Texas Tech Hall of Fame runner returns to Olympics after dramatic finish in Atlanta.
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ATLANTA – Legendary Texas Tech track and field distance runner Sally Kipyego qualified for the 2020 Summer Olympics Saturday in the marathon. Kipyego, 34, competed at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta, where she ran 2:28.52 to claim the third and final spot on the roster.
The Kenyan-born runner will represent the United States in Tokyo this summer, a goal she has had since becoming a U.S. citizen in 2017. She was one of three to make the U.S. team Saturday, joining 10-time national champion and fellow Kenyan immigrant Aliphine Tuliamuk and Molly Seidel.
“What a great accomplishment for Sally,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Wes Kittley, who coached Kipyego at Tech from 2006-2009. “Red Raiders far and wide are so proud of what she has accomplished.”
Kipyego’s return to the Olympics is being praised across the track world, as the former Tech runner has battled through considerable adversity to make it back to the Games. After earning silver in the 10,000m in London in 2012, Kipyego had to pause her training in 2017 while she was pregnant with her daughter, Emma. During her pregnancy, she was unable to run from 18 weeks through childbirth. In the months following, she struggled with pneumonia and malaria, making a return to racing shape even more difficult. Ultimately, she was forced to delay her comeback and withdraw from the NYC Marathon in November 2018.
Still, Kipyego persevered, eyes set on Tokyo. A member of the elite Oregon Track Club, she lived and trained in her home country of Kenya, using the altitude to bolster her regimen. By early 2019, she had worked her mileage up to 115 per week at marathon pace.
In April of that year, she attempted a comeback at the Boston Marathon but walked off the course after 18 miles due to fatigue. Though the plan was to not run another marathon until Saturday’s Trials, Kipyego, seeking redemption and a confidence boost, entered the Berlin Marathon last September. It was the perfect decision, as she ran a lifetime best of 2:25.10. Five months later, of course, she would complete her comeback and earn a spot on the U.S. team.
“It’s just a testament to her incredible hard work and dedication to the sport,” said head distance coach Jon Murray, who coached Kipyego to three straight NCAA and Big 12 titles in cross country. “Coming back from pregnancy and some of the rough times she’s had these past few years really shows her commitment. At Tech, she hated to lose, and I think that shows in her continued pursuit to be back in race shape and be the best that she can be.”
Kipyego’s career at Tech is considered one of the greatest of any collegiate athlete in any sport in NCAA history. During her four years in Lubbock, she won eight national titles. Kipyego is the only NCAA athlete ever to win four national titles in one year, doing so in 2007 when she won championships in cross country, the indoor 3000m, indoor 5000m and the outdoor 10,000m. She is the only Big 12 runner ever to win three consecutive conference titles in cross country. Kipyego owns the outdoor school records in the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m, and ran on the record-holding distance medley relay. Indoors, her records in the mile, 3000m and 5000m still stand today, as do her 5k and 6k cross country marks.
In 2019, Kipyego was inducted into the Texas Tech Athletic Hall of Fame.
The 2020 Summer Olympics will run from July 24 through Aug. 9 in Tokyo. Kipyego’s marathon will take place on Aug. 8.