Bruised by an off-day in Boston, the world marathon record-holder heads for Berlin with a point to prove and the overarching ambition of Olympic glory, writes George Mallett
In a career that has yielded two world records, consecutive Olympic golds and the mantle of the first in history to break the marathon’s two-hour barrier, it means a lot to say that Eliud Kipchoge’s greatest challenge is yet to come.
In June I met him in the manicured gardens of the Global Sports Communication Camp in Kaptagat, Kenya. He was in a reflective, grateful mood, surrounded by constant reminders of the fruits of his success.
A new wing under construction for expanded dining facilities, a dirt track emblazoned with INEOS signs and the budding trees planted by the various dignitaries who had come for a glimpse into his home of over 20 years.
Two months after a difficult day at the Boston Marathon, where he finished eighth, the former world 5000m champion talked about how his Olympic marathon titles from Rio and Tokyo had surprised him and how he wouldn’t begrudge another athlete being the first to officially break the two-hour barrier.
“I will be happy,” said the man whose run of 1:59:40 in Vienna four years ago was not eligible for record status. “I started and made history so we want other people to also make history.”
I came away from our conversation, in all honesty, believing he knew his best days were behind him. Some months later, I’m not so sure.
A few days after I left Kenya it was announced that the four-time winner would return for the 49th edition of the BMW Berlin Marathon, which takes place on Sunday September 24. A year will have passed since he set his second world record (2:01:09) on the streets of the German capital.
When we speak again one month before he toes the line there’s a confidence to his words that only comes with the right feedback from your body. “Training has been going well,” says Kipchoge. “After Boston, I took two weeks off to make sure my mind and my muscles had time to recover. I had a problem during the marathon, but I can say now that I am fully recovered. It is not a problem anymore.
“I trust my body and my team and I listen to what both are telling me. I have been training well. I’m in good health.”
What may sound cryptic – Kipchoge never really refers to what the problem was – also reveals a lot.
During my time in Kenya I also witnessed two sessions of the NN Running Team, first on…