Last week, worshippers at Elgonview Baptist Church in Eldoret assembled for a special Mass – to give a member of the congregation the perfect send-off.
Michael Kipkorir Kipyego, 28, approached the altar for blessings ahead of his Tokyo Marathon debut and the Christians bowed in prayer for his good health and guidance in one of the world’s biggest marathons.
And, a week later, their prayers were answered. On Sunday, he won the sixth Tokyo Marathon in two hours, seven minutes and 37 seconds, followed by Japan’s Arata Fujiwara in a personal best 2:07:48 and Stephen Kiprotich (2:07:50) of Uganda.
Kipyego, who won the IAAF World Junior Championships 3,000 metres steeplechase final in 2002 while in high school, also blew away Ethiopia’s former world 42-kilometre record holder Haile Gebrselassie (2:08:17), who finished in fourth place.
The alumnus of athletics-rich St Patrick’s High School-Iten beat huge odds at his cattle rustling-prone rural home in the 3,000 metres steeplechase cradle of Marakwet to ascend to global fame.
But then, athletics runs in the family: Kipkorir is the immediate elder brother of world 10,000m silver medalist Sally Kipyego and marathoner Christopher Kipyego.
On Sunday, there were celebrations at his posh Elgonview Estate home where his wife Judith Kipyego and their two children – Roy Kipchumba and Jasmine Jemutai – were flooded with congratulatory messages.
Unfortunately, the household could not watch the action live as their DStv set had broken down. They tried their neighbour, 2010 World Athlete of the Year David Rudisha’s house.
“I realised on Saturday night that my friend Lizzy, Mrs Rudisha, was away,” Judith told the Nation at her home on Sunday morning.
“This is a great gift for us and the church, particularly having come on a Sunday,” she said. “I never expected it. Michael had expressed fears of running against Haile Gebrselassie but I encouraged him to trust in God as it is He who gives and He who takes away.”
The deeply religious woman advised her husband to take the inclusion of the Ethiopian great in the field as motivation: “I told him to leave a legacy of having competed against Haile Gebrselassie but he feared that the cold in Tokyo and a nagging knee could deny him victory.
“I see him making an impact in the 42km as he did on the track.”
Kipyego’s is not adorned with photographs and trophies but religious writings. There are also three voluminous Bibles – English, Kiswahili and Kalenjin versions.
“Michael is a God-fearing man,” revealed Judith. “It is a must for him to go to races with a Bible. Every time he arrives from training he prays.”
Sally, a career nurse in the US who will be chasing the Olympics ticket at the June 1 Prefontaine Classic meeting in Oregon, USA, that Athletics Kenya will use to pick the 5,000m and 10,000m team, said in her congratulatory message: “Michael has inspired me greatly. He has opened the Olympic window. I really feel good.”
Kipyegon’s Dutch manager Mitchel Boetin and coach Patrick Sang, among others, also congratulated the new, ground-breaking champion.
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