Brigid Kosgei shocked the race world with what she did at the Chicago Marathon on Sunday – she had just smashed the world record by 81 seconds – but she likely surprised just as many observers by what she said afterwards.
“It’s amazing for me. I’ve never believed that time [was possible],” said the Kenyan, whose mark of two hours, 14 minutes, four seconds eclipsed Paula Radcliffe’s previous record of 2:15:25, set at the 2003 London Marathon, as well as Radcliffe’s course record (2:17:18) set in 2002.
Kosgei went into the race set on hitting a personal best of at least 2:15:00, but then she added, “I think it’s possible for even 2:10 [for a woman] to run if they are sure.
“You must be focused in everything.”
She was asked whether 2:10 is now her personal objective at a future marathon.
“If it’s possible, if my body feels good at that time, I can reduce a little bit slowly.”
Marathon director Carey Pinkowski said he wasn’t surprised by Kosgei’s feat after observing her since 2017 and recalled that she said on Saturday she planned to reach the halfway point in 1:08 flat. She ran a second under 1:07.
“It just follows a great tradition,” he said. “This is the fifth world record that we’ve had, going back to Steve Jones. We haven’t had a world’s best since Paula in 2002, 17 years ago.
“I think Brigid feels really comfortable here. Obviously, she spoke with her athletic performance. It’s exciting. It hasn’t really sunk in for me. We’ll probably enjoy it a little bit later this evening.”
However, Kosgei was asked how she was able to reduce her time by more than six minutes over a two-year span, and whether a cloud of suspicion follows Kenyan athletes.
Last year, a World Anti-Doping Agency report said that between 2004 and 2018, 138 Kenyans had tested positive for prohibited substances, 113 of them during competitions, according to Reuters.
Kosgei said she has maintained a focus on reducing her time and does not train in the same area as some of the athletes who have been caught doping.
“I don’t know about those [athletes] doping,” she said. “I say each and every person can run clean and you must work hard.”
Pinkowski said Kosgei and others have been on this trajectory since Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge ran 2:04:11 to win the 2014 race.
“I think that got everybody in the mindset,” Pinkowski said. “I think that reinforced that you can go fast. This is traditionally a place that fast times are run. We had some great performances on the American side ... so they made some breakthroughs.
“We had four Americans run [under] 2:10 today, which is great. Emma Bates [fourth place at 2:25:27] made the nice breakthrough.” He also noted Stephanie Bruce’s sixth-place finish in 2:27:47.
“I think with the Olympics on the horizon, that adds to it, too, so I think there’s a lot of things contributing to it,” Pinkowski said.
Early on, Kosgei got off to a blistering pace, which some race commentators feared would be too aggressive.
She slowed a bit at the halfway mark, at which point she was projected to finish in 02:13:58, but still kept a comfortable yet brisk pace and waved to the crowd seconds before crossing the finish line. She had to contend with windy conditions.
“Last year, it was very hot,” Kosgei said. “This year was a little windy ... but the weather was good. She added that two male pacesetters in front of her helped shield her from the wind.
“When it’s slow, they push a little. When it’s fast, they reduce a little,” she said of her pacesetters.
No one was even in Kosgei’s distant rear view as she finished an incredible six minutes, 47 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh. Gelete Burka, also of Ethiopia, finished third (2:20:55).
Kosgei won this year’s London Marathon in 2:18:20. She finished second in the 2017 Chicago Marathon before returning last year and winning in 2:18:35 for what was then the third-fastest time in race history.
Bates’ finish was fourth fastest ever by an American woman in Chicago.