OTC Elite's Kipyego earns U.S. Olympic berth in marathon
EUGENE, Ore. - Oregon Track Club Elite's Sally Kipyego completed an unlikely comeback with a gutsy third-place finish at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29.
The 34-year-old Kipyego, who struggled to regain her fitness after giving birth to her daughter, Emma, in the summer of 2017, somehow summoned the courage over the final few miles to earn a spot on the podium with a time of 2 hours, 28 minutes, 52 seconds.
"I was basically surviving (at the end)," said Kipyego, now in her 11th season with OTC Elite. "It felt horrible. I was just hanging on. I think the will to get to the finish line was stronger than my body today."
With her inspired performance, Kipyego will represent Team USA in the marathon at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The 26.2-mile race is scheduled to be held on Aug. 8 in Sapporo, Japan.
"A lot of women have children, and they come back, and somehow they run and they are fantastic," Kipyego said. "That was not my story. My body fell apart, and I couldn't put together a month of training without getting fatigued or sick.
"I have struggled, but today I was victorious. I was victorious because of where I've come from, and the challenges I've gone through ... it is absolutely amazing in so many ways because I felt like quitting so many times. I had to fight myself so many times."
Kipyego ran with the lead pack for most of the race, and with just over three miles remaining, she found herself alone in third place, about 22 seconds behind the leaders, Aliphine Tuliamuk and Molly Seidel.
At that point, she decided to let them go rather than risk blowing up with an Olympic berth at stake.
It was a wise move.
While Tuliamuk pulled away over the final stretch to win in 2:27:23, eight seconds ahead of Seidel, a wobbly Kipyego held on for third, a mere 11 seconds ahead of a hard-charging Des Linden in fourth.
"I'm delighted for Sally," said OTC Elite coach Mark Rowland. "She is a special lady ... I was massively nervous at the end because I thought Desi might tow her in, but (Sally) kept hanging in there. She was efficient and controlled early, and when the hammer went down, she was able to keep them at bay all the way through the finish line."
Born and raised in Kenya, Kipyego arrived in the U.S. in 2005. She quickly became a dominant distance runner in college, graduating from Texas Tech University with a degree in nursing, and a record-tying nine NCAA individual titles in cross country, indoor and outdoor track.
After joining OTC Elite, Kipyego went on to win the silver medal for Kenya in the 10,000 meters at the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, followed by a silver medal in the 10,000m and a fourth-place finish in the 5,000m at the 2012 London Olympics. She took fifth in the 10,000m at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing before shifting her focus to the marathon and motherhood.
She became a U.S. citizen in 2017.
"I wanted to run for this great nation because of the privileges and opportunities that this country has afforded me and my family," Kipyego said. "I wanted to show my gratitude, and I thought the best way to do that was to come out here and run my best, and hopefully, make this team. A lot of great people have come before me and I am honored to be a part of this."