Lately, Stephen Kiprotich dreams of an Olympic medal very often. “Don’t even ask about my expectations at the Olympics,” Kiprotich told Daily Monitor in a telephone interview yesterday. “I only expect one thing, a medal.”
No Ugandan has ever won an Olympic marathon medal. But one charming thing about Kiprotich is his confidence. The belief in his potential knows no borders.
“I believe I can beat the world’s best. It’s just a question of time,” the 23-year-old runner often stresses.
On February 26, Kiprotich became the first Ugandan to compete in the Tokyo Marathon and pulled off a stellar display that saw him snatch third place. The more remarkable thing for him, though, was beating Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, the world’s greatest distance runner of all time.
“It was unbelievable,” Kiprotich remarked. “When I overtook him at the 40 kilometre-mark, I thought he would recover and beat all of us to the line. But I later realized he was fading off the pace.” The Ugandan crossed the line in two hours, seven minutes and 50 seconds with the legendary Gebrselassie stopping the clock at 2:08:17 in fourth position.
Kenyan Michael Kipyego, the man with whom Kiprotich trained for two months prior to the event, won the Tokyo Marathon in 2:07:37.
Japanese Arata Fujiwara was second in 2:07:48, just two microseconds ahead of Kiprotich.
“I should have finished second or at least won. But I had difficulties with the weather and the course was so new to me,” he said. That performance earned Kiprotich recognition from sports scribes as they voted him Nile Special-Uspa sports personality for the month of February.
But more importantly, the display has given him motivation to work harder in preparation for the Olympic Games starting July 27 in London.
“I will resume training after three weeks. I won’t be running another marathon between now and July for my body to recover fully. I can only compete in shorter races, like 10km or 21 kilometres.”
Currently the national marathon record holder (2:07:20), Kiprotich acknowledges the challenge Kenyans will present in London as all of their competitors can finish the 42km race inside two hours and three minutes.
He also believes Gebrselassie will challenge for the Olympic title even though the Ethiopians powers are clearly waning.
“I respect Gebrselassie a lot. We met in Netherlands in 2007 and he told me I needed five years to be in shape to compete with the top marathoners. And it seems he was very right,” revealed Kiprotich.
One of the country’s best long distance track runners, Kiprotich made an early switch to marathon running and his move is steadily paying off.
Last year, he finished ninth at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu. It was the second best performance by a Ugandan at that stage.
By Sande Bashaija, Daily Monitor