Kenya’s Mary Keitany came into the 2010 ING New York City Marathon in wide-eyed wonder. Hailing from the Baringo District of Kenya the talented young athlete was visibly overwhelmed by the scope of the event and the sheer size of the city, itself. At the pre-race press conference she could barely whisper her answers to questions posed by the collected media throng. Though she harbored fears of the distance, too, this being her debut at the marathon, it in no way compared to the anxiety engendered by the stage she had found herself upon.
On race day Keitany gave in to her fears, following the moderate pace (1:15:47 at the half-way mark), before falling victim to fellow-Kenyan Edna Kiplagat’s late-race winning surge and American debutant Shalane Flanagan’s Central Park kick. Keitany finished her first marathon in third place in 2:29:01, looking every bit the frightened young woman who had first flown into town.
That all changed five months later in London. A 2009 World Champion at 25K and the Half-Marathon, in February 2011 Keitany ripped a new half-marathon world record at the RAK Half-Marathon in the United Arab Emirates (1:05:50). Then, having processed both the marathon distance and the big-city atmosphere of New York, she was ready and willing at the 2011 Virgin London Marathon. Mary knew exactly what lie ahead. And what fear there was lie in the hearts of her competition.
With a bold strike at 23 kilometers, Keitany blew open the race, dispatching Chicago Marathon champion Lilya Shobkhova of Russia and New York and L.A. champion Edna Kiplagat. Her 2:19:19 winning time put her behind only Paula Radcliffe in London history.
“She is a new Mary,” said her coach Gabriele Nicola of Italy today at the Timex Media Center in Central Park. “She ran 2:19 in London, and now she is a confident marathoner. Before London she only had the dream to be a marathoner.”
With her sub-2:20 in London, Keitany stamped herself as a gold medal candidate in London 2012. But she and her coach know that there are others who have shown the ability to jump that claim, and Mary is ready to up the ante this Sunday in New York.
“The future is clear,” Coach Nicola told me. “Shobukhova put her cards on the table in Chicago (1st, 2:18:20) to win the Olympic gold. Now it is Mary’s turn to answer. It is my hope she enters the Bronx (over the Willis Avenue Bridge at 30K) by herself, maybe sooner. She must kill the other girls before the finish.”
The women Keitany has on her mind are Bronx-based Ethiopian Buzunesh Deba, the Los Angeles and Rock `n` Roll San Diego champion, and Boston Marathon winner Caroline Kilel of Kenya.
“Deba ran 7th in New York two years ago, then 10th in 2010,” recalled Nicola. “Now she runs 2:23 in San Diego. Has she continued to grow in the same proportion after San Diego? If so, you have to watch her. And is Kilel (1st, 2:22:36)the same as in Boston? But I told her, look only one direction, ahead. If Mary produces her best performance and someone else wins, we will congratulate the champion.”
The impression left is that Mary Keitany has no fear of that happening.