Hype can cut both ways. Too much and the promotion can fall flat. Too little and the tree can tumble unheard in the forest.
In 2015 the Virgin Money London Marathon did a great job promoting its men’s and women’s professional fields. With a month long boxing-like ramp up that focused on the last two men’s marathon world record holders, Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto, and a “Fantastic Four” of Kenyan women, consisting of past London champions Edna Kiplagat (2014), Priscah Jeptoo (2013), Mary Keitany (2011-2012) and 2014 TCS New York City Marathon winner Florence Kiplagat (2nd, London 2014), London stacked its packs then piqued our interest with their pre-race set up.
The one thing it couldn’t control, however, was the outcome as Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge (2:04:42) bested Kipsang (2nd place, 2:04:47) and Kimetto (3rd place, 2:05:50), while Ethiopia’s Tigist Tufa, a 2:21:52 winner in Shanghai last year, upset the women’s applecart in a race where the pacers were all but ignored as place took precedence over time. Tufa arrived at the finish in 2:23:22 while Mary Keitany followed 18 seconds later in 2:23:40. They were followed by two more Ethiopians, Tirfi Tsegay (2:23:41) and Aselefech Mergia (2:23:53). Florence Kiplagat arrived in fifth at 2:24:15, while defender Edna Kiplagat (no relation) struggled home in 11th in 2:27:16.
Just as in Chicago last October, Eliud Kipchoge’s lips split wide as he powered away from his final challenger today in the British capital. Last fall Sammy Kitwara fell victim. Today it was defending London champion Wilson Kipsang, the only man to defeat Kipchoge to date over the marathon distance (2013 Berlin when Kipsang ran a world record, since broken, 2:03:23, while Kipchoge finished second in a PR 2:04:05).
Often teeth baring betrays the rictus of effort, but for the 30 year-old father of three from the Central Highlands of Kenya, the softened crinkles around his eyes revealed his real mood. This, then, was the simple smile of satisfaction playing out over a face now used to such expressions of self-regard.
Less we forget, Eliud Kipchoge was just 18 when he upset world-beaters Hicham El Guerrouj and Keninise Bekele to take gold in the 5000 meters at the 2003 IAAF World Championships in Paris, the same year he won the IAAF World Cross Country Junior Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland. A year later he won bronze in the Athens Olympics over 5000m. Four years later he upgraded to silver in Beijing.
These days, after retooling his body for the longer road distances, Kipchoge once again took the measure of the best runners on offer with yet another flash of speed in the waning stages of a major competition.
The range of the man is remarkable. Only Ethiopia’s inestimable Haile Gebrselassie is in the same mile-to-marathon league with Kipchoge. What makes the two even more laudable is how each was able to sustain excellence over an extended period of time over a range of distances requiring very different training regimens.
KIPCHOGE PR LIST
Distance Time Venue Date
1500m 3:33.20 Hengelo (NED) 31 May 2004
Mile 3:50.40 London (GBR) 30 July 2004
3000m 7:27.66 Doha (QAT) 6 May 2011
5000m 12:46.53 Rome (ITA) 2 July 2004
10,000m 26:49.02 Hengelo (NED) 26 May 2007
10K Road 26:54 Madrid (ESP) 31 Dec. 2006
Half Marathon 59:25 Lille, (FRA) 01 Sep. 2012
Marathon 2:04:05 Berlin (GER) 29 Sep. 2013
GEBRSELASSIE PR LIST
Distance Time Venue Date
1500m 3:33.73 Stuggart (GER) 6 June 1999
Mile 3:52.39 Gatehead (GBR) 27 June 1999
3000m 7:25.09 Brussels (BEL) 28 Aug. 1998
5000m 12:39.36 Helsinki (FIN) 13 June 1998
10,000m 26:22.75 Hengelo (NED) 01 June 1998
10K Road 27:02 Doha (QAT) 13 Dec. 2002
Half-Marathon 58:55 Tempe (USA) 15 Jan. 2006
Marathon 2:03:59 Berlin (GER) 28 Sep. 2008
So just when we thought the marathon had traded out old track stars for fresh faced road warriors, Eliud Kipchoge proved the old ways still have their charms, even as both champions showed that the marathon remains one of the most challenging of all sporting events to predict.
And finally, any sport must be lucky in those who become its champions, as sport is pure meritocracy. In that light, distance running has been blessed by many a fine representative. But none better than three-time London and New York City Marathon champion Paula Ratcliffe who ran her swan song today.
The still standing women’s world record holder — 2:15:25 (London 2003) and nobody in shouting distance — hung up her marathon racing flats with a 2:36:55 effort. No hype would ever be too great to adequately measure Paula’s long run at the top. I can still recall her taking the IAAF World Cross Country junior title in snowy Boston in 1992 in her first of many international triumphs. Though snake bitten at the Olympics, whether in triumph or despair, Paula provided inspiration that will last for decades to come. Her contributions to the sport, already vast, one would hope have only just begun.