Kenya: Marathoner Cherono Primed for 'Race of a Lifetime' in Japan

Upon being named in Team Kenya men's marathon squad for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, Lawrence Cherono was beside himself with joy.

Because Kenya has an abundance of distance running talent, coaches normally face selection dilemma and the reigning Boston Marathon and Chicago Marathon champion was not sure whether he would find a place in Team Kenya.

To complicate matters for Cherono, many Kenyan athletes had posted impressive times.

"I was lucky to have been included in Kenya's marathon team. It is one thing I have desired for long but there has been stiff competition for Team Kenya places in past championships and I am happy to get a chance to represent Kenya at the Olympics,"Cherono said.

Kenya's men and women's marathon squads will leave for Tokyo on August 2 from where the athletes will head to Sapporo in northern Japan where the marathon races will take place.

Cherono will team up with world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge who is also the defending champion, and 2019 World Athletics Championships marathon bronze medallist Amos Kipruto in the men's marathon.

Having claimed silver medal in the 2020 Valencia Marathon in December behind winner Evans Chebet, Cherono is now prepared to fight the biggest battle yet in his athletics career - that of gunning for gold in an elite field in Sapporo, some 832 kilometres from Tokyo.

"It is a dream come true for me. The task ahead is very big but we are capable of victory. The team looks strong and we shall do our best to secure medals for our country," said Cherono.

His training base

The soft-spoken athlete has been training at Kaptagat in Elgeyo Marakwet County. It has been four months of uninterrupted preparations.

"I have done very good training that has been injury-free. I dedicated four months to my preparation which has involved running for a total of between 230 - 260 kilometres to achieve certain targets," Cherono said.

Coronavirus pandemic interrupted his training programme, and training camps were closed following a government directive, forcing him to train individually for many months. He eventually shifted his training to Iten.

"When the camps closed, I had to continue training on my own and shifted my training base to Iten in Elgeyo Marakwet before the resumption of sports. But when normaly resumed, I went back to Kaptagat Training Camp where we were just a handful of athletes. I'm happy because I managed to concentrate on my preparations with the help of my training mates," he said.

What of his strategy for the race?

"Although we have our individual goals, we will work as a team in the initial stages of the race because our competitors will be monitoring our move. We need to be smart up to the 35th kilometre mark which normally determines the strength and endurance of an athlete," explained Cherono.

Cherono won the 2019 Boston Marathon in 2hrs, 07:57min, just two seconds ahead of Ethiopia's Lelisa Desisa.

He won the 2019 Chicago Marathon in a time of 2:05:45 in a sprint finish. The top three athletes finished within three seconds of each other, making Cherono one of the most sought after marathoners in the world.

He out-sprinted Ethiopia's Debela Dejene and Asefa Mengstu in the last 400 metres of the race to win the second major marathon of his career in style.

His undying urge to succeed has got something to do with his upbringing.

Born on August 7, 1988 in Kuikui village in Barwesa, Baringo County, the soft-spoken marathoner ran for about 10 kilometres every day in pursuit of basic education at Kuikui Primary School.

"We would run throughout because lunch time wasn't enough for us. I used to get back to school late and we would be punished by being asked to run round the football field 12 times, and that's how my love for athletics started," said Cherono.

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