23 April 2013

Uganda: 'Kiprotich Will Only Get Better'

STEPHEN Kiprotich must have regretted why he slackened as the men's race of the London marathon got closer to its half-way point.

Most people lost hope in the Olympic champion as he drifted backwards from the front pack. By the 30 kilometer mark, he was nowhere in the top 12.

But those who thought Uganda's flag bearer was finished were mistaken.

With two kilometers left, Kiprotich produced yet another of his powerful runs speeding past big names like world record holder Patrick Makau and Stanley Biwot to finish sixth.

"So just imagine if he had kept the front runners within reach. With his kind of finish, he could have easily won," insists coach Gordon Ahimbisibwe.

Ahimbisibwe certainly knows what he is talking about. He was Kiprotich's coach when he won gold at the London Olympics.

That time Kiprotich followed instructions to the letter. He kept at the heels of front runners Abel Mutai and Wilson Kipsang before breaking away with five minutes left.

But unlike the Olympics, Sunday's race was given a different dimension by pace setters. In their quest for a new course record, organisers got fast pace setters who took the men's lead pack through half-way at blistering pace.

The near world record pace had most of the big names shining for most of the race only to lose steam towards the end. Ethiopia's Tsegaye Kebede to the contrary timed his race to perfection.

He chased down runaway leader Emmanuel Mutai, passing the Kenyan in the final kilometer to win the men's race.

The 26-year-old was 49 seconds adrift in fifth place at the 35km mark, but finished strongly to cross the line in 2:06.04.

The tiring Mutai, who hit the front between the 36 and 37km marks and looked on course for victory before being reeled in, hung on for second place, some 30 seconds back.

Ahimbisibwe is confident Kiprotich can borrow a leaf from Kebede by keeping the front runners within sight.

But Ahimbisibwe and other coaches who followed the race also noted that Kiprotich still put up a commendable performance.

"The fact that he managed to compete favourably with the world's cream, is yet more proof of the great potential in him. Sixth position in one of the world's most competitive marathons is commendable," stressed Ahimbisibwe.

One thing Kiprotich should be commended for, is his strong belief in himself even when the lead pack seemed to put a top ten finish beyond him.

Other runners in a similar position almost gave up. World record holder Makau, who finished eleventh, is a classic example.

The Ugandan to the contrary did not give up the fight. This resilience indeed paid off with a good position.

Kiprotich won $7500 (sh19m) for finishing sixth and $15,000 (sh39m) for running under 2:08:30.

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