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How Ruth Chepngetich overcame heat to strike gold

ATHLETICS By Dennis Okeyo and AFP | September 29th 2019
Kenya's Ruth Chepngetich celebrates after winning the Women's Marathon at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha on September 27, 2019. [AFP]

Ruth Chepngetich decimated rivals yesterday morning to deliver gold for Kenya in a grueling race that saw many of the pre-race favourites fail to finish as fierce heat and humidity took their toll at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha.

The 25-year-old world number one clocked 2:32:43 seconds in a race whose arduous nature was reflected in all three of the Ethiopians failing to make it past the halfway mark -- the trio among around a couple of dozen who found the going too tough.

“The race was tough but I didn’t give up. I couldn’t let it out of my mind that I could be the winner. “I only used water. I forced myself to drink it and also used the sponge to help make me cooler.”

On her preparation Chepngetich said: “I train with a group of men and women. It’s a marathon team. And we have been working hard so that we can manage in races like this.

“My coach was giving us a programme and we were doing it without any problem. We are a much disciplined group. It was hard but now I am a winner.”

She added: “At one point it felt tough but I made up my mind not to give up. I just wanted it so much because I worked for it in training.”

Defending champion Rose Chelimo of Bahrain took silver and Namibia’s Helalia Johannes the bronze in a race where the runners received water bottles wrapped in ice with Israel’s 10,000m champion Lonah Salpeter at one point taking a cap with ice in it to cool her down.

Kenyan-born Salpeter, who moved to Israel as a nanny for a Kenyan diplomat and subsequently married her Israeli coach, dominated the early part of the race leading Chepngetich, another Kenyan Visiline Jepkesho, Chelimo and Ethiopian Ruti Aga in fourth.

Chepngetich set an astonishing pace with only 13km gone watched by a fair sized crowd gathered round the Corniche.

Oblivious to the growing carnage behind her, Chepngetich briefly opened up a gap but was joined by Edna Kiplagat, Chelimo, Jepkesho and Namibian Johannes — they held a 55 second lead over Salpeter at the 15km mark. 

One of the pre-race favourites, Ethiopia’s Rosa Dereje, who was third in this year’s London marathon, dropped out with an ankle injury shortly before the 15km mark.

In the end, Chepngetich made a break for glory as the bell went leaving her three rivals trailing in her wake — Chelimo giving chase but Johannes and Kiplagat’s chances of winning had gone.

Some had to be stretchered off, with Linet Chebet of Uganda taken away in an ambulance and Italy’s Sara Dossena wheeled away in a wheelchair.

Generally, Chepgetich has been phenomenal on the road in the past two years. She won the 2017 Istanbul Marathon in 2:22:36 and defended her title in 2018.

She also emerged victorious at the 20th Dubai Marathon (2019) in a course record breaking time of 2 hours, 17 minutes and 07 seconds.

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