In Summary
  • No human being is limited, says marathon legend Eliud Kipchoege, and no one better illustrates this than theKericho-born runner who has risen from abject poverty to become one of the hottest long distance running talent and now wants to shatter the women’s half marathon world record
  • Joyciline Jepkosgei holds the women’s half marathon record of 1 hour four minutes and 51 seconds set in Valencia in 2017.

World women’s marathon record holder Brigid Kosgei, third fastest woman in half marathon Fancy Chemutai, former half marathon record holder Peres Jepchirchir, Joan Chelimo and Rosemary Wanjiru make up a star-studded field that will line up for the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in United Arabs Emirates on Friday.

The athletes will be racing on a decidedly fast course that has seen records broken on it’s surface.

Joyciline Jepkosgei holds the women’s half marathon record of 1 hour four minutes and 51 seconds set in Valencia in 2017.

Chemutai, who missed the world record time by a second in 2018, is optimistic that she will perform well as she seeks to improve on her personal best time.

Training in Kericho deep in the serenely beautiful green tea plantations, Chemutai said without mincing words that she was going for a world record on Friday.

Fancy Chemutai, the 2018 Rak Half Marathon winner, trains at a tea planation in Kericho town, Kericho County on February 13, 2020. She will be competing in the race on February 21. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Fancy Chemutai, the 2018 Rak Half Marathon winner, trains at a tea planation in Kericho town, Kericho County on February 13, 2020. She will be competing in the race on February 21. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“My training has been on these smooth roads maintained by the tea estates in the region. They have been very good particularly during my long runs when it is just your legs pounding the road, your thoughts keeping you company as the wind flies by your farce and your willpower powering you to run, and run, and run.

“My training has been good and I’m now finalising before the big race where I want to run my personal best and if possible break the world record that I narrowly missed in 2018,” she said.

Chemutai said that last season she didn’t run in as many races as she would have wished to because of an ankle injury.

“I’m happy that it has healed and my training so far has been injury-free,” said the athlete.

RECORD

About the tough competition, Chemutai said that she will be up to the task as she seeks to enter into the exalted record books.

She said if she won’t break the record, she will be happy to see her compatriots lower the mark.

“I believe it will be competitive because we will be competing with the world marathon record holder who registered the fastest time last season. I don’t fear anyone and may the best athlete win,” said Chemutai, who will be paced by Willy Ng’etich.

Her win in the same race in 2018 she says gave her the confidence to go for any record. You could be forgiven for thinking she had had a chat with world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge of the “No Human is Limited” fame.

Yes, there are no limits, but Chemutai narrates painfully how she went through a tough life to get to where she is today thanks to John Mutai, a Kenya Defence Forces officer and athlete who identified her talent. Born in March 20, 1995 in a family of five in Chepsion, Kipkelion East Constituency, she was brought up by her grandmother Ruth Keter after her mother Regina Chepkemoi died while she was still young.

Regularly attending school was difficult for her as her grandmother had very little to provide for them. She often skipped school to work as a casual labourer to earn a few cents that would be used to buy food for the house.

Hillary Too, her uncle, was forced to drop out of school and start a boda boda business to support her nieces and nephews in school by paying their school fees.

“I will forever thank my uncle who helped us so much to get education. Too made sure we get food and at the same time paid our school fees when he could afford,” she said.

Chemutai joined Kimugul Primary School before transferring to Kipsigor Primary School in Class Five. She sat her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education there doing well enough to join Chepsion Complex High School.

CHICKEN FARMER

Having picked up running in primary school it was natural she would continue in secondary where her talent blossomed. She was good enough to win a couple of races that earned her prize money that went a long way in settling here school fees.

“I used to rear chicken to meet my personal needs and pay school fees while I was in high school and I can tell you the proceeds I got from various races kept me going,” said the athlete.

She scored a mean grade of C Plus in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education in 2014 and was employed by her uncle Richard Langat as a waiter in his hotel business at Chepsion in Kericho County.

“I used to participate in various races while in school but I didn’t go far after that because no one guided me in athletics. I ended up getting employed by my uncle to work in his hotel for one year,” narrated Chemutai.

Mutai saw her at the hotel serving customers and he encouraged her to try athletics because she had good height.

