Just over ten years ago, the teenage Eliud Kipchoge sprang into the public consciousness by holding off the celebrated Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele to win the World 5000 metres title in one of the most exciting finishes in the history of track distance running. Despite a decade of superlative performances since then, including Olympic silver and bronze medals, Kipchoge has not quite managed to reach the heights of that performance in Paris.
Pursuing, as he admits an ‘old school’ idea of turning to marathons at the end of his career, the 29 year old Kipchoge made a winning debut, 2.05.30 in Hamburg six months ago. It was a tough race, but if Hamburg was the frying pan, Berlin, where he runs on Sunday, will be the fire. The course may be clement – ‘flat and forgiving,’ as Desiree Davila characterised yesterday – but the opposition is torrid.
It would have been more so, had not current world record holder, Patrick Makau had to pull out, injured, a fortnight ago. But Wilson Kipsang, who ran just four seconds shy of Makau’s 2.03.38, when winning in Frankfurt two years ago, leads the fray. The unrelated Geoffrey Kipsang, who finished third in Berlin (2.06.12) last year was also on the top table at today’s (Friday) press conference. And Eliud Kiptanui, who made his own cataclysmic European debut with a 2.05.39 win in Prague 2010 is waiting in the wings.
Throw in a couple of Wilson K’s hand-picked pacers, and all of the ingredients are there for the 40th anniversary BMW Berlin Marathon to produce another very fast time, and dare we suggest, another world record, to add to the seven set here in the German capital since 1998?
Wilson Kipsang left few doubts that his trip to Berlin had any other objective. “Right from the start, I’ve prepared to run very well here. It’s in my mind to run the world record. Having run 2.03.42, I know it’s possible. I’ve trained to my very best, and if everything goes well with the pacemakers and my colleagues, I think we can do it. It’s a team effort, like in training, even more in a race. The more you have a strong group, the more easy it is”.
Kipchoge and Geoffrey Kipsang were more circumspect. Kipchoge said, “My main target is to run under 2.05.30, and do a personal best. I will go with the pacemakers, but I can’t say I’ll run a world record”. Talking of his transition from the track, he added, “It’s hard to adapt. The training is one thing, but the most important thing is the mind. And in my mind, I’ve settled for the road”.
At 20, Geoffrey Kipsang is only a few months older than Kipchoge was when he won his world title in Paris. But after failing to make national cross country and track teams, Geoffrey K, like so many of his young compatriots turned to the road. He has run a superlative 58.54, in winning the prestigious Ras Al Khaimah Half-Marathon in January; but he made light of his comprehensive defeat of his namesake Wilson, in the Bogotá ‘half’ three months ago, saying, “The half-marathon and the marathon are two different things, I’m just looking to run better than last year. I’ve prepared well, but my real focus is the beat my best”.
Kipchoge pointed out that his Hamburg performance makes him only the third man in history, alongside Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat, to run sub-12.50 for 5000 metres, sub-26.50 for 10,000 metres, and under 2.06 for the marathon. What he didn’t mention is that his illustrious colleagues both set world marathon records on this Berlin course. And they, along with other recent world record breakers here – Ronaldo da Costa, Patrick Makau, Naoko Takahashi, and Tegla Loroupe – will be watching from the sidelines.
Over to you, Eliud!