Debutant Saina out to take Tokyo Marathon by storm

Debutant Saina out to take Tokyo Marathon by storm
Team Kenya athletes including Julius Yego, Viola Jelagat, Betsy Saina and David Rudisha pose for a selfie with President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday, July 22, 2016. PHOTO/Charity Wanja

Having stacked a string of honours across the roads in America and finishing fifth over 10000m at the Rio 2016 Olympics Games, Betsy Saina is on the path of breaking new frontiers when she makes her full marathon debut on Sunday in Tokyo.

The Beijing 2015 Worlds eighth finisher and 2012 African Championships bronze medallist had a topsy-turvy trip to the Japanese capital after encountering flight delays that saw her arrive in Tokyo on Friday, barely 48 hours to the start of the race.

“I had a problem with the Weather in Portland, Oregon. Planes couldn’t land because of heavy fog on Tuesday. Had to wait for a day,” Saina told Citizen Digital from Japan, a few hours after she had landed.

The 28-year-old who missed the pre-race press conference reveals her decision to run the full marathon in 2017 was the culmination of a lot of reflection after her Rio outing.

“I knew after Olympics that I was going to try something new, and so I started the program at the right time,” she reflected.

Saina who is based in Oregon, Portland in the United States restructured her training schedule to increase the distance of her long runs.

Initially, she would run at most 20km while preparing for track events.

Ahead of her Tokyo debut, Saina has been doing 39km for her long runs in Portland and conducting her altitude training in Flagstaff Arizona.

Saina is anxious to make a memorable debut drawing inspiration from her peers like Edna Kiplagat, a marathon stalwart who stayed with her for almost a month.

Two-time world champion Kiplagat has also won the London and New York World Marathon Majors race with Tokyo kicking off the tenth edition of the elite biennial global circuit.

Tackling the ultimate distance race for the first time has left her with butterflies in the stomach but Saina is confident she has the nous to take the toughest challenge in athletics.

“I am relaxed and excited to race, might be a little bit nervous,” she admitted.

-Stellar line-up-

The Elite Women’s race has a stellar line up that includes 2015 champion, Ethiopian Birhane Dibaba who leads her country’s contingent with Amane Gobena and Beriso Amane. Dibaba who have set the target of stopping the timer at 2 hours and 22 minutes dead, that will count as a new course record if achieved.

Kenya’s Lucy Kabuu and the fastest woman in the field who was initially slated to take part withdrew from the marathon for unclear reasons.

Saina will be paired with Sarah Chepchirchir who won the Lisbon Marathon in Portugal clocking 2:24:12.

“I know after I run the first one, no matter how it goes I will start building pressure on my side,” Saina revealed.

In the men’s race, former Marathon record holder Wilson Kipsang has set his sights on breaking former training partner and Volare Sports stable-mate, Dennis Kimetto’s 2:02:57 world record if conditions are perfect.

Course record holder Dickson Chumba also returns to the scene of his 2014 triumph with his 2:05:20 route standard under threat from six athletes in the starting line-up who have beaten his time.

Chumba’s own lifetime best stands at two hours, four minutes and 32 seconds, making him the second quickest in the line-up ahead of Ethiopia’s Series VII World Marathon Majors champion Tsegaye Kebede who has a best of two hours, four minutes and 38 seconds who is also in the field.

Fellow Ethiopian Tadesse Tola, the 2013 world bronze medallist, plus Kenyan pair Bernard Koech and Evans Chebet, will also be in the hunt for the 25 points up for grabs in the World Majors.

Kipsang and Chumba can leap to second on the men’s leader board of the 500,000 dollar Majors jackpot chase with 42, and 41 points, respectively, if either of them wins on Sunday, the seventh event in the year-long eight-race contest to find the world’s best marathon runners and wheelchair athletes.

Kipsang ran the fifth fastest time in history five months ago when he clocked two hours, three minutes and 13 seconds in Berlin last September.

Organisers have made the Tokyo route made flatter and faster by the elimination of a number of bridges.

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Story By Bernard Ndong
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