Ruth Chepngetich

Eliud Kipchoge
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Eliud Kipchoge leads Kenya Olympic marathon team; Mary Keitany left off

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World-record holders Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei headline the six-runner Kenya Olympic marathon team, one so strong that Mary Keitany, the third-fastest woman in history, was left off.

The rest of the team: Lawrence Cherono (reigning Boston and Chicago Marathon winner), Amos Kipruto (world bronze medalist), Vivian Cheruiyot (2018 London Marathon winner and Olympic 5000m champion) and Ruth Chepngetich (world champion).

Kipchoge will try to become the first repeat Olympic marathon champion since West Germany’s Waldemar Cierpinski in 1980 and only the second man or woman to win multiple marathons at fully attended Games after Ethiopian legend Abebe Bikila in 1960 and 1964.

Kipchoge won 11 of 12 marathons since moving to road racing after failing to make Kenya’s 2012 Olympic track team.

He’s undefeated since the start of 2014 at 26.2-mile races. He lowered the world record from 2:02:57 to 2:01:39 in Berlin in 2018, and on Oct. 12 ran 1:59:40 in a non-record-eligible event. Kipchoge takes on the second-fastest marathoner in history, Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, in the London Marathon on April 26.

A day after Kipchoge’s sub-two-hour feat, Kosgei took 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old women’s marathon world record, clocking 2:14:04 to win the Chicago Marathon.

Kipchoge and Cherono are the two fastest Kenyan marathoners since the start of 2018. Kipruto, second to Kipchoge at the 2018 Berlin Marathon, is the 28th fastest, though he was the top Kenyan at last year’s world championships, which lacked most of the world’s best.

Cheruiyot is one of Kenya’s greatest track runners with four world titles between the 5000m and 10,000m. She was second to Kosgei at the 2019 London Marathon and is the sixth-fastest Kenyan woman since the start of 2018.

Chepngetich had a brilliant 2019, winning the January Dubai Marathon in the then-third-fastest time ever and then taking a brutally hot world championships marathon by 63 seconds.

Keitany, 38, likely sees the end of her Olympic career. She owns the fastest marathon run without male pacers, a 2:17:01 from the 2017 London Marathon. She owns seven combined titles between the London and New York City Marathons and was fifth and second in those races last year. Keitany had accepted a spot in April’s Boston Marathon but as of last week was sidelined by a back injury and not part of the announced elite field.

Keitany, fourth at the London Olympics, was also left off the 2016 Olympic team.

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Ruth Chepngetich wins world championship marathon of attrition

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Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich, who won the Dubai Marathon earlier this year with the third-fastest time in history (2:17:08), broke away from the a small lead pack with seven kilometers remaining to win the world championship Saturday morning under sauna-like conditions in Doha, Qatar.

Chepngetich finished in 2:32:43, perfectly pacing herself through a race in which many runners exhausted themselves early on. Defending champion Rose Chelimo of Bahrain was second, 1:03 behind. Namibia’s Helalia Johannes took third ahead of two-time world champion Edna Ngeringwony Kiplagat of Kenya.

Roberta Groner, a 41-year-old runner and the oldest athlete in any event on the U.S. team, outlasted other runners to finish sixth in 2:38:44.

Even with the race taking place in the middle of the night along the Doha waterfront, organizers reported a starting temperature of 32.7 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit) with 73.3 percent humidity, putting the heat index at 111 degrees Fahrenheit. The IAAF’s live commentary said conditions in the 2007 world championships in Osaka weren’t too far behind those numbers at 32 degrees Celsius and 74 percent humidity.

The runners started conservatively, with a large pack passing the 5k mark in 18:21, roughly on pace for a 2:35 marathon. Still, the heat took its toll by the halfway mark, with all three Ethiopian entries — Tokyo Marathon winner Ruti Aga, Roza Dereje and Shure Demise — withdrawing. 

They were far from alone. Only 40 of the 68 runners who started made it across the finish line.

A lead pack of five runners — Chelimo, Johannes and the Kenyan trio of Chepngetich, Kiplagat and Visiline Jepkesho built a lead of nearly a minute by the 15k mark.

Israeli runner Lonah Chemtai Salpeter managed to chip away at that lead by the 25k mark and join up with Jepkesho, who had fallen 13 seconds behind. But Jepkesho continued to fade, and Salpeter wound up 11:53 behind before withdrawing. The top survivor behind the lead pack was Volha Mazuronak of Belarus, followed by Groner.

The lead pack of four that had run together since the 15k mark finally broke apart at 35k, when Chepngetich revved up the speed. Chelimo broke away in pursuit, leaving Johannes and Kiplagat together. 

Groner has taken an unusual path to get to world championship level. She gave up running after college, only to return 10 years later after giving birth to three kids. She ran her first marathon in 2011 in Chicago, finishing in 3:12:42. Since then, she has chipped away a few minutes each year and broke the 2:30 mark earlier this year in Rotterdam.

The two other Americans also finished the race. Carrie Dimoff finished 13th in 2:44:35. Kelsey Bruce crossed the line 38th in 3:09:37, nearly 38 minutes off her personal best.

Earlier in the day, the heat had much less impact on events in Khalifa International Stadium, where athletes occasionally took advantage of air-conditioning vents near the track. Most medal contenders advanced through their preliminary rounds with little trouble.

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The world championship schedule for Saturday includes a pair of late-night distance events, with men and women each competing in the punishing 50k walk.

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World championship women’s marathon still on despite heat and humidity

Doha waterfront
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The track and field organizing body IAAF showed confidence Friday that its preparations for Qatar’s harsh weather will be sufficient, announcing that the women’s marathon scheduled just before midnight local time (5 p.m. EDT) will proceed as scheduled.

The IAAF statement says the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature, a measurement of heat that factors humidity, wind and sunlight into the equation, will be below 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), which falls within the range organizers expected.

READ: World championships open with early heats and hot marathon

Still, the IAAF left open the possibility of a late change: “Any decision to alter the starting time of the event will be made by 10.30pm, on the recommendation of the IAAF Medical Delegate.”

Plans to beat the heat include an increase in the usual number of stations at which runners can pick up drinks. The race will be run on a loop along the Doha waterfront.

Runners set to compete include defending champion Rose Chelimo of Bahrain and Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich, who ran the third-fastest women’s marathon of all time earlier this year in Dubai.

The Olympic Channel will carry the race live. NBC Sports Gold will have extended coverage starting at 4:30 p.m. EDT.

NBCSN will have live coverage of the day’s other events, including early rounds of the men’s 100m and the women’s pole vault, from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. EDT, and NBC Sports Gold will stream live coverage of every event over the 10-day meet.

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