ELDORET, Kenya – Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei, the fastest-ever woman marathon runner, has set her sights on next year’s Olympic games, where a win will solidify her place among the greatest to have ever competed in the sport.
The 25-year old mother of twins smashed Briton’s Paula Radcliffe’s 16-year-old world record by 81 seconds at the Chicago Marathon in October, recording a time of two hours, 14 minutes and four seconds to cap a stunning rise to the sport’s summit for Kosgei who started competing internationally only four years ago.
“When I went to compete (in Chicago) I did not think that I would break the record,” Kosgei told Reuters at an Athletics Kenya conference in the northwestern city of Eldoret. “My aim was to break the course record (which was 2:17:18).”
She does not feel any pressure now after her record-breaking win or that she needs to restore some Kenyan pride over the distance, where, despite producing great runners for decades, they have struggled to crack the Olympics and then been shamed.
They managed three successive silvers before Jemima Sumgong finally took their first gold in 2016, only for her victory to be tarnished by her failing a doping test less than a year later.
“It will be my first time at the Olympics, if I’m selected,” Kosgei said. “I want to achieve (my best) at in Tokyo, to bring gold for Kenya.”
Kosgei said she does not fear anyone and focuses only on running her best while competing, a mentality shaped by her win at her first international marathon in Porto in 2015.
“Winning made me realize that I can run marathons,” she said. “Before that sometimes I would be discouraged by others that marathons are really tough. But I came to realize, it’s not tough. It’s just discipline and hard work and patience.”
Her goal since then has been to lower her personal best. “I would just keep lowering it until a few weeks ago when God helped me in Chicago, where I broke the record,” she said.
Kosgei said she was disappointed by the scepticism in some quarters that the record went to Kenya, a country that has had its reputation as a world leader in athletics tarnished by the use of performance-enhancing drugs by some of its athletes.
From 2004 to August 2018, 138 Kenyan athletes tested positive for doping, according to a World Anti-Doping Agency report in September 2018.
“I said to myself they’ve tested me several times and they would have caught me if I was using drugs,” she said. “If somebody has used something, that is their problem.”
Kosgei also dismissed critics who have said her record was unfairly aided by the use of the latest running shoes from Nike.
The shoes have carbon-fibre plates and a thicker midsole that the manufacturers claim improve running economy by 4% or 5%.
A version of the shoes are also worn by men’s marathon world-record holder Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, who the day before Kosgei’s Chicago win, recorded an astonishing, pacer-aided 1:59.40 in Vienna.
“Shoes don’t run, it’s the feet that run” Kosgei said. “If you are not in shape and I use those shoes it won’t help.”