Which one, between the world marathon record and Olympic gold, would you desire most?
A question I put across to Brigid Kosgei this week.
“Of course, an Olympic gold,” the women’s world marathon record holder responded without hesitation.
“To me, the Olympic gold is much bigger than the world record… the world record is just a world record, but an Olympic gold is something special,” the 26-year-old star added.
This was during our visit to Kosgei’s training base at Kapsait, some 3,000 metres above sea level on the border of West Pokot and Elgeyo Marakwet counties.
Kosgei has spent an entire six years of her elite running career at Kapsait, and her focus on the Olympic Games will be music to the ears of Team Kenya handlers and the star’s legion of global fans.
The world record holder has kept a pretty low profile since February this year when Stanbic Bank Kenya unveiled her as ambassador for their “It Can Be” campaign that seeks to empower young men and women to achieve their big dreams.
The bank is riding on the world record holder’s distance running resilience to demonstrate there’s no such thing as “impossible.”
“I am happy and ready to work with Stanbic Bank on this inspiring yet challenging “It Can Be” campaign,” Kosgei said at the Kempinski Hotel campaign launch before melting away into Kapsait for serious training.
She only re-emerged last month in Istanbul, finishing fifth (one hour, six minutes and one second) in a half marathon won, in world record time, by fellow Team Kenya Tokyo-bound marathoner Ruth Chepng’etich (1:04:02).
Never mind Kosgei’s result.
That she made the top five in a world record 21-kilometre race was quite commendable, considering she travelled to the Turkish capital merely to see how a nagging injury was responding.
And, anyway, she’s not a half marathon specialist, the 42 kilometres her specialty.
“I had some minor injury when I went to the half marathon (in Istanbul) but now I’m back fully fit and I will concentrate all my training at Kapsait until departure to Olympics,” she said at the Kapsait camp where she trains under the watchful eye of fellow former Honolulu Marathon champion Eric “Commando” Kimaiyo.
Kosgei is a treasured member of the Italy-based Rosa Associati stable which was founded by Gabriele Rosa, largely considered the impetus for the development of marathon running in Kenya since the days the silver-haired Italian took legends Paul Tergat and Moses Tanui under his wings in the 1990s.
Last year, Rosa dispatched Italian therapist Sebastiano Erbi to Kaptagat to manage Kosgei’s injury.
Erbi, 40, is based in Denmark where he works for Swiss company Wintecare, but hails from Reggio Calabria in Southern Italy and is an expert in “Tecar”, a prominent athletics therapy programme.
The nagging injuries now gone, Kosgei is happy with the way training has been over the last few days.
“My body feels good and I want to push it to the limits and see how it responds on race day. We have a good training group, and among them we have (male) pacemakers who help push our pace,” she said at the camp on Wednesday.
Kosgei is guarded while talking about her personal build-up to the Olympics only saying she’s been “mixing endurance and speed work with long runs.”
“The weather in Kapsait is good. Even when it rains, we still train and even when its cold, we also train… we are used to any weather conditions here,” she adds, responding to the question on why she hasn’t considered training in the more popular Iten, Kaptagat or Ngong locations.
The Olympic women’s marathon race will be run in the Hokkaido Prefecture city of Sapporo, at the Sapporo Odori Park, from 7am Japan time (2am Kenyan time) on Saturday, August 7.
Olympic endurance events – the marathons and race walks – were shifted from Tokyo to Sapporo due to the expected high race day temperatures in Tokyo.
But Kosgei is well aware that conditions on August 7 in Sapporo could be equally punishing.
“We are aware of the heat in Japan and that’s why we have some of our training sessions at 4pm when the sun is still out,” she adds as she prepares for her afternoon session at the Lornah Kiplagat Academy Stadium in Iten.
This will involve a drive of close to two hours from Kapsait to Iten to access the quality track.
Because there’s no track of note in Kapsait with Kosgei and co. having to make do with sessions at the nearby, uneven track at St Francis Korongoi Mixed Day Secondary School.
One can hardly believe that this irregular grass and murram track has produced world beaters, among them World Under-20 Championships 5,000 metres champion Edward Zakayo, World Under-20 Championships 3,000m finalist Zenah Chemutai and 800m East Africa schools champion Leah Jeruto, inter alia.
Coach Kimaiyo wouldn’t allow Kosgei to hold her pre-Tokyo sessions on the St Francis track for fear of injury.
Meanwhile, Kosgei notes that despite the fact that Team Kenya will travel as a patriotic lot, the Olympic marathon race will be down to individual effort.
“Every athlete is training individually,” she observes.
“It all depends on how your body will feel on race day.”
Of course, and understandably so, she wouldn’t discuss her post-Olympics schedule just yet.
“For the moment, I will focus on the Olympics and then I can think later about the way forward, whether I will run in the London or Chicago marathons which follow each other after Tokyo.”
Her message to her fans?: “To my fans, I’m working hard to make sure I bring something good to Kenya… “
That something good will most certainly be an Olympic medal.
But whether gold, silver or bronze will wait until August 7.
Meanwhile, Kosgei features prominently on Stanbic Bank Kenya’s “It Can Be” campaign posters.
“From simply Kenyan, to Kenyan hero – It Can Be,” one billboard reads, with an image of Kosgei running while carrying the Kenyan flag.
“From dreamer to achiever – It Can Be,” screams another.
Despite mounting such pressure, Kosgei is confident that, indeed, it can be gold!