By Chris Lotsbom
NEW YORK (15-Mar) -- Olympic bronze medalist Wilson Kipsang celebrated his 31st birthday in style earlier today, blowing out candles on top of cupcakes at a press roundtable here this morning hosted by the New York Road Runners. Instead of partying or spending time on the town, Kipsang spent the early part of his special day working.
When asked what he had done today, the personable Kipsang responded with an emphatic "training." After all, his trip to the Big Apple is all about business, and that means trying to win the NYC Half here on Sunday.
"I am very much excited for the race," said the Kenyan who resides in Iten. "I think it is going to be a nice race and a tough one. With these weather conditions I think you can run very well."
Kipsang hopes to break 60-minutes in what will be his first race since winning the Honolulu Marathon last December. If he does, Kipsang will become only the fifth athlete in race history to finish in under one hour.
"I am happy I can come back her again," he said. Last fall, Kipsang was set to make his New York City Marathon debut before Superstorm Sandy forced the race to be cancelled.
Now, four months later, Kipsang returns in preparation for next month's Virgin London Marathon, where he aims to successfully defend his title. Considering London as his home away from home, Kipsang is anxious to return to the same place where he won bronze in the Olympic marathon.
"Before every marathon I try to go for a half-marathon to see how the fitness is responding, to see how fast I am, to see how the endurance part is, and to also give the body a push, to get used to the competing atmosphere," he said. The NYC Half will be that test, where Kipsang will take on twelve men who have run under 62:00.
Though he holds the fastest personal best in the field by over a minute (58:59), Kipsang does not think the race will be an easy walk in the park.
"I say [the field] is strong because you have a lot of guys who have experience road racing. And you have new guys who are debuting, which are very dangerous sometimes," he said. Kipsang specifically mentioned American debutant Bernard Lagat as one to watch, knowing his speed could come into play on Sunday. "Sometimes the upcoming guys, sometimes those who are doing debuts can surprise. We have to be very sharp and keep a close watch on them."
Midway through Friday's interview, Kipsang turned his attention towards the recent issue of the use of performance enhancing drugs by Kenyan athletes. Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported that the "IAAF were planning to send a satellite doping laboratory to Kenya."
"The issue of using the drugs is wholly on an individual basis," he said. "For me, I don't generalize it as [all Kenyan] athletes because it is an individual affair."
When asked if he suspected any athletes to be using performance enhancing drugs, Kipsang said he doesn't think so. Those who do use them, he believes, are victims of medical tricks.
"There are so many guys who are really training hard," he said. "To see the type of training that they are doing, it really contributes much to their performance in various races. But I think the few who have been caught are mainly some guys [referring to medical personnel] who try to trick the guys [athletes] to cheat with those drugs. Somebody tries to tell them that this is the medicine to use so you will become well from your injury, and in the treatment are some substances which is prohibited. Then they find themselves in a problem without realizing it; they take advantage of some guys. It is not good."
Returning to the topic of Sunday's race, Kipsang was confident with his strategy and fitness.
"The first 10-K I saw is more hills," he said, raising his hands in the motion of an athlete picking the pace up. "In the second part, many athletes are still strong. So if the second part is more flat, then many athletes will be feeling quicker."
For now, Kipsang is content waiting until after the race to celebrate his birthday, hopefully with a victory and $20,000 first-place prize.
"For an athlete, when you have been invited to a race, most of the time during your stay you are really thinking and focus much on the race," he said. "After the race now, maybe if I still have one day before travel, maybe I can go out and look around, get an opportunity to see the town."
PHOTO: Wilson Kipsang blows out a candle to celebrate his 31st birthday in New York (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)