Six of the fastest runners of all time have revealed that Kenya’s rich running tradition will inspire them as they attempt to continue the country’s winning streak at Sunday’s Virgin Money London Marathon.
Such is the strength of Kenyan running that all six athletes at today’s elite men’s press conference come from the east African country. With just days to go until the 2015 race, they took time out from answering questions about race tactics and world record times to reflect on the athletes who have inspired them throughout their running careers.
Geoffrey Mutai, the former Boston, London and Berlin champion, revealed that the great rivalry between running legends Paul Tergat and Haile Gebrselassie has inspired him to push himself harder every time he races.
Marathon world record holder Dennis Kimetto also spoke about how the epic battles between Tergat and Gebrselassie encouraged him to leave his small farm in the Rift Valley and take to the running trails.
“I watched them race on TV and listened to them on the radio,” said Kimetto. “They inspired me to start running.”
For years Kimetto trained alone on the dirt roads and trails around Iten with only his dreams to sustain him, until he was spotted in 2008 by Wilson Kipsang himself.
That encounter changed the lives of both men and the pair are looking forward to finally racing each other over the marathon distance when they go head-to-head for the first time on Sunday.
“Paul Tergat is my role model too,” Kipsang said. “The way he used to work hard in training to be able to win races really motivated me.”
Emmanuel Mutai, a seven-time London Marathon finisher, and Eliud Kipchoge, who will make his debut at the race this year, both paid tribute to another great Kenyan runner, their coach and Olympic silver medallist Patrick Sang.
“I used to see my coach training when I was younger,” Kipchoge said of Sang, who won the silver medal in the 3000m steeple chase at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
Mutai and Kipchoge train together in Kaptagat, a village 40km east of Eldoret in the Kenyan highlands, where Sang coaches a small group of runners. Mutai echoed his training partner’s comments, saying: “So many different athletes inspire me but my coach Patrick Sang really stands out.”
Stanley Biwott, who will be looking to improve on his runner-up spot at last year’s London Marathon, also revealed that his role model is a Kenyan runner from a previous generation.
The 29-year-old acknowledged that Martin Lel, three-time London Marathon champion, is the man he looks to for inspiration. Lel won the race in 2005, 2007 and 2008 and is one of only three men, along with Dionicio Ceron and Antonio Pinto, to have won the race on three occasions.
He didn’t know it back then, but Lel was one of a handful of runners who began a Kenyan winning streak in London that endures to this day. Nine of the last 11 men’s winners have been Kenyan and that streak looks set to continue on Sunday.
Patrick Sang, who’s in London to watch his athletes race, agreed that looking to the past throws light on the current dominance of Kenyan runners.
“One of the reasons Kenyan running is so strong now is because we have a great history of running in our country,” said Sang. “Legends like Kip Keino have inspired people to follow them into the sport, which has created a great tradition that has developed over time.
“Kenyan runners are also dominant because we have so many people entering the sport. If you apply the survival of the fittest theory, the finest runners will come to the fore, and drive each other to run faster.”
Looking ahead to Sunday’s race, Sang said that a victory by one of his athletes would be the greatest moment of his life.
“Coaching is a partnership so it really means a lot that Emmanuel and Eliud are inspired by my running career,” he said. “If either of them wins on Sunday it will mean so much to me. I can’t put it into words, but it would be on a par with my Olympic medal.”