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News08 Oct 2006

Lornah the Lion – fearless and now first - Debrecen 2006


Lornah Kiplagat, a portrait of a World champion - Debrecen 2006 (© Getty Images)

Debrecen, Hungary - Many years ago, back in her native Kenya, Lornah Kiplagat acquired the nickname Simba – meaning lion in Swahili – for her fearless racing tactics and relentless running during training.
It proved to be an appropriate moniker at the inaugural IAAF World Road Running Championships as Kiplagat stalked her prey – which in this instance was Romania’s Constantina Tomescu, before pouncing and devouring her.
After digesting second-placed Tomescu, on the road rather than in the jungle, by speeding away from her rival two kilometres from home in the 20km race that was staged over four laps around a picturesque forest in Hungary’s second city Debrecen, Kiplagat was able to look back at the list of accolades she acquired as a delicious desert.
Now running in the bright orange uniform of The Netherlands, having married Dutchman Pieter Langerhorst and becoming a citizen of her adopted country three years ago, she won her first World title at the age of 32 but also notched up the World record for the distance with her time of 1:03.21, shaving five seconds off the mark held by Britain’s Paula Radcliffe since 2001.
It all seemed so effortless, and the lion analogy still holds true as the animal rarely looks flustered even in full flight.
Appearances can deceive
“I didn’t look tired, I just tried to look cool, but on the other hand I was actually very tired,” confessed Kiplagat.
“We went at very high speed, Constantina tried to put out a very high pace and make it a hard race, I think she must have had it in her mind what happened last year. She did a tremendous job but I felt very strong today."
“I believed in my training and I believed in our planning so it didn’t matter to me how the race was run and who was starting ."
One thing that could have told Tomescu she was on Kiplagat’s menu in Debrecen was the fact that she tossed her trademark sunglasses to the side of the road around the 14km mark.  
“It’s kind of something that I use mentally, when I feel down and want some new energy; it’s something that I do. If I have gloves, I’ll throw them away. If I have a cap, I’ll throw it away, but I didn’t have either of them today so I threw away my sunglasses. For me, it’s just like moving up a gear, when I do that then something will happen.
“But Constantina didn’t know that, of course, although now she does, so let's see what happens the next time we meet,” laughed Kiplagat, who can speak six languages and knows jokes in all of them.
Moment in the sun
Kiplagat later appeared, as she would say, looking cool with her yellow-tinted glasses perched on her head at the post-race press conference, which raised the question, does she have generous sponsors who provide her with a big bag full of sunglasses to dispose of as she please?
“No, they are the ones that I threw away. One time in Japan I threw them away in a race and a kind person then drove one and a half hours to my hotel to give them back to me. Now I throw them near someone I know,” added Kiplagat with a smile
Her victory and World record in Debrecen ensures that Kiplagat will be the number one in the IAAF Women’s Road Running and Marathon Event Rankings when they are recalculated next week, an honour that had not escaped her notice.
“It’s absolutely exciting and touching, because I have been training very hard and working so hard for a number of years. I like road races, I started on the road, I’ve been living on the road and I’ve doing so many things on the road so to finally be number one is just fantastic. I think I deserve it but it can’t be better, more is not possible, for what I’ve done. And trying to keep the position gives me a lot of motivation about the future.”
Kiplagat’s plans for her forthcoming outings are unfixed. Provisionally, she has the New York City Marathon in her diary for 5 November. “But I will see how I recover from this race first. I may decide to carry on but I may decide to end it for this year,” added Kiplagat, who is also undecided about defending her European cross country crown which was won to tumultuous applause on home soil in Tilburg barely 12 months ago.
“I want to enjoy this title now, I want to celebrate a bit and then after that we will see what will happen. The season has been long but it’s been great,” she added, although the idea of Kiplagat being absent from racing for a long time is a bit like a lion becoming a vegetarian.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF
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