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Why Eliud Kipchoge is regarded as the greatest marathoner of all time

Eliud Kipchoge
Eliud Kipchoge

Eliud Kipchoge has won 12 of the 14 marathons he has raced and one of those wins was at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He also happens to be the only marathoner to have broken the two-hour mark, although that remains an unofficial record till date. Eliud Kipchoge also holds the official world record of 2:01:39 hours for the marathon, set in Berlin in 2018.

Before Eliud Kipchoge became a marathoner, he had won two Olympic medals — a silver and a bronze — both in 5000m. They were at the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing editions of the Olympics. On both occasions, the man ahead of him was a familiar foe, Kenenisa Bekele.

Eliud won his debut marathon in Hamburg in April 2013. Later that year, he was second to Wilson Kipsang in Berlin in September 2013, when Kipsang set the then-world record for the marathon.

Eliud Kipchoge at Berlin Marathon 2017
Eliud Kipchoge at Berlin Marathon 2017

Eliud Kipchoge at the World Marathon Majors

Until October 2020 at the London Marathon, that was the only time anyone had beaten Kipchoge at the marathon distance. However, on that rare occasion, he finished eighth.

It was so unexpected that more press was devoted to his loss than to the winner, Shura Kitata.

It remains among Kipchoge's worst performances. He has course records at the London and Berlin marathons but has not run the Boston, New York or Tokyo Marathons till date.

It is telling that a marathoner's performance at the World Marathon Majors is discussed mostly by what he has not done. The day of the Berlin Marathon in 2015 was somewhat forgettable for Kipchoge's shoe sponsor. The insoles of his new shoes began to come off in the first mile, but the unflappable Kipchoge finished in 2:04:00. He ended up with bloody, blistered feet but literally took it in his stride, both during and after the race.

Eliud Kipchoge - favorite at the Tokyo Olympics

Most of Eliud's victories at the marathon distance have come in cool, comfortable conditions on racedays. However his victory at the 2016 Rio Olympics came on a day which was anything but cool.

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In 2017, he won the Berlin Marathon in wet and humid conditions. Eliud Kipchoge is currently ranked eighth in the World Athletics list of marathoners, based on recent performances.

Two of the runners who are likely to be in Tokyo are his compatriots, Lawrence Cherono and Amos Kipruto, both of whom are placed above him. This matters since Olympic competitions, even in individual events such as the marathon, can turn into virtual team events. Kipchoge is a matter of great pride to Kenya and it wouldn't be a surprise if the Kenyans ran together at Tokyo to maximize their medal tally.

Another athlete ahead of Kipchoge in the rankings is a former Kenyan (Mike Kigen Kipruto), who now runs for Turkey, known as Kaan Kigen Ozbilen. Sisay Lemma, who is also ranked above Kipchoge, represents Ethiopia and finished ahead of him in the 2020 London Marathon, in a race won by Kitata. But then, Kipchoge was supposed to have had an ear issue in that race.

Kenenisa Bekele would have arguably presented the biggest challenge to Eliud Kipchoge at the marathon in the Tokyo Olympics. He came within two seconds of Kipchoge's world record time at the Berlin Marathon in 2019, a race that Kipchoge skipped. In fact, Bekele and Kipchoge are the only ones who have broken 2:02:00 in the marathon till date. But Bekele didn't attend the Ethiopian Olympic trials for the Tokyo Olympics and has been left out of their team.

It matters perhaps a little that Bekele has beaten Kipchoge even when the latter was at his best, although not at the marathon distance.

Eliud Kipchoge is strong physically but even stronger mentally

Eliud Kipchoge has also prepared meticulously for historic occasions. He knows that he will cement his status among the all-time athletic greats, if he matches Abebe Bikila's feat in Tokyo. Bikila remains the first and only African two-time gold medal winner in the marathon, who achieved the feat in Tokyo in 1964, after Rome in 1960.

Waldemar Cierpinski also did so at Montreal in 1976 and at Moscow in 1980. But there is an asterisk and a question mark over his performances. Cierpinski is believed by many to have been part of the East German state-sponsored doping program. Further, the Moscow Olympics were boycotted by over 60 countries, including the USA, Japan and Kenya, among other leading marathoning nations of the time.

Eliud Kipchoge has shown resilience in his performances while winning at Berlin in 2015 and even while not winning at London in 2020, where he finished eighth. A lot of athletes in his position have opted to drop out of races if they weren't winning. Kipchoge's preparations for breaking the unofficial record of the two-hour mark showcased his incredible mental strength and the respect he commands from his peers.

That respect is a significant barrier for his rivals when Eliud Kipchoge lines up at the start line at the Tokyo Olympics. He remains the favorite to win the marathon at the upcoming Games.

Also read Eliud Kipchoge - favorite to win the marathon at the Tokyo Olympics and Kipchoge smashes world record

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Edited by Sudeshna Banerjee
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