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Posted: December 12, 2009  : Add to Mixx! Subscribe to stories like this Share

(RRW) Athletics: Okayo Hopes To Jump Start Marathon Career In Honolulu Tomorrow

From David Monti
© 2009 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

HONOLULU (12-Dec) -- The closely cropped hair and girlish smile are the same, but at 30 years-old marathoner Margaret Okayo has grown up. Perched on a sofa in the open air lobby of the Outrigger Reef Hotel here, she looks tentative, even apologetic, as she haltingly answers reporters' questions in advance of tomorrow's 37th Honolulu Marathon. She's clearly sticking to a limited script.

"Well, I want to run my best, but I don't know about the competition," she said with a nervous smile, wearing a bright pink long-sleeved top. "But I want to run my best. But now, I cannot say if I can run well or what, but I want to run my best."

That Okayo is the most accomplished marathoner in the field isn't even debatable (see lifetime marathon list, below). In 19 marathon starts she has racked up seven victories, including Boston (2002), New York (2001 and 2003), and London (2003). She still holds the course records for Boston (2:20:43), New York (2:22:31), San Diego (2:25:05) and Milano (2:24:59).

In her debut at the distance in Chicago in 1999, she battled Kenyan compatriot Joyce Chepchumba, already an established star, losing by just one second in a sprint finish, 2:25:59 to 2:26:00. In her second course record run in New York in 2003, she ran 1:10:27 for the race's difficult second half, beating Chepchumba, Catherine Ndereba and Lornah Kiplagat, handily. Remarkably, in the 14 marathons she has finished, she has never run slower than 2:29:16, and has broken 2:27:00 ten times.

But those accomplishments seem like a distant memory. Okayo's career peaked with her three and one-half minute victory at London in 2004 when she ran 2:22:35. She failed to finish the 2004 Athens Olympic Marathon, then was fourth in both New York later that year and London the following spring. She dropped out of three of her next four marathons, and hasn't completed a full marathon in three and a half years.

Okayo's fall was due to a combination of a few injuries (details fuzzy), and a broken heart (details even fuzzier). She got married to husband, Tom, in 2005. Her coach, Dr. Gabriele Rosa, said that Okayo had become distracted, finding it difficult to train.

"But now I'm OK," Okayo offered. "But now I can't say, but I have done my best."

Rosa said that Okayo did not do the kind of robust marathon training she had before her best victories, and rated her "around 50%." Nonetheless, he said that he fully expected her to become a force in the sport again once she got back into full training. In her two most recent competitive outings, the results have been solid. She clocked 1:11:00 at the Meia Maratona SportZone in Portugal on October 18, and 1:11:54 at the Mezza Maratona Città di Palmanova in Italy on November 22. Those performances have boosted her confidence and helped her come to the decision that it's not yet time to hang up her racing flats.

"'No, It's my career,'" she said she told herself. "I told myself, let me say, 'no.' If you have a career of something, you say, 'no,' and let me move [on].

In tomorrow's race, her toughest opponent will be her Rosa teammate, Pamela Chepchumba, whom Okayo paced to victory at the 2007 Milano Marathon. It was there that Chepchumba set her 2:25:36 career best. Chepchumba, who served a doping suspension in 2003 and 2004 when she competed under a different coach and manager, ran 1:10:24 in the same Portuguese half-marathon last October where Okayo ran her 71-flat. Defending champion Kiyoko Shimahara of Japan (2:25:10) and Russian veteran Svetlana Zakharova (2:21:31) should also be factors in the race.

About her own chances, Okayo was decidedly tight-lipped.

"I've done my best," she said. "I'd tell, but I don't know."

Margaret Okayo (KEN) - Complete Career Marathon List
Performances in Chronological Order
From Race Results Weekly Athlete Performance Database

2:26:00 DB  Chicago         (2)   24-Oct-1999
2:27:05 CR  RNR San Diego   (1)   04-Jun-2000
DNF         Chicago         DNF   22-Oct-2000
2:26:36     New York City   (3)   07-Nov-2000
2:25:05 CR  RNR San Diego   (1)   03-Jun-2001
2:24:21 CR  New York City   (1)   04-Nov-2001
2:20:43 CR  Boston          (1)   15-Apr-2002
2:27:46     New York City   (5)   03-Nov-2002
2:24:59 CR  Milano          (1)   01-Dec-2002
2:27:39     Boston          (4)   21-Apr-2003
2:22:31 CR  New York City   (1)   02-Nov-2003
2:22:35     London          (1)   18-Apr-2004
DNF         Olympic Athens  DNF   22-Aug-2004
2:26:31     New York City   (4)   07-Nov-2004
2:25:22     London          (4)   17-Apr-2005
DNF         Las Vegas       DNF   04-Dec-2005
2:29:16     London          (9)   23-Apr-2006
DNF (pace)  Milano          DNF   02-Dec-2007
DNF         San Antonio     DNF   16-Nov-2008

The invited athletes list for tomorrow's 37th Honolulu Marathon is below, with annotations by your editor.

MEN - 
 1 Patrick Ivuti, 30-Jun-78, 31, Kenya, 2:07:46 PB
   Two-time WXC silver ('99/'03); 1 '07 CHI; 1 HNL '08

 3 Nicholas Chelimo, 8-Jan-83, 26, Kenya, 2:07:46
   5 AMS '09 2:07:46 PB; 6 Daegu '09; 2 Seoul '08 2:08:51; 5 Enschede '08

 2 Jimmy Muindi, 14-Aug-73, 36, Kenya, 2:07:50
   No races in 2009; 5 HNL '08 (6-time HNL winner)

 4 Benson Cherono, 30-Jun-84, 25, Kenya, 2:07:58
   1 Milano '06 2:07:58 PB; 3 Venice '09 2:10:19; 3 BOS '05

 6 Joseph Maregu, 22-Nov-77, 32, Kenya, 2:08:25

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