OSAKA - Catherine Ndereba proved to any doubters that Kenya is still one of the best in the world when it comes to distance running.
Ndereba was yesterday crowned the new world marathon queen when beating a competitive field with a time of 2hrs:30min:37sec at the World Athletics Championships.
With her feat Ndereba was emulating her compatriot Luke Kibet who succeeded in the men's edition of the race on the opening day of the championship on August 25.
Chunxiu Zhou, the winner of the 2007 London Marathon, came second in 2:30:45 and was followed home by local superstar Reiko Tosa in 2:30:55.
Tosa's success saw the hosting country win their first individual medal and the locals could not conceal their delight with the bronze medal she secured.
"I guess it was the toughest marathon of my career. It was so hot," said the deeply religious Ndereba, who was running her first marathon of the year as she focused all her attention on preparing for Osaka.
"Some people said after I did not win in Athens or Helsinki that Catherine is finished. But I showed them that with the help of God that I can win again.
"It does not matter which kind of pace you are running. I must tell you I did not have any special tactics, my faith was helping me. This marathon is very special for me."
Ndereba, a four-time Boston Marathon winner and a silver medallist at the Athens Olympics in 2004, is the second-fastest marathoner in history and made the most of arch-rival Paula Radcliffe's absence through injury.
The South Africans in the race, Poppy Mlambo and Tanith Maxwell, might not have impressed but they reckon they have achieved their objectives at the biennial event.
Scooping medals for the South African duo was a far-fetched goal in their debuts at this level, but finishing the highly competitive race was an inspiration for them.
But their finishing times were not convincing. Maxwell finished 54th in the time of 3:14:56, while Mlambo came home in 55th position in 3:23:55.
They were among 67 runners from around the world who competed in the race.
The two novices managed to reach home while others, who were regarded highly before the race, failed to do so as some became victims of the searing heat and intense humidity.
Mlambo said she was now more determined to spring major surprises in the coming international competitions.
"It was really encouraging for me to finish this race today and this will go a long way in motivating me," said Mlambo yesterday.
"I have always been realistic before the race that I was not here for a medal, but to experiment. But I need to thank ASA [Athletics South Africa] for the support they gave me in preparing for this race."
Said Maxwell: "It was tough, but I'm happy I managed to finish the race. I liked the spirit we had in the build-up to this race. We refused to be demoralised by our rookie status."