Kampala- Ever since he broke all barriers to win gold at the London Olympics two years ago, many Ugandans always expect nothing short of victory from Stephen Kiprotich once he lines up for any marathon event.
Of the four events he participated in last year, Kiprotich won February’s Granollers Half Marathon in Spain and bagged gold at the World Athletics Championships in the Russian capital Moscow in August.
He ended the year with a distant 12th place finish at the New York Marathon in November, his worst performance since his marathon debut in 2011.
Between Granollers and Moscow, Kiprotich had struggled to match a group of elite runners and finished sixth at his debut London Marathon in April.
And a year later, Kiprotich will want to put the lessons learnt then into practice when he returns to the streets of London for his second event of this year tomorrow morning. “I think I had not fully prepared for that race both mentally and physically last year but I am ready and much more prepared this time round,” Kiprotich told SCORE before leaving camp in Eldoret for London early this week.
Despite choosing not to defend his Granollers title early this year, Kiprotich finished 11th at last month’s Paris half-marathon but he knows he must run faster if he is to claim his first major city marathon.
“Last year, the opening half of the race was very fast. It was a terrible pace because we were running inside the world record until over 20 kilometres,” he said.
“I powered so fast in the opening 21km but somehow thought I couldn’t sustain the pace; I slowed down a bit and I think I should have kept with the pack till the end because the pace was affecting everyone not me alone.”
Although the records show Kiprotich has struggled with pace in major city marathons, he still has the tactics to keep in the leading pack and possibly script a victory that could lay a firm foundation in his 2013/14 World Marathon Majors (WRM) series.
For him to cross the finish line first at the event’s 34th edition, Kiprotich will need to lower his personal best time and national marathon record of 2:07:20 (also the Enschede Marathon course record set in 2011) by about two minutes or more.
“On a good day, I believe I can run 2:03. I just have to remain focused. Just give me time,” Kiprotich said.
Should he win, Kiprotich could pocket up to $180,000 (Shs460m). A $55,000 (Shs140m) winner’s prize is already on table and there are bonuses for all male runners who will finish with times under two hours 11 minutes. Under his own arrangement; Kiprotich is also guaranteed $100,000 (Shs256m) if he runs below 2:05:00. There is more $125,000 (Shs320m) waiting to be won should the reigning Olympic and World champion set a world record.
Whereas Kiprotich is gunning for a scintillating outing, David Bedford, who recruits the elite fields for the London Marathon, is aware the Ugandan has enough competition to match.
A trio of Kenyans in world record holder Wilson Kipsang, London course record holder Emmanuel Mutai and the fastest marathoner in history Geoffrey Mutai are all in the fray.
Reigning world and Olympic 5000m and 10000m homeboy Mo Farah will make his full marathon debut having run the first half of last year’s event.
Last year’s winner Ethiopian Tsegaye Kebede, who was fifth with about four miles to run but rallied to overtake everyone to win also returns to the scene and Kiprotich poured cold water on comparisons with the tiny man whose waggling elbows and a huge heart frequently bring him back into contention late in the race.
“You see, Kebede is a very experienced marathoner. I think London was his 16th marathon. It’s unfair to compare him with me. I believe by the time I reach his level of experience, I will be untouchable in any marathon. For now, I am still learning.”
Only Kebede and Kipsang beat Kiprotich in the biennial WRM challenge last year.
Former double Olympic 10000m champion Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie will act as the pace setter at world record pace as he aims to pull the elite athletes up to the 30km point of the marathon.