BMW Frankfurt Marathon

01.11.: From Farm Salesman to World Record Contender, that’s Wilson Kipsang

Wilson Kipsang (right) breaks away from Tadese Tola with five kilometres to go.

Life on the farm traditionally breeds rugged individuals, attuned to the mental and physical demands of sport, but Wilson Kipsang, the 2010 Commerzbank Frankfurt marathon champion with a tremendous time of 2:04:57 here on Sunday, has a variation on that theme.

The career which has now propelled him to number three on this year’s world rankings for the marathon and eighth fastest performer of all time was not quite as straightforward as gaining strength and endurance from herding cattle.

The 28-year-old Kipsang, like the former world record holder Paul Tergat before, did not have a long route to school which would lead to a handy 10k trot there and back, as has so often been the case for Kenyan schoolchildren.

Secondary school was within handy reach and while he did so some running the occasional good result didn’t persuade him that here was his future.

Graduating from school at 18, he became a travelling salesman – not on foot – to farms far and wide. Three years into this new career and with precious little running done, he saw and read about Paul Tergat’s record breaking marathon run in Berlin in 2003.

That was the turning point: Wilson Kipsang felt inspired and began to train with a sense of purpose for the first time. At 21, time was on his side and he encountered a measure of success in local races although he kept the day job as farm salesman going.

Another key to his current success was when he met the man who became his manager: Gerard van de Veen. This was in 2007 and once they’d agreed on a partnership, Wilson Kipsang found himself heading for Germany – the land where his inspiration Paul Tergat had enjoyed world record success – as a substitute for another of van de Veen’s runner who had dropped out injured.

The destination was the 10 Mile Jeverfunlauf or Fun Run, sponsored by an alcohol-free beer manufacturer. To perhaps everyone’s surprise but his own, Wilson Kipsang not only won but set the world best for 2007 at the distance. More success on the road followed, including a highly impressive half marathon of 58:59 at the 2009 Ras Al Khaimah event.

His performance on the road in Frankfurt was impressive indeed but so was the way he conducted himself. There is always a measure of doubt about anyone who sounds so relaxed before a race, perhaps too relaxed? But Kipsang style of laid-back authority proved to have substance.

Both before and after his win, he was happy to consider how much faster he could run, building on his marathon debut of 2:07:10 for third place in Paris this April. It took some nerve to speculate: “When I look at others who have similar half marathon times to me and have run much faster than I have so far in the marathon, I think, why not me for the world record?”

Naturally enough, he was even stronger in his belief post-race, believing that a world record was possible in Frankfurt, a comment which had race director Jo Schindler and elite race co-ordinator Christoph Kopp checking their insurance policies for next year’s bonus money.

He retains that business sense from the years spent travelling the Kenyan countryside, selling his wares to farmers. For Kipsang, running is his business now.

“When you go into something like running, you must concentrate mind and body and do it with all you have, that is the only way.”

As for the 95,000 Euros in prize and bonus money which he earned on Sunday, playing his part in manager Gerard van de Veen’s second double of the year in Germany after his athletes won both titles in Hamburg in April, Wilson Kipsang has already been making plans.

“I intend to invest the money in business when I go home. This will be my next career, once I have finished running.”

His 2:04:57 at the Commerzbank Frankfurt marathon would suggest his current employment has a long way to go before retirement. 


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