When Kenya’s Kipchoge and Kosgei broke the time barrier

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

Kenya's Brigid Kosgei after winning the Chicago Marathon in 2 hours, 14 minutes and 4 seconds   -  KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI

Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge celebrates running a controlled marathon in under two hours in Vienna   -  Leonhard Foeger

While Eliud Kipchoge broke the two-hour barrier in a controlled run, Brigid Kosgei clocked under 2 hours 15 minutes in Chicago, 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.

Then, Kosgei smashed a 16-year 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.

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 two-hour barrier.

His sub-2-hour achievement, despite not being an official record, is being hailed as an achievement on a 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-km 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

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 died of cancer in 2011, won the New York marathon an incredible nine times between 1978 and 1988.

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 focussed 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 and Kosgei will help change that.

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Published on October 15, 2019
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