She pondered over that as she changed jobs moving from the hotel to the streets of Kericho selling airtime vouchers to shop owners in town.

But after six months in the streets, Chemutai decided this was not her life. She needed to go back to the freedom of running and racing. It is what she loved doing and had excelled in when she was younger.

In January 2016, she decided to start training again. She joined a group of runners in Kericho town after Mutai agreed to host her at his home.

“Mutai also managed to get some training kits for me which was very, very helpful. To be honest, I did not have any kit. Getting a quality running set costs a lot of money and remember I was just a struggling village girl fighting to put food on the table, let alone acquiring running kits.”

On the road racing, she was like a fish back in the water. In her first race, a Kericho 10km road run, she finished second.

Then she emphatically announced her arrival in her second race, crushing the rest of the field to win a 10km road race in Nyahururu. The win earned her Sh20,000, tidy amount for her then, which she promptly used to buy more training stuff.

The balance was used to cover her travelling expenses. She raced in the Kakamega Forest Half Marathon, finishing second to Joyciline Jepkosgei. Her path to the world scene was well on course.

LOWERED HER RECORD

In 2017, she debuted in Prague Half Marathon finishing third in 66:58. Joyciline Jepkosgei won the race in 1:04:52, breaking the world record held by Peres Jepchirchir of 1:05:06.

Kenya's Joyciline Jepkosgei (centre), Violah Jepchumba (left) and Fancy Chemutai pose for photos on the podium after at the Prague Half Marathon on April 1, 2017. PHOTO | ELIAS MAKORI |

Kenya's Joyciline Jepkosgei (centre), Violah Jepchumba (left) and Fancy Chemutai pose for photos on the podium after at the Prague Half Marathon on April 1, 2017. PHOTO | ELIAS MAKORI |

Jepkosgei lowered her record by one second in Valencia Half Marathon the same year.

Later that year Chemutai won Goteborgsvarvet Half Marathon in Gothenburg, clocking 1:07:58 before finishing second in Valencia Half Marathon.

In 2018, she was back in UAE for the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon. Having mastered the course, she easily destroyed the field winning in 1:04:52, missing the world record by one second.

Fancy Chemutai displays the trophy she was awarded after winning the 2018 Rak Half Marathon, during an interview with Nation Sport at her home in Kericho town, Kericho County on February 13, 2020. She will be competing in Rak Half Marathon on February 21. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Fancy Chemutai displays the trophy she was awarded after winning the 2018 Rak Half Marathon, during an interview with Nation Sport at her home in Kericho town, Kericho County on February 13, 2020. She will be competing in Rak Half Marathon on February 21. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Mary Keitany came in second after timing 1:04:65 while another Kenyan Caroline Kipkirui was third after crossing the line in 1:05:07.

The victory in the Middle East earned Chemutai a tidy sum. She used some of it to build her grandmother a modern house as one way of showing appreciation for her efforts to raise them.

“My grandmother went through a lot when she was bringing us up. She was like our mother despite her old age. The least I could do was to give her comfort in her old age,” narrates Chemutai, 24.

She was unable to defend her Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon title last year due to an ankle injury that bogged her the entire season. But through hard training, she is back to her best possible shape.

She advices young and upcoming athletes to always work hard in training to achieve the best. “We have many athletes in this country but training hard and self-discipline will make you stand out. You should also avoid people that want to make quick money by using performance enhancing drugs,” says Chemutai.

Fancy Chemutai, the 2018 Rak Half Marathon winner, trains at a tea planation in Kericho town, Kericho County on February 13, 2020. She will be competing in the race on February 21. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA |

Fancy Chemutai, the 2018 Rak Half Marathon winner, trains at a tea planation in Kericho town, Kericho County on February 13, 2020. She will be competing in the race on February 21. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA |

Sammy Bii, her coach, is optimistic that the athlete will do well after vigorous training over the last few months.

Bii said that they were in the final part of training and he was sure Chemutai would do well despite the anticipated stiff competition from her compatriots and the Ethiopians, Kenya’s chief rivals on the world stage.

“We have finished the hard training and we are now on the home straight as she heads to the race. We are leaving nothing to chance. We are eyeing a world record,” declared Bii.

Now, that would elevate Chemutai to the super star class, where she surely belongs.