Series22 Feb 2020

Lornah Kiplagat’s story behind the picture


Lornah Kiplagat in action at the 2008 World Half Marathon Championships (© Getty Images)

Dutch athlete Lornah Kiplagat, one of the most acclaimed road runners of the 2000s, comments on this eye-catching picture of her en route to 2008 world half marathon gold in Rio.


This image brings back many happy memories. To win a third successive world half marathon title in Rio was amazing. At that point of the race, I felt great. I was leading, running along the famous Copacabana, a place I never imagined I would be competing.

In many ways this moment caps my half-marathon career. It was always my favourite distance, one which was always comfortable for me.

I made my World Half Marathon Championships debut back in 1998, finishing 21st behind Tegla Loroupe. But by the time I returned to compete at my next World Half Marathon Championships seven years later in Edmonton, Canada, I was a very different athlete. I was now much stronger mentally and not nervous ahead of races like in the early phase of my career.

The 2005 race was not a lot of fun. For much of the race it rained, I was cold and I struggled with cramp in my hamstring. Despite this, I won the silver medal (behind Constantina Dita) and this was a good sign for me leading into the 2006 event in Debrecen, Hungary (a race rebranded as the World Road Running Championships and held over 20km).

Winning world cross-country silver in Fukuoka earlier that year was a total surprise for me because I never saw myself as a cross-country specialist and this was a good indication my speed was improving.

To go on to win the world road running title in 2006 in a world 20km record (of 1:03:21, two seconds clear of Dita) was very motivating for me to achieve more. It was incredible to attain the world record at a world championships. To be a part of history was a real honour.

I returned to Udine to defend my title the following year (the race had reverted back to the half-marathon distance) encouraged by winning the world cross-country title in Mombasa. However, injury denied me the chance to compete on the track at the World Championships in Osaka. Struggling with a calf injury in the countdown to the race, I did very little training in the final weeks leading up to competition day.

I honestly didn’t know how the injury would react on race day but, thankfully, I felt no reaction. I was surprised at the speed through 5km, 10km and 15km but I felt comfortable. I was shocked to run away from the group and as I crossed the finish line I felt goose bumps because of the cheering I received from crowd. It was also a great surprise to break Elena Meyer’s world half-marathon record (in 1:06:25) by 19 seconds. For me, it will always remain my greatest race. To break a long-standing record despite struggling with a calf injury was incredible.

In 2008 I had finished sixth in the 10,000m at the Beijing Olympics, but I was not satisfied. I was in the lead for most of the race but my sprint was not enough. I loved the half marathon distance, though, so I was determined to compete once again at the World Half Marathon Championships just eight weeks later in Rio and try to win my third title in a row.

I had struggled with a knee injury, although this was not as serious as my calf problem the previous year. I broke free of the field at 7km, although I don’t think I increased my speed; I was just running at my own pace. I was aware at 15km I had opened up a one-minute lead on the field. I felt great and I really enjoyed the final kilometres.

I vividly recall running along the Copacabana with Sugarloaf Mountain at the far end – those memories will stick with me forever. I can only imagine how the image would have looked had the photography also captured the Christ The Redeemer statue as well!

I felt very blessed to have crossed the line first to win a third successive world half marathon gold over my favourite distance.

Looking back, I really feel the World Half Marathon Championships made me the person I am today. It continues to motivate me every day to do more to promote running – it is such a great activity, I would recommend it to every household in the world.

Steve Landells for World Athletics

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