Peres Jepchirchir – Olympic champion elect?

Peres Jepchirchir heads to Tokyo seeking Olympic glory. With the era of Eliud Kipchoge nearing its end, Kenya looks for its next great marathon hope and in the 27-year-old they may just have the heiress.

The early career of Peres Jepchirchir

It is over seven years since Jepchirchir ran her first marathon. A third place finish in Kisumu in 2hr 47mins was a steady introduction to the distance but by recent standards the most modest of debuts. It was the following year where she really announced herself to the world of elite level athletics. As cross-country races go, there is perhaps none more competitive than the Kenyan Cross-Country Championships, a race that needs to be seen to truly be believed. Unheralded alongside the twenty-year old on the start line was Emily Chebet, twice the World Cross-Country champion most recently just a year before.

When Jepchirchir moved away from Chebet with ease she gave a glimpse of what was to come. Only Faith Kipyegon, soon to be minted as the Olympic 1500m champion could beat her that day and only with her final kick. It was enough to get her noticed and see her flying out to Europe for her first season on the continent. Impressive wins in Houilles, Cassis and a debut half marathon win in Montbéliard followed. Slowly, steadily she was making her way to the top.

Such was the level of world marathon running at the time that is was easy to go unnoticed. A DNF in London in 2015 in her first return to the marathon kept that status but in September she grew difficult to ignore. 30.55 in Prague over 10k, only one woman in the world ran quicker that year.

World Half Marathon Champ

The month of March has been kind to Jepchirchir. It was then that she announced herself in Kenya and it was two years later that she made the same proclamation to the world. Peres Jepchirchir came to Cardiff as a contender, the seventh fastest in the world the previous year. She left as the World Half-Marathon Champion. In wet conditions she ran away from the rest of the field before outkicking her compatriot Cynthia Limo.

During the years that have followed Jepchirchir’s resume has only grown stronger. In Ras Al Khaimah the following year she broke the world record. Running 65:06 she broke the 20km world record too. And in 2020 she became the World Half Marathon Champion once more, defeating one of the best fields ever assembled over the distance.

Yet it is testament to the level of elite level distance running that such accolades still leave her with doubters. Record breaking performances have been intermingled with moments of disappointment. Fifth in the New Delhi half at the back end of 2016. Sixth in the Ras Al Khaimah in 2019, she now sits 10th on the World Half Marathon all time list (though she does have the women’s only record).

Whilst Jepchirchir has continued to perform others have stolen the headlines. Two of those have been her teammates in Tokyo. Ruth Chepngetich, the World Marathon Champion from Doha in 2019 ran 2.17.08 in Dubai in the same year. That performance moved her to fourth on the Marathon all time list. Brigid Kosgei heads it. Her 2.14.04 from Chicago in 2019 is a mind-boggling feat of marathon running. Such superlative achievements mean Peres Jepchirchir will not be the Olympic favourite.

Rivals faltering?

Brigid Kosgei doesn’t yet seem to have reached her imperious best. She finished fifth in April’s Istanbul Half Marathon (66:01) and sixth in the Kenyan trials over 10,000m. Whilst still the London Marathon champion from October 2020, she does not yet look at her peerless best.

Ruth Chepngetich continues to display startling form over the half marathon and in April broke the world record by running 64:02 in Istanbul. She suffered a slight blip in 2020, coming third in London but for my money may be Jepchirchir’s greatest challenge.

Tokyo build up

Slipping under the radar may suit Jepchirchir and she comes into 2021 in a rich vein of form. Her latest outing was the Valencia marathon. That day she ran away from a world class field to become the fifth fastest female marathon runner of all time. Just six weeks before was her second world half marathon title.

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Peres Jepchirchir wouldn’t have made the team had these Olympics occurred in 2020. Her 2.23.50 best was some way off the best Kenya could offer. Now she is on the start line and heads their with a genuine opportunity for Olympic gold.

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Featured images “World Half Marathon Championships 2016” by Sum_of_Marc is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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