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Edna Kiplagat: Athlete with a competitive spirit

ATHLETICS By Jonathan Komen | November 14th 2021
Kenya's Edna Ngeringwony Kiplagat  at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in central London on August 6, 2017. AFP FILE PHOTO

She was born and bred in the hilly terrains near Torok Falls in Keiyo North and the hardships seem to have paid dividends.

And Edna Kiplagat, the two-time world marathon champion, has been an active athlete since making the national team to World Junior Athletics Championships in Sydney, Australia, in 1996 while a Standard Eight pupil at Kapkoi Primary School in Keiyo North.

So far, she has competed in all the six World Marathon Majors (WMM) series, twice at the World Championships and the Olympic Games –a feat no athlete on the planet has achieved save for America’s Shalane Flanagan, who did it for fun this year.

Flanagan completed the unprecedented challenge of running all six World Marathon Majors in 42 days at the New York City Marathon last Sunday. New York, Boston, Chicago, Berlin, London and Tokyo as well as Olympic Games and World Championships form part of WMM series.

Edna has produced good shows in the WMM series. Sample her calling card: London Marathon winner in 2014 and second place in 2011, 2012, 2013 as well as 10th place in 2015. New York Marathon winner in 2010, ninth in 2013, 12th in 2014 and fourth in 2017.

Boston Marathon winner in 2017, ninth in 2018 and second place in 2019 and 2021.  In 2016, she finished third in Tokyo and Chicago marathons and a fourth place in Berlin Marathon in 2018. She won World Championships in 2011 and 2013 but finished a distant 19th at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

She was a runner up finisher behind Russia’s Liliya Shobukhova in the 2012/2013 WMM series and another runner up spot to Rita Jeptoo, the winner of 2013/2014 WMM series.

Shobukhova and Jeptoo were banned for testing positive to prohibited substances.

That put her in pole position for double prize (approximately Sh100m) from the two WMM series.

It was a disappointment for Edna as she missed out the jackpot.

“It was disappointing because having a big name means a lot. You are a role model and young athletes are looking forward to follow your footsteps. It took a lot of time for the case to be concluded but I thank the relevant authorities for making sure everything was done fairly. Unfortunately, I have not received money from Liliya Shobukhova of Russia,” she said.

She is among the most consistent athletes in the world. “I love and I am passionate about athletics. I competed in first World Marathon Majors at the New York Marathon in 2010.

“I was not familiar with the course but I knew it was hard course since it is hilly. It tests your endurance. It is similar to Boston. Berlin and London are flat and fast courses.

“Being a mother is a big blessing to me and my family because since I started running I have enjoyed their support me from my parents. My husband is my coach,” she said.

Unlike many other marathoners, Edna and her husband athlete Gilbert Koech had a soft ride in distance running.

With their bristling talent horned in the hilly terrains, Edna and Gilbert only needed very little to stir their long distance prowess.

Edna and Gilbert’s athletics scripts are identical as they were born and brought up in similar geographical settings, although they say athletics blood runs deep within them.

The husband-and-wife pair credit their tremendous showing in energy-sapping courses to their rural homes’ undulating terrains. And, unlike many high-achieving athletes, the two chose to stick to their rural lifestyles.

Edna, a former cross-country specialist, is another typical Kenyan runner that takes your breath away as she easily crushes opposition while looking at ease.

Born a distance from the scenic beauty of Torok Falls on the sidelines of the Elgeyo escarpment, Edna would play football while herding her family’s goats at the nearby Kaptagat Forest and treks to their ancestral farmlands in Kerio Valley.

Other former goat herders-turned-track stars include double-world champion Vivian Cheruiyot, former world 21km record holder Lorna Kiplagat and 2012 Boston Marathon winner Sharon Cherop.

Gilbert, the 2009 San Antonio Marathon champion, was born at a stone’s throw distance from a cliff in the escarpment lying on the same gradient with his in-laws.

They launched long runs from down the valley upwards and that was simply the start of their life on the on the fast lane. Amazingly, they occasionally attend training sessions at the mountainous Boulder terrains in Colorado, USA.

In 2010, they left behind their children Carlos Kipkorir and Wendy Jemutai for Colorado ahead of New York Marathon.

“The rolling sites to school gave us the stamina and experience to hold back during races. You become more relaxed and move with your own pace,” she said.

Edna says she gave up football for running after her games teacher advised her to try her luck in athletics. Although she was a classmate of 2008 Chicago Marathon champion Evans Cheruiyot and 800m sensation Vincent Kemboi, she harboured little interest in athletics.

FILE LONDON, April 14, 2014 (Xinhua) -- Edna Kiplagat of Kenya poses with her trophy during the champions photocall of 2014

“I was a swift striker but my teacher told me to give a try in athletes in 1995. I represented the school up to divisional level. We had competitions running home at lunch hour and that was quite helpful,” she said.

It was here that the Iten-based athletics coach, Brother Colm O’ Connell, spotted Edna together with Rose Kosgei, the 1997 World Cross Country junior champion, and enrolled them for the holiday training programme for student athletes in December. It was here that Gilbert and Edna met.

The training paid dividends as Edna made the team to the World Cross in Johannesburg, South Africa, the following year, finishing fourth in the junior category. And since she had then gained some running experience, Edna teamed up with Cheruiyot and Kosgei – who was at the neighbouring Matungen Primary School – in runs on the forest trails and escarpment paths.

She later attended Bro O’ Connell’s April training programme at Tambach Teacher’s Training College. This is where she met Gilbert, who had also been enrolled in the programme.

The trainings emerged a windfall for the then Standard Eight schoolgirl as she comfortably booked her 3,000m ticket in the World Junior Championships in Sydney, Australia, in 1996, where she bagged the bronze medal. She finally ended her yearbook running in the Ekiden relays in Tokyo, Japan.

Even though she joined Form One at Kipsoen Secondary School, where elite runners – among them Olympic champion Brimin Kipruto, Nancy Kiprop, Jepkorir Aiyabei and Elizabeth Ewoi – studied, Ednah missed a podium finish at the 1997 World Cross in Turin.

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