Sumgong eyes Kenya's women Olympics marathon history
Nairobi, July 31 (IANS) After finally winning her first big race in 14 attempts when she bagged the London title in April, Kenyan runner Jemimah Jelagat Sumgong hopes her second successive outing with Team Kenya will land her a big medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
Despite finishing sixth at the 2015 London Marathon (2:24:23 hours), Sumgong, 31, made the Kenyan team for the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China and to run 2:27:42 and lose out on the battle for bronze that went to Bahrain's former compatriot Eunice Jepkirui by only three seconds, reports Xinhua.
If her selection last year was debatable then, there is no doubt Sumgong merited to be the flag-bearer for the women's team in Rio 2016 after her epic London Marathon triumph where she got up from a nasty fall to crush the loaded field in 2:22:58 on April 24.
"When I was told that I have been selected for the Olympics team, I was very excited and felt good. This will be my first time to represent Kenya at the Olympics," the elated Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) runner gushed.
Following her Olympics call-up, Sumgong cut short her recovery from London where she got a nasty head wound and immediately went about training for Brazil.
Before the heroic London victory she was establishing the unwanted reputation of being the 'nearly woman' of the World Marathon Majors (WMM) after second finishes in Boston (2012), Chicago (2013) and New York (2014).
It was her fourth career triumph over the classic distance after winning the 2011 Castellon (2:28:32), 2013 Rotterdam (2:23:27) and the 2006 Las Vegas (2:35:12/debut) marathons that are outside the elite circuit.
"Having been at second place for a long time, maybe it was not yet my time to win. After sometime, my coach changed my training programme and that' s when I was able to win," she narrated how her fortunes changed this year.
Following her 2012 performance in Boston (2:31:52) where she lost the title to compatriot Sharon Cherop, the ever-smiling Sumgong was plunged into crisis after testing positive for the banned substance prednisolone in her post-race anti-doping test and was given a two-year ban by Athletics Kenya (AK).
However, she was cleared on appeal by the IAAF in September 2012, as the local injection which Sumgong had received was permitted under the governing body's rules.
After her doping ban scare she returned to finish third at the Philadelphia Half Marathon and worked hard for her crowning moment thus far that came four years later.
"I have recovered from the fall. I fell on a stone, which gave me a permanent scar that will always remind me of the London Marathon.
"It will also remind I never gave up and became London champion. It also taught me that no matter the many challenges you face have a positive attitude and be confident. I did so and I won," the athlete who also survived an intruder in the dramatic race at the British capital said.
Her indefatigable spirit saw her dismantle reigning champion, Tigist Tufa (Ethiopia/2:23:03) for glory in the closing stages of the race.
Sumgong has set her radar at making history as the first ever Kenyan female winner of the marathon title.
"My predecessors did not manage to win Kenya her first gold medal. If I do my training well and we work as a team I believe that I shall bring the medal back which I shall dedicate it to my family," she asserted with confidence.
Former world record holder and two-time world champion, Catherine Ndereba won the silver medal at the 2004 and 2008 Games in Athens and Beijing with Pricah Jeptoo matching that achievement at the London 2012 edition.
Hailing from the Nandi district in northwest Kenya that is one of the country's incubators of distance running talent, Sumgong began to compete abroad in 2004.
In one of her first elite races, she came second at the Gothenburg Half Marathon.
She started to establish herself as a runner on the American road circuit in 2005 where she won the Ogden Newspapers Classic Half Marathon and Maggie Valley Moonlight Run that year before her switch to the marathon the next season.