenship from that country after serving in the French Foreign Legion – the 33-year-old travels to Cape Town with impeccable marathoning credentials and is on a mission to finally bury Magawana’s record and claim the R1 million bonus on offer.
Kiprotich will be racing Oceans just five months after placing third in the Istanbul Marathon in 2:10:55 – just 20 seconds off Magawana’s marathon best at the time won Two Oceans in 1987 in 3:05:31 and a year later when he broke the record a second time.
But Kiprotich’s marathon life best of 2:08:33 is more than two minutes faster – set at the Daegu Marathon in Korea in April 2013, suggesting that the French Kenyan is the real deal in his quest for Two Oceans glory. There is little doubting his pedigree – his older brother, Paul Kipkoech, won gold in the 10 000m at the 1987 World Championships when Kiprotich was just two years old.
Kiprotich’s career is not without controversy, with the athlete having served a two-year ban for an EPO (blood doping) offence after crossing the line first at the 2013 Istanbul Marathon. And there are reports that French Athletics want little to do with him, following his “DNF” at the London Olympics in 2012.
Kiprotich, who invests some of his earnings in supporting vulnerable families back in his home town in Kenya, is adamant that he now relies wholly on hard training to gain plaudits and profit from his international racing career. “I have learnt my lesson and it will never repeat itself again. I have been training hard,” he reassured the media after claiming the $50 000 winners’ purse at last year’s Lagos Marathon.
The fact that Kiprotich will be part of a strong squad of athletes who have been training together in the Kenyan highlands is further evidence suggesting a winning time faster than Zimbabwean Marko Mambo’s 3:05:39 set in 2005 – the closest any athlete has come to Magawana’s magical mark. In a remarkable feat, Magawana ran solo from pillar to post in 1988 to claim the brand-new automobile on offer for the record, while Kiprotich will have the advantage of being able to bide his time in a lead pack likely to be dominated by Kenyans.
Chesire will defend his title with experienced Melly Kennedy (4th last year), Jess Gichuhi (10th) and late entry, 2 hr 15 min marathoner, Isaac Kiprorir, providing strong back-up and team support.
“The record attempt is definitely on,” the Kenyans’ manager, Craig Fry, stated yesterday. “Our aim is to have a proper crack at the record. We have planned their splits accordingly. We’re going out for the record, rather than just playing safe and banking on a win.”
Only the fact that Kiprotich has never before raced beyond the 42km standard marathon distance casts an element of doubt on his ability over Cape Town’s challenging 56km route. But Fry does not believe his charge will struggle with the additional distance. “Abraham generally runs 46- 48km as his weekly long run, as opposed to the more common 38km distance for Kenyans. And he has had two training runs of 60km and another of 50km, so we feel confident.”