It’s not that he wins, or that he runs fast, both of which are impressive enough in themselves. For me, it’s been the mastery of his opposition that has been the most striking aspect of Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon career. It’s his implacability, like Arnold’s Terminator.
The thing is, except for his debut marathon in Berlin 2013, where he took second in 2:04:05 to Wilson Kipsang‘s 2:03:23 world record, Eliud Kipchoge has never even been truly pressed in any of his 14 successful 26-milers, much less been beaten.
I am conveniently overlooking London in 2020, where he finished in eighth place at 2:06:49. Because it wasn’t the competition that dropped him so much as a blocked ear.
Yesterday’s effort in Tokyo (2022), his 16th official career start, produced yet another first place finish in 2:02:40, an event record over a new, slightly altered layout. The 2:02:40 was the third-best of his career, and fourth-best all time. It was another unpressured, workman-like performance.
After he dispatched his final competitor, Amos Kipruto, at 36.2Km, he ran the last 6Km like he was coming home from school for vacation, smiling. His seemingly bottomless reservoir reminded me of my old Ethiopian friend, Belay Wolashe, who used to squire us around during our visits to his home country. After a particularly long day, Belay would never admit to being tired. So, I would needle him a little from the backseat.
“Never tired, never hungry.”
With Eliud Kipchoge, it’s never pressed, never worried. Another day at the office, like rolling off a log, easy as gaining weight on an all Mickey D’s diet.
The closest we have come to seeing Eliud challenged late in a race was at the 2015 London Marathon. It was Eliud‘s first London, and he was coming off wins in Hamburg 2013, Rotterdam and Chicago in 2014.
At 23 miles, four men were still in contention. And what a foursome it was.
Wilson Kipsang was the defending champion and former world record holder. Dennis Kimetto was the reigning world record holder at 2:02:57 from Berlin the previous fall. And Stanley Biwott, the final contender in the foursome, was runner-up in London from the year before and soon to be New York City Marathon champion in 2015.
What a fabulous foursome, all together for the final 5K. Except for missing Kenenisa Bekele, that had to be the strongest final four in modern times.
Emerging from the tunnel after a 4:41 24th mile, Kipsang and Kipchoge had disposed of Kimetto and Biwott. Kipsang and Eliud ran shoulder to shoulder.
Kipsang had won his last three marathons and knew what it took to beat Kipchoge from Berlin in 2013. But not this day.
The 25th mile fell in 4:33.
At 2:02:24, Kipchoge gave a quick glance, then lit out for home, holding Wilson off with relative ease down the mall to the finish.
He ran the last miles of that marathon, and yesterday’s Tokyo, like a track runner on the final backstretch, not with a furious kick, but by ramping up the speed just enough to maintain his lead, then breaking for the line on the homestretch. No problemo.
For the 16th time in 18 official career marathons, not including his two super shoe exhibitions in search of Sub2, he has delivered like a father playing ping-pong with his sons. Still, no signs of a letup. It’s like he’s channeling Arnold again.
“I’ll be back!”
ELIUD’S CAREER LIST & Winning Margins
Berlin 2013 – 2nd, 2:04:05 – :42 behind Wilson Kipsang’s 2:03:23 World Record
Hamburg 2013 – 1st, 2:05:30 – 2:05 ahead of Limenih Getachew of Ethiopia
Rotterdam 2014 – 1st, 2:05:00 – 1:08 ahead of Bernard Koech of Kenya
Chicago 2014 – 1st, 2:04:11, :17 ahead of Sammy Kitwara of Ethiopia
London 2015 – 1st, 2:04:42, :05 ahead of Wilson Kipsang of Kenya
Berlin 2015 – 1st, 2:04:00, :1:21 ahead of Eliud Kiptanui of Kenya
London 2016 – 1st, 2:03:05, :46 ahead of Stanley Biwott of Kenya
Rio Oly 2016 – 1st, 2:08:44, 1:10 ahead of Feyisa Lelisa of Ethiopia
Berlin 2017 – 1st, 2:03:32 – :14 ahead of Guye Adola of Ethiopia
London 2018 – 1st, 2:04:17 – :32 ahead of Tola Kitata of Ethiopia
Berlin 2018 – 1st, 2:01:39 (WR) – 4:44 ahead of Amos Kipruto of Kenya
London 2019 – 1st, 2:02:37 – :18 ahead of Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia
London 2020 – 8th, 2:06:49 – 1:08 behind winner Shura Kitata of Ethiopia
Enschede 2021 – 1st, 2:04:30 – 2:10 ahead of Jonathan Korir of Kenya
Olympics 2021 – 1st, 2:08:38 – 1:20 ahead of Abdi Nageeye of Netherlands
Tokyo 2022 – 1st, 2:02:40 – :33 ahead of Amos Kipruto of Kenya.
What’s left? Well, Kipchoge says he wants to sweep all six Abbott World Marathon Majors. Good goal. Tokyo was his fourth. Only Boston and New York City remain.
But unlike the other four majors, Boston and New York don’t have pacers, but do have hills. Nobody suggests Kipchoge can’t perform under those conditions. But as I suggested after his win in London 2019, shouldn’t GOATS be able to climb?