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How Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei created marathon history

Baskar B | Updated on October 15, 2019 Published on October 15, 2019

Eliud Kipchoge's sub-two hour marathon.   -  Reuters

Kipchoge recently broke the two-hour barrier in the men’s marathon, while Kosgei clocked in under 2 hours and 15 minutes, breaking Paula Radcliffe’s record

Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei, both belonging to Kenya, have written themselves into the history books of running. Three days ago, Kipchoge, a world record holder and reigning Olympic champion, broke the two-hour barrier in the men’s Marathon, which is run over a distance of 26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometres. While he did have considerable assistance in pulling off that superhuman feat, he can take pride in achieving something no human being has done before.

The next was Kosgei smashing the 16-year-old women’s marathon record by a mind-boggling 1 minute and 21 seconds. She won the Chicago Marathon, one of the world majors, last Sunday with a stupendous timing of 2 hours 14 minutes and 4 seconds, breaking British legend Paula Radcliffe’s record, set in 2003.

In the midst of Kipchoge and Kosgei’s achievements, Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele’s incredible win in the Berlin marathon on September 29, where he finished just two seconds off Kipchoge’s world record at two hours, one minute and forty-one seconds, unfortunately, didn’t quite get the attention it deserved.

With a little help from his friends

Kipchoge’s feat will not be counted as a world record as it was not achieved in a running event. His run was conducted under ‘controlled conditions’ in Vienna, with 41 elite pacemakers helping him break the two-hour barrier. These pacemakers, who were subbed at regular intervals, were running in an ‘arrow formation’ in front of Kipchoge to minimise wind resistance.

Laser beams were shone on the track to guide Kipchoge and his pacemakers on the pace they needed to maintain to break the 2-hour barrier. There is a terrific photo feature of Kipchoge’s race in the Guardian newspaper’s web site.

His sub-2-hour achievement, despite not being an official record, is being hailed as an achievement on par with Roger Bannister’s sub-4-minute mile run achieved way back in 1954. To put the speed in context, Kipchoge covered the 42.2-kilometre distance at an average speed of 21 km per hour.

57 minutes faster

The men’s marathon race has come a long way in the last 100 years. In the 1896 Olympics, the first modern Olympics, the marathon was won by Spyridon Louis of Greece with a timing of 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds.

In the 2018 Berlin marathon, Kipchoge broke fellow Kenyan Dennis Kimetto’s record of 2 hours 2 minutes and 57 seconds set in Berlin in 2014. Kipchoge shaved an incredible 1 minute and 18 seconds off this timing to finish the 2018 Berlin marathon with a timing of 2 hours 1 minute and 39 seconds.

So, since 1896 the world record for the marathon has been shattered by no less than 57 minutes. To put things in perspective, the men’s marathon record in the last 20 years, since Morocco’s Khalid Khannouchi set a timing of 2 hour 5 minutes 42 seconds in the 1999 Chicago marathon, has been cut by more than four minutes!.

Women’s marathon

Brigid Kosgei sets a new world record.   -  Reuters

 

The story of the women’s marathon is even more interesting. It became an Olympic event only in 1984. Joan Benoit of the US was the first woman to win an Olympic Gold in the marathon. Her rivalry with the outstanding Grete Waitz, who was the first woman to run a marathon under two-and-a-half hours, was legendary. Waitz, who tragically died of cancer in 2011, won the New York marathon an incredible nine times between 1978 and 1988.

Of course no conversation on the women’s marathon is complete without mentioning the exploits of Katherine Switzer. She ran the Boston marathon in 1967, when women were still not permitted to run it, thinking that she could pass off as a man. During the run, the race director realised that she was a woman and tried to stop her from running. But luckily for Switzer, her boyfriend, who was running with her, came to her rescue and she was able to finish the race. It took another five years for the Boston marathon’s organisers to allow women to run. Switzer would go on to win the New York marathon in 1974.

Though an Olympic title eluded her, Britain’s Paula Radcliffe was another legend who won many marathon tittles and was the world record holder till Kosgei smashed it.

Kosgei’s achievement in Chicago on Sunday last has been built on the achievements of all these women pioneers. Speaking to the Guardian newspaper after her victory, Kosgei said that she knew she could run in 2 hours and 10 minutes and was focused on reducing her time further.

Marathon running has never quite had the following that sprint races have had. One hopes that the recent exploits of Kipchoge, Kosgei and Bekeke will help change that.

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Published on October 15, 2019
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