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NEW YORK — In the words of his coach Patrick Sang, Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor is a new man, a ferocious competitor ready to soar into the upper echelons of elite marathoning. Having never broken 2:06 for the marathon, Kamworor’s year thus far gives him more than enough reasons to believe he can join reigning champion Wilson Kipsang and Boston Marathon winner Lelisa Desisa at the head of the field of Sunday’s New York City Marathon.
The 22-year-old Kamworor has thrived in the last year and a half. In 2014 he won the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships in Denmark. Since March of this year, he’s claimed a gold medal at the 2015 IAAF World Cross Country Championships and added a silver in the IAAF World Championships 10,000m on the track. But it’s what happens in between races that has prepared Kamworor to be the next great Kenyan to win here on Sunday.
“I have been running together with Eliud Kipchoge and Stephen Kiprotich, and we have prepared together,” said Kamworor, speaking softly to reporters less than 48 hours from the race’s start. “It really gives me a lot of morale as I really worked hard, and it gave me confidence to run the New York Marathon. I hope to do the best I can.”
Training in the village of Kaptagat, Kenya, Kamworor has been part of an elite group that includes the aforementioned Kipchoge—this year’s London Marathon and Berlin Marathon champion—as well as Olympic and World Championships gold medalist Kiprotich. Working together, the trio have emerged and blossomed on the world scene: Kipchoge and Kiprotich in the marathon, and Kamworor across a variety of events.
But now, Kamworor is ready to take the next step and join his colleagues as a global marathon force.
Kamworor was always anxious to become an elite marathoner, Sang said. At points the Kenyan had to be held back out of fear of reaching peak performance too early. In his younger days, Kamworor paced Haile Gebrselassie and Patrick Makau to world records, further inspiring him to master the 26.2-mile distance.
However, Kamworor experienced problems over the course of his first five full marathons. In contention for wins in Berlin, Rotterdam, and Tokyo between 2012 and 2014, he’d consistently struggle after reaching 35 kilometers. His legs would give way, and he’d fall off pace. He hadn’t done enough specific endurance training to sustain a hard tempo.
Now, Sang says, Kamworor is better prepared for the distance and the many bridges and hills that dot New York’s course. He’s run 30- to 40-kilometer long runs twice a week, and is motivated to put his past marathon gaffes in the rear view mirror. This course should suit Kamworor well, a far cry from the speed oriented flat stretches in Berlin and Rotterdam.
“So far I have been running good in marathons, good times, 2:06. But I have never won a marathon,” said Kamworor. “But I am really working hard to win a marathon. Yes, this one I feel prepared and feel better because I prepared well. I trained hard for this race. And I trained with one goal, to do the best.”
When asked to rank and compare Kamworor to other runners he’s coached, the world renowned Sang immediately lists his pupil as a talent equal to Kipchoge and Emmanuel Mutai. As far as his mentality and outlook, Sang says Kamworor is on a level all his own.
Even if Kamworor wins on Sunday and subsequently becomes the next great Kenyan marathoner (joining the 12 other Kenyan men who have won since 1987), he won’t make the full transition to 42.195 kilometers. In 2016 Kamworor will stay on the track in the 10,000, seeking to dethrone reigning Olympic and world champion Mo Farah. The 2020 Olympic Marathon is in the plan, however, Sang confirmed.
“I would say half-marathon [is his best distance]. But of course we can adjust it for the 10,000m and marathon. Those are the things we are doing now to see what he can achieve,” he said. “I think in the long run he can achieve the best in the marathon.”
On Sunday, it will be interesting to see if Kamworor rises to the occasion and strikes it big by breaking the tape first in Central Park.
“For me, actually, it is like a stepping stone. Running cross country is doing my speed and endurance; running half-marathon is like doing speed and endurance; running on the track was like doing speed work. So running the marathon I don’t see any problem because what I have been doing is long runs and endurance,” he said. “The real work was on the long runs… It gives me moral to become a great marathon runner.”