Robert Mbithi and Risper Gesabwa did their country proud.
And because the sport was distance running, it’s pretty easy to guess what country that might be. Yes, it’s Kenya.
Mbithi, 23, took the men’s portion of the ING Half Marathon, clocking 1 hour 5 minutes and 44 seconds, and Gesabwa, also 23, won the women’s race in 1:14:00 through the runner-bulging streets of Miami on Sunday.
Mbithi had a tough time not letting the tall buildings and scenery of Miami distract him from his running task at hand. Also, because he won by nearly five minutes, he was not pushed into having a better time.
“It is very beautiful, very big,” Mbithi said of Miami. Certainly, much bigger than the rural part of Kenya, where Mbithi’s home is located.
“I grew up on a farm,” he said, “and I had to work. We would grow potatoes, tomatoes, maize and coffee. It was hard work.”
Mbithi, making his first trip to Miami, was asked which was harder, farming in Kenya or running marathons and half marathons.
He did not hesitate. “The farming is much harder,” he said.
At least he had a lot of sibling help on the farm since he grew up in a four-bedroom house with six sisters and one brother, none of whom are runners.
Somehow, even with all the sisters and brothers, Mbithi managed to get his own room.
As much as he likes Miami, Mbithi said he misses Kenya. “We all help each other there — that’s what I like best about my country,” he said.
Danilo Briceno of Caracas finished second (1:10:42), and American Leo Kormanik II (1:10:57) was third.
Kormanik, a chiropractor from Cleveland, also was seeing Miami for the first time. “The course was great,” Kormanik said. “I loved the atmosphere and scenery.”
Kormanik was asked about Kenya’s dominance and responded, “They tend to take racing a little more seriously than we do. It’s more of a dogfight for them. For me, it’s more of a hobby.”
Kormanik revealed that he benefits from running for his own fitness and also monetarily.
“Yes, about 80 percent of my chiropractor clients are runners,” he said with a smile.
In the women’s race, Gesabwa said she felt extremely fit heading into the race, and she knows exactly why.
“My husband is my trainer,” she said, “and he is a good trainer. I felt great this morning.”
That said, Gesabwa added that her husband “… can be tough on me with his training.”
Gesabwa was in Miami for the first time, and her husband stayed in Atlanta, where they live much of the year. She was ecstatic about winning and promised, “I will come back next year to defend my championship, and next time I’ll bring my husband to cheer me.”
The race and the city left a large impression on Gesabwa. “It’s a big city,” she said, “but the people are very lovely and friendly.” And Gesabwa left a large impression on the city. On a day when times were generally slow, Gesabwa broke the women’s course record by 65 seconds set 10 years ago.
Malika Camacho, from Morocco but living in Albuquerque, N.M., much of the time, finished second in the women’s half marathon with a time of 1:14:14. She fell back near the 12-kilometer mark.
“We were almost together for 12 kilometers,” Camacho said, “and I took the water and she didn’t. She gained about three seconds there.”
Nevertheless, Camacho was anything but despondent over finishing second.
“I love to play,” she said. “I love to jog. I love sports. This was good.”