CHEROMEI - FROM YOUNGEST WORLD CHAMPION TO SEASONED MARATHONER
Lydia Cheromei returns to what has proved a rewarding hunting ground as the Kenyan assumes the mantle of women’s favourite in a strong field for the Volkswagen Prague Marathon on Sunday (May 13). The men’s race looks wide open with Ethiopia’s Deressa Chimsa the fastest man on paper but expectations are high for marathon debutant Philemon Limo of Kenya.
When Lydia Cheromei arrives in Prague, she says it feels like a second home these days. As with any Kenyan on the road running circuit, she is much travelled but the pronouncement rings true: she broke the course record with an impressive 2:22:34 last year and set a personal best of 67:26 to finish runner-up in the half marathon here on March 31. Add the ingredient of a marathon personal best of 2:21:30 to finish sixth in Dubai at the end of January and she is quietly confident, which is ever the Kenyan style.
There is one more factor that soon emerges as the woman who won a world junior cross country title at the age of 13 in 1991 readily admits: one of Cheromei’s regular training partners in Kenya is the new national record holder, Mary Keitany, thanks to the latter’s 2:18:37 in winning in London three weeks ago.
“Training with Mary back home has been a big morale boost for me. I was very happy for her success and I’m going to try to follow in her footsteps, though I know that it’s not easy to run under 2:20, but I’ll do my best.”
If Lydia Cheromei does join the select group of 17 women who have cracked that time barrier, she will have done it on a scenic but far from easy course, complete with a few sections of cobblestones, although these do not seem to have prevented the elite fields producing impressive times in recent years.
Cheromei’s closest rival on paper is her fellow Kenyan Agnes Kiprop. Her best of 2:23:54 was set in finishing second in Frankfurt last October. A half marathon lifetime best of 67:22 as runner-up in Ostia at the end of February suggests she is rounding nicely into top form for the marathon. Lydia Cheromei acknowledges that she faces a genuine contest with the field including Filomena Chepchirchir (2:24:21) and the New York-based Ethiopian, Misiker Mekonnin (2:25:21). The favourite’s preparations have gone well, but for one factor which Cheromei, or anyone else, could not control.
“I’ve trained well in Kenya but it was raining during the last part of my training so the build-up was not 100% - but I am ready.”
Just how ready Philemon Limo is for his marathon debut will become apparent once the starting gun goes off at 9 am on Sunday in Prague’s Old Square. The course record is the property of Kenya’s Eliud Kiptanui with 2:05:39 in 2010.
Limo is another Kenyan who is a familiar face in the Czech capital: he was the first man to break the hour for the half marathon here, clocking a personal best of 59:30 for victory last year. Third place in the same event in 60:03 was an indication of solid preparation, but Limo, taking advice from Lydia Cheromei and his friend and rival Stephen Kibiwott (2:07:54), admits to first night trepidation: “Yes, I feel nervous. I know in the marathon you can expect anything to happen, especially the first one. My friends have been giving me advice, saying, it’s nothing like a 10km or half marathon.”
He emphasises that the questions to be answered on Sunday are about the technique of racing: “Don’t start too fast and you must have practised drinking on the run. If you have even a small problem in the marathon, it’s not easy to finish.”
An experienced marathoner and the fastest man in the field is the Ethiopian Deressa Chimsa, who brought his time down to 2:05:42 when finishing eighth in Dubai in January. As ever, the Kenyan entry is strong with Nicholas Chelimo (2:07:38) and Francis Bowen (2:08:01) posing threats alongside Stephen Kibiwott.
Lee Troop is unlikely to be running at their kind of tempo, but the 39-year-old has a tough target nonetheless: qualifying for his fourth Olympic marathon in the green and gold of Australia. He needs to run sub-2:12 to achieve this and his last marathon was a 2:15:45 in the Gold Coast marathon last July. Asked if his determination to qualify for a fourth Olympic Games is as strong as it was 12 years ago, the answer is unequivocal: “Yes.”