TOKYO: As a child in western Kenya, Peres Jepchirchir ran more than 3km to get to school each day.
Her brother noticed her talent and encouraged her to take running more seriously. Soon enough, at 13, she began competing in races at primary school.
And it was as serious as it gets at the women's marathon in the Japanese city of Sapporo on Saturday, when the child of farmers and two-time world half marathon champion Jepchirchir became an Olympic gold medallist for the first time.
It was a tough, gritty performance, under punishing conditions. The heat and humidity forced runners to repeatedly pick up water from the sidelines to keep cool and hydrated. Athletes poured water over their heads and used towels to rub sweat from their faces, while stuffing ice packs underneath their jerseys.
"It was so hot, it was not easy. I'm just thankful I managed (to cope) with that weather," she said after the race. "It feels good."
Toughness is in Jepchirchir's DNA. In February 2017, she broke the half marathon world record in the United Arab Emirates while a few weeks pregnant. She had her daughter Natalia in October of that year.
She took some time off after having her baby and didn't rush her return.
"It was difficult, I had to lose weight (after pregnancy)," Jepchirchir said last year. "But Natalia was a blessing from God."
She came back more than a year later and was soon back on top of her game. She won the half-marathon in Lisbon in October of 2019 and the marathon in Saitama, Japan, in December with a personal best of 2:23:50.
Once again her comeback showed her steeliness and her strong will to be great, something her manager Gianni Demadonna has said separates her from the rest.
"She's not only really motivated, but she has a tough mind," he said last year.
The 27-year old Jepchirchir needed all that tough spirit on Saturday as she endured the scorching heat and humidity in Sapporo that forced some athletes, including world champion Ruth Chepngetich, to drop out of the race.
Jepchirchir was in the leading pack from the beginning and as that group whittled down to herself and compatriot Brigid Kosgei, the world record holder, she demonstrated her will to win once again.
Shoulder to shoulder with Kosgei, she soon broke away with her elegant, purposeful stride, as they hit the 40km mark and widened her lead as she powered to the finish line and grabbed gold with a time of 2:27:20, her best performance of the season.
"I pushed on the pace (and when I opened the gap) it was like, 'wow, I'm going to make it. I'm going to win,'" she said.