A dogfight awaits as top marathon stars battle at the 49th Berlin Marathon showdown on Sunday.
Sheila Chepkirui, fourth at the London Marathon last April, will be flying the Kenyan flag in the women’s contest against a classy Ethiopian lineup that features defending champion Tigest Assefa.
Chepkirui, who carries an impressive 2:17.29 personal best from Valencia Marathon last year, must be at her best to counter Assefa, who posted an impressive 2:15.37 mark last year –the Berlin Marathon course record and Ethiopian women’s national record as well as the fifth fastest in history.
Chepkirui, a Kenya Defence Forces soldier and a former Africa cross country winner, won the 10,000m bronze medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK.
Ethiopian runners make up places three to five on the list of fastest women’s runners at this year’s Berlin Marathon, with Tigist Abayechew (2:18:03), Workenesh Edesa (2:18.51) and Hiwot Gebrekidan (2:19:10) all sub 2:20 runners.
Ethiopia’s Amane Beriso, winner of last year’s Valencia Marathon, is also in the mix.
But Chepkirui, glowing alumnae of Kiptere Secondary School in Kericho with 64.36 best mark in half marathon, would atone for missing the failing to compete at the Boston Marathon last April over Visa hitches.
She studied alongside former Africa 1500m champion Winnie Chebet, former world under 20 3,000m steeplechase champion Purity Cherotich, world cross country runners Fancy Cherotich and Vicoty Chepng’eno as well as 2013 world cross country champion Japhet Korir.
Chepkirui, who runs under Ikaika Sports stable and a lone Kenyan in the Berlin conquest after Margaret Wangare withdrew over injury, made her marathon debut at last year’s Valencia Marathon where she settled for third place in 2:17:29 to set her personal best time.
She trains in Kipchimchim in Kericho and hopes for a faster race in Berlin.
“The battle will not be easy. I will compete with the best marathoners ever. I ask Kenyans to pray for us,” she said.
Chepkirui looks steady and on a good trajectory in the marathon.
“Marathon is all about strategies. You must calculate well and strike a balance on your splits otherwise you may end up dropping mid-way. I love flat courses,” said Chepkirui, the 2005 world under 18 1500m champion while a Standard Eight pupil.
She has come a long way. Sample her calling card: 2016 silver medallist at the Africa Cross Country Championships in Yaounde, Cameroon and Africa 5000m champion in Durban, South Africa; seventh-placed in 5000m at the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London and 2022 Commonwealth Games 10,000m bronze medal.