NAIROBI (AFP) - Marathon world record breaker Dennis Kimetto was given a hero's welcome in Kenya on Wednesday, after making history on the streets of Berlin by becoming the first man to break the 2hr 3min barrier.
Kimetto, a former farmer from the Rift Valley who only started running professionally five years ago, was given a red carpet reception and adorned with garlands on arrival at Nairobi airport, before being taken on a victory tour of the capital.
"I didn't expect to break the world record," said the soft-spoken 30-year-old Kimetto. "I went to Berlin to just compete but I thank God that I have come back as a world record holder. It was a surprise."
Second-placed Emmanuel Mutai, a seasoned campaigner whose finishing time was also within the previous world record, said Kenya's elite distance runners could now seriously start eyeing the mythical two-hour barrier.
"I don't envisage the sub-two hour mark taking long to be achieved. Maybe within the next one to two years especially with the way we train. If the weather will be favourable, like in Berlin, anything can happen," he said.
Kimetto's lightning fast run of 2hr 2min 57sec was the second year running that the record had been broken in Berlin, the previous best being 26 seconds slower - the 2:03:23 set over the same course last year by compatriot Wilson Kipsang.
The performance by the 30-year-old delivered a new benchmark in human endurance and cemented the Kenyans' total dominance of international road racing.
Kimetto hails from the town of Eldoret - a part of the country that has produced some of the most dominant distance runners in history and is emerging as the world's training capital.
He was working as a farmer in an impoverished rural area before he took up running in his mid-20s, joining the training group of Geoffrey Mutai - a Boston, Berlin and two-time New York marathon champion and the former holder of the unofficial world best, a 2:03:02 set in Boston.
His first major win came in Nairobi's Half Marathon in 2011, and he went on to finish second behind his training partner Mutai in the Berlin Marathon in 2012.
His 2:04.16 was the fastest marathon debut in history, and notable as he is one of a new breed of Kenyan road racers who do not have a track pedigree.
In 2013 he won the Tokyo Marathon, setting a course record of 2:06:50, and then the 2013 Chicago Marathon in a course record of 2:03:45 - where he also beat Emmanuel Mutai into second place.