New women’s world record holder Brigid Kosgei

While much of the attention throughout the marathon year of 2019 focused on Eliud Kipchoge’s metronomic 1:59:40 exhibition in Vienna at the INEOS Challenge – and the shoes he and his pacers wore – the real shocker came one week later in Chicago where Brigid Kosgei attacked the record books like Donald Trump taking on a CNN presidential poll.

Kosgei’s 2:14:04 world record, the first world record in Chicago since Paula Radcliffe’s 2:17:18 in 2002, ripped 81-seconds off Radcliffe’s subsequent 2:15:25 in London in the spring of 2003.  But just like the men’s side of the ledger, the story line for women in 2019 was the remarkable depth of fast running brought on by the true superstar in the final year of the Twenty Teens, the Nike Vaporfly family of racing shoes (don’t believe we can call them ‘racing flats’ anymore).

Last week I poured through the World Athletics website to compare annual male performances in the marathon since the last Olympic year of 2016. Today, it’s the women’s times.

SUB 2:30 MARATHONS 2016 – 2019


2016          177        ETH 69; KEN 50

2017          221        ETH 77;  KEN 71

2018          239       ETH 87; KEN  61

2019          339     ETH 146; KEN. 87

Just like the men in 2019 with their number of sub-2:10 performances, the women of the world made a huge leap forward in sub-2:30s over this past 12 months.  Also similar to their male counterparts, the women of Ethiopia rose as the dominant players, though Kenya produced the two fastest times of the year with Dubai Marathon champion Ruth Chepngetich coming in number two at 2:17:08 behind Brigid Kosgei’s Chicago world record.  Ethiopia was led by Dubai runner up Worknesh Degefa at 2:17:41.

Since evolution takes somewhat longer to operate than these quicker than ever times suggest, and coaching systems from previous years remain largely in place, we have to look elsewhere to explain the marked improvement.

Others have opined about how or whether the current carbon-plated, stacked-foam shoe technology breakthrough should be regulated. I simply draw attention to the fact that we are still living under a record book clouded by obvious drug-induced performances from the 1980s.

Back to the numbers. As expected, the East African nations of Ethiopia and Kenya dominated the list of high quality performances in 2019. Other top nations included Japan with 24 sub-2:30s, the United States posted 17 (led by Sara Hall’s 2:22:16 fifth-place in Berlin), Bahrain ran nine, Australia had six, and China produced five under 2:30s.

Rarely are bright lines drawn in time, but 2019 just might be one of those demarcations in the world of marathon running. The issue of fairness is one of the things governing bodies were designed to ensure.  Let’s see how the newly branded World Athletics does its work in this regard as the 2020 Olympic Year dawns.


P.S.  Former UK 10,000m record holder Jon Brown requested on Twitter for the previous Olympic cycle years for comparison sake.  Here it is, Jon.

SUB 2:30 MARATHONS 2012 – 2015


2012          205        ETH 72; KEN 34; USA 9

2013          161        ETH 62;  KEN 43; USA 4

2014          170       ETH 73; KEN  38; USA 7

2015          205     ETH 86; KEN  47; USA 6


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