Sport, like life, is a series of self-fulfilling prophecies, for what you think you can do sets the stage for the reenactment of the belief in performance. As such, championships are first won in the mind before coming to life via blood, breath, and bone.
It’s not like 2016 Olympic Women’s Marathon champion Jemima Sumgong of Kenya hadn’t been a winner before. In fact, she began her marathon career with the win at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Las Vegas in 2006 (2:35:22). But though she also took victories in Castellon, Spain in 2011 and again in Rotterdam 2013, her Abbott World Marathon Majors record was that of a solid contender, but not a champion. Not until the spring of this year did she mark herself as a medal favorite for Rio when she stood atop the podium at the Virgin London Marathon, the de facto Olympic prelim.
Before the 2014 Boston Marathon I spoke to Jemima’s then cosch Claudio Berardelli, who at the time worked for the management group Rosa and Associates (a relationship that was severed recently in wake of a series of drug positives in Berardell’s training group).
Claudio had prepped Jemima and Rita Jeptoo (2013 Boston & Chicago champion) for that 2014 Boston race, and spoke frankly to Jemima’s mind set.
“When you look at Prisca Jeptoo, Rita and Jemima, ” he said of the training mates, “Jemima is closing the gap on them. But the major difference is in the mental approach. I kept reminding her, ‘you are ready to run a World Marathon Major, but you have to believe you can win’. In training Jemima has looked better than Rita, but Rita has that competitive mind.”
Sumgong finished 4th in Boston 2014 (2:20:41) behind Rita Jeptoo (2:18:57), Buzunesh Deba (2:29:59), and Mare Dibaba (2:20:35). But in November of that year we learned that Rita Jeptoo had a doper’s mind, as well, having tested positive for EPO following her second straight victory at the Chicago Marathon the month before.
In 2012 the same doping cloud hung over Ms. Sumgong after she tested positive for prednisolone, a synthetic glucocorticoid, after finishing second at the Boston Marathon.
But following a medical review by the IAAF, it was determined that Ms. Sumgong had received a local injection for a recognized medical condition that had been duly diagnosed (hip bursitis). Also, she had declared having received that injection on her doping control form on the day of the test.
In late August 2012 Athletics Kenya informed Jemina that she was not regarded as having committed any anti-– doping violation under IAAF rules, and she was cleared to resume competing.
The confidence Coach Berardelli spoke about before Boston 2014 proved critical today in Rio, as Sumgong hid patiently deep in the pack through the first 35 km of the race. It wasn’t until 2:14:45 that she took a step in front and began her push for gold.
Eunice Kirwa the Kenyan-born runner representing Bahrain held strong for another mile, but with 1 km remaining Jemima had enough Rio beachfront property under foot to seal the win, Kenya’s first in the women’s Olympic Marathon.
Jemima’s message to the world, you gotta believe!