Reigning World and Olympic Marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda begins 2014 with his knickers in a knot – which is not a bad thing by this reading. As he embarks on the long training slog toward the highly anticipated Virgin London Marathon this April 13th, the soon to be 25 year-old (Feb. 27, 1989) has been stung by unnamed critics who suggest he has been more fortunate than good in winning his two gold medals. Kiprotich took issue with the charge, snapping back in a story published by Uganda’s Daily Mirror that was then picked up as Quote of the Day by our friends at Letsrun.com.
“I know I haven’t run a very fast marathon in my career so far, but what people forget is that I am still learning. You can’t judge someone who hasn’t run more than 10 marathons. I have competed against very experienced marathoners and defeated them.”
There is no denying Kiprotich’s excellence as a championship runner. Only Ethiopia’s Gezahenge Abera has similarly worn Olympic and World Championship Marathon gold simultaneously (2000 Sydney & 2001 Edmonton). But in his seven career marathons to date Kiprotich has only registered a modest PR (by today’s standards) of 2:07:20 from his debut at the 2011 Enschede Marathon in the Netherlands. As a side note, Enschede was also the only other marathon besides the World Champs and Olympics that he’s won (see full career record below).
“On a good day, I am sure I can run 2:05,” Kiprotich told the Daily Mirror, adding, “I can even attempt the world record (2:03:23). It’s very possible. It all depends on the course and how the body reacts.”
|Apr. 17, 2011||Enschede Marathon||NED||1st||2:07:20|
|Feb. 26, 2012||Tokyo Marathon||JPN||3rd||2:07:50|
|Aug. 12, 2012||London Olympic Games||GBR||1st||2:08:01|
|Apr. 21, 2013||London Marathon||GBR||6th||2:08:05|
|Aug. 17, 2013||Moskva IAAF World Championships||RUS||1st||2:09:51|
|Sep. 04, .2011||Daegu IAAF World Championships||KOR||9th||2:12:57|
|Nov.03, 2013||New York City Marathon||USA||12th||2:13:05|
One always likes to see an athlete rise to the bait, even if it’s hard to figure who set the hook. But a ghost challenge is as good as a flesh and blood one, I say, if it gets the blood up. At the same time, immediately upon reading the Kiprotich quote I was struck by the number 10. “You can’t judge someone who hasn’t run ten marathons?”
Yes you can. I do it all the time.
Below are listed the top ten “officially” recognized marathon times in history via the IAAF website.
(And are we going to have to make that “official” disclaimer ad infinitum when we talk about fast marathon times? Yes, the 2011 Boston Marathon was wind-blown, and therefore doesn’t count for record purposes. But to me that’s like saying the IAAF doesn’t officially recognize the death of Pheidippides because he ran a point-to-point from Marathon to Athens in 492 B.C. rather than over a loop course. I’m sorry, but it does drive me a little crazy that the world’s oldest marathon doesn’t count in the sport it helped both create and perpetuate for over a century.)
Anyway, back to the case at hand. The list below states the time, name, country of origin, event and year, career marathon number and age of the fastest ten marathoners in history. What do those numbers suggest to you in regards Stephen Kiprotich’s claim that he is still on a learning curve and the best is yet to come?
- 2:03:23 – Wilson Kipsang – Ken. – Berlin 2013 – 9th of 9 career marathons at age 31
- 2:03:38 – Patrick Makau - Ken. – Berlin 2011 – 6th of 9 career marathons at age 26
- 2:03:42 – Wilson Kipsang – Ken. – Frankfurt `11 – 4th of 9 career marathons at age 29
- 2:03:45 – Dennis Kimetto – Ken. – Chicago `13 – 3rd of 3 career marathons at age 29
- 2:03:52 – Emmanuel Mutai – Ken. Chicago 13 – 14th of 14 career marathons at age 29
- 2:03:55 – Haile Gebrselassie – Eth. – Berlin `08 – 9th of 17 career marathons at age 35
- 2:04:05 – Eliud Kipchoge – Ken. – Berlin `13 – 2nd of 2 career marathons at age 28
- 2:04:23 – Ayele Abshero – Eth. – Dubai `12 – 1st of 3 career marathons at age 21
- 2:04:26 – Haile Gebrselassie – Eth. – Berlin `07 – 7th of 17 career marathons at age 34
- 2:04:27 – Duncan Kibet – Ken. – Rotterdam `09 – 6th of 8 career marathons at age 31
Except for Emmanuel Mutai’s remarkable ability to maintain top form over a career span of 14 marathons, and removing Ayele Abshero’s stunning debut in Dubai 2012 (I’m a firm believer in the ice skating and high diving judging technique of throwing out the high and low marks and averaging the middle scores), we see that the fastest marathons come in a man’s fifth or sixth attempt. What’s more, the average age of the top ten stands at 29.3 years of age.
By those standards – and perhaps it is too short a list to make any hard and fast conclusions – I see Stephen Kiprotich still headed toward his peak. Though he has already run seven career marathons, three of the top ten, including the current world record, have come in a racer’s ninth career marathon. And since Kiprotich is just turning 25 years of age this February, he is still four years under the average age of the top ten.
To further delve into the topic I called two-time former marathon world and current American record holder Khalid Khannouchi. In a career that spanned ten years and twelve marathons Khalid ran the world record in Chicago 1999 (his 3rd career attempt, 2:05:42) and in London 2002 in his 7th (2:05:38).
“I think by your fifth marathon you should have run your best time,” said Khalid. “Maybe in a few cases you see someone who has run fast after many more, but once you get near or over ten marathons you have already begun to beat your body up in training. I would have loved to have run more marathons, but I was already injured and couldn’t train at the same level anymore. But by your third to fifth marathon you should know enough about the distance and still be fresh enough to train hard and execute in the race.”
In the case of Stephen Kiprotich, three of his seven marathons have either been world championship (2011 Daegu and 2013 Moscow) or Olympic efforts (London 2012). He certainly wasn’t gunning for fast times in those. And his start at last November’s TCS New York City Marathon was the first time he was attempting three marathons in a calendar year, and that was really more of a crap shoot trying for the $500,000 World Marathon Majors circuit prize.
Given all that, and the field, the weather, the course and a full training cycle ahead, London 2014 should be Stephen Kiprotich’s first real, no bullshit, attempt to fly. Let’s see how high above the clouds of doubt he can soar.