IAAF Awards: Eliud Kipchoge should stand as marathon’s greatest ever

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Eliud Kipchoge competing in 2008. Photo: Michiel Jelijs via Flickr

It seemed a matter of when, rather than if Eliud Kipchoge would take his place as the fastest marathon runner ever.

The moment finally came this year when the Olympic champion produced a staggering 2:01.39 world record which obliterated all that had come before it.

This, and subsequent recognition as IAAF Male Athlete of the Year, are a fitting reward for a great career to date. But there remains a huge amount of awe in the manner the record was achieved.

To beat the old mark by 78 seconds was simply unheard of. The way he so elegantly strode over the line, before immediately running to hug his coach, was almost too perfect to be real.

It was a record that The Guardian claimed would not be surpassed for more than a generation, while Swiss-German newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung compared the record to being “like a Mars landing for space travel”.

The Telegraph’s Ben Bloom described it as being beyond what was humanly possible, with Kipchoge’s split times hammering home just how brutal the pace had been.

It is hard to think of what else Kipchoge could now achieve. An Olympic gold and a world record have solidified him as one of the greatest to ever take on the marathon.

From 5,000m gold in Paris in 2003, to marathon success at Rio 2016, how many athletes can claim to have won global titles thirteen years apart?

How many overseas track and field stars have addressed the Oxford Union debating society to talk about their upbringing?

Eliud Kipchoge and his siblings were raised by his single mother in Kenya, who worked in a kindergarten to pay for his school fees.

“My neighbour was running and I said ‘I want to be like him’ and started training.”

In 2002, he made a big breakthrough by winning the Kenyan trials for the World Cross Country Championships junior race. He was fifth in Dublin, but at the same competition held in Lausanne a year later, he won.

The world really began to take note when 18-year-old Kipchoge set a world junior record in the 5000m at the 2003 Bislett Games, running a time of 12:52.61 minutes.

Months later, he out sprinted the legendary duo of Kenenisa Bekele and Hicham El-Gherrouj to take the gold medal for Kenya. With great conviction he says beating the two “big guys…was the beginning of my life in sport”.

For Kipchoge to get faster would be demanding, considering how much has been scraped off the previous record. But with Kipchoge continuing to grow a class apart from all other runners on the planet, it definitely isn’t something to put past him.

Whatever happens