Sally Kiypego wants to get in sub-2:20 shape and medal in the Olympic marathon

“The objective for this season for me is to be able to medal [in the Olympic marathon]….I’m trying to get myself into — 2:20 or sub-2:20 shape going into Tokyo, and I think if I am in that kind of shape, my chances are pretty good at medaling.”

By Jonathan Gault
February 25, 2021

After the 2020 Olympics were postponed last March because of Covid-19, US Olympic marathoner Sally Kipyego and her coach Mark Rowland decided to take a laid back approach to the rest of 2020 with the hope that Kipyego’s body would feel refreshed when she resumed training in earnest last fall. The time is coming, however, to return to competition.

Kipyego was scheduled to race last week for the first time since she made Team USA at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in February 2020. But the race she was planning on running, the RAK Half Marathon in the United Arab Emirates, was cancelled. Instead, she has a 15K planned for March (Kipyego could not officially announce it, but the logical assumption is she means the USATF 15K champs in Jacksonville on March 20) and a 10,000 on the track in April, where she hopes to hit the qualifying standard for the 2022 Worlds in Eugene. After that, she will shift to marathon mode and focus on building up for the Olympics.

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And Kipyego is dreaming big. And for good reason. Kipyego is the only member of the US women’s marathon squad with an Olympic medal, having earned a silver in the 10,000 in London in 2012 for her native Kenya, and believes she is capable of taking home another one this summer.

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“I feel like if I get good consistent training — which I have been able to do the last one-and-a-half years — proper training, I think I’ll have a chance of medaling,” Kipyego says. “That is really the objective for this season for me, is to be able to medal.”

Some may think that is an ambitious goal for a 2:25 marathoner who was only third at the US Olympic Trials. After all, it has been over five years — when she was 5th in the 10,000 at the 2015 Worlds — since Kipyego has been competitive in a global championship. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

For one, Kipyego, who at 35 is two years younger than Sara Hall, feels she has yet to demonstrate her full potential at 26.2 miles, going so far as to say, “I haven’t really quite gotten a good marathon in.” Kipyego was second in the first marathon she finished, running 2:28:01 in New York in November 2016, but she was way back of winner Mary Keitany who ran 2:24:26. Shen then missed all of 2017 after giving birth to daughter Emma, and it took her longer than expected to get back to top form after her pregnancy.

It was not until the fall of 2019, when she ran 2:25:10 in Berlin, that the world began to catch a glimpse of the Kipyego of old, and she is confident in the training she has stacked together since then. But that still leaves a second problem: can Kipyego possibly get into medal shape given the current state of women’s marathoning? Of the seven fastest women in history, five have set their personal bests (all 2:17:45 or faster) since the start of 2019, led by Brigid Kosgei‘s 2:14:04 world record in Chicago.

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“We’re talking about championships,” Kipyego says. “When it comes to championships, they’re not the same as major marathons, for example. You can still be competitive in a championship because you’re not running 2:14 or 2:12 marathon pace. If the race is being run at 2:20, most of us can be able to put themselves there. So I believe that if I can get — and I’m trying to get myself into — 2:20 or sub-2:20 shape going into Tokyo, and I think if I am in that kind of shape, my chances are pretty good at medaling.”