I recently received an email from Ralph Okhiria, an engineer in Kano, Nigeria, in which he asked me what I thought about the year Kenya is having on the international marathon circuit. Well, Ralph, I know Kenya has always had a very proud pedigree in distance running, but 2011 has been an extra special year for the east African country at the classic 42-kilometer distance.

Kenyans Abel Kirui and Edna Kiplagat swept the gold medals in the men’s and women’s marathon at this year’s world championships in Daegu, South Korea. In fact, of the six medals at stake in those two races, Kenyans won five.

Patrick Makau Photo: Victah Sailer@PhotoRun

Kenya made more headlines in September and October during marathons in Germany. At the Berlin Marathon September 25, Kenya’s Patrick Makau crossed the finish line in a world record time of 2:03:38.

Five weeks later, at the Frankfurt Marathon October 30, another Kenyan, Wilson Kipsang, made an assault on Makau’s record, but fell four seconds shy, hitting the tape in 2:03:42. Let’s check out some video highlights of that race:

The great performances by Wilson Kipsang and Patrick Makau followed course records earlier in the year by fellow-Kenyans Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02) at the Boston Marathon; Emmanuel Mutai (2:04:40) at the London Marathon; and Moses Mosop (2:05:38) at the Chicago Marathon. In recognizing Geoffrey Mutai’s time as the “fastest marathon ever run,” the International Association of Athletics Federations said it was not eligible for world record status because of the elevation drop and point-to-point course in Boston.

All these Kenyan men are hoping to compete in the 2012 London Olympics, but this great year by Kenyan marathoners has made things difficult for Kenyan selectors, who can choose only three athletes for the Olympic men’s marathon. Kenyan officials say they will wait until after the London Marathon April 22 before naming their team.