Jackson Kiprop stole the show yesterday by not only winning the 10th edition of the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon comfortably, but also by setting a new course record of 2:09:32 — a good 22 seconds inside the course record of 2:09:54. This was Kiprop’s maiden visit to Mumbai and his first full marathon.
In fact, such was the pace of the race, thanks to some chilly weather earlier on, that second-placed Ethiopian Jacob Cheshari also finished inside the previous course record, clocking 2:09:43.
In third place was Elijah Kemboi (2:10:03), who hails from the traditional powerhouse of long distance running, Kenya. Tradition however might just be changing, if this race and the London Olympics’ marathon is any indication. According to legendary distance-runner Haile Gebrselassie, the rivalry in distance-running between Kenya and Ethiopia is akin to the cricketing rivalry between India and Pakistan. However, even as the two East African giants continue to battle for supremacy in distance-running, a third — Uganda — seems to have joined the biggies.
Much in the same way as Kiprop yesterday broke away from the pack of six lead runners that included Kenyans and Ethiopians at the 35km marker, unknown Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich (2:08:01) stunned the world when he clinched gold at the London Games edging ahead of Kenyan favourites Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang, the favourite. This set the ball rolling for Ugandan athletes.
“Stephen is my hero and by winning gold in London, he showed the world what we (Ugandans) are capable of. I was his training partner in the run-up to the Games and even now, before I came here, we trained together and I’ve been in constant touch with him throughout,” Kiprop told MiD DAY yesterday.
Elite Athletes’ co-ordinator for the Mumbai Marathon, Jos Hermens, who also owns an Amsterdam-based athlete-management company, put Uganda’s rise in distance-running in perspective: “Uganda has a lot of (running) potential, but the system there is not conducive to help the sport and athletes grow. That’s the reason Ugandan athletes train near Eldoret (in Kenya) alongside Kenyan athletes.
They pick up most of the tricks of the trade from the Kenyans and are now beating them at their own game. In fact, currently, we have as many as 10 Ugandan athletes signed up with us. In fact, Kiprop, running in his very first marathon, was initially roped in as a pace-setter here and was supposed to drop off the race around the 30-km mark. But he says his body felt great and so he continued and went on to win it quite easily in the end in record time,” said Hermens.
Uganda’s rise, has led to Hermens finding himself in a rather peculiar situation. “The Kenyans take a lot of pride in their distance running achievements. That’s why when Kiprotich beat Kenyans Kirui and Kipsang in London, the Kenyan athletics body was quite upset. Some officials even came up to me and made their displeasure known. Thankfully, both nations share a good relationship and Uganda’s growth in distance-running has been gradual, so the Kenyans are fine with them training together. I think Uganda will take sometime to dominate the sport,” felt Hermens. Going by Kiprop’s finish in Mumbai however, that ‘sometime’ doesn’t seem too far away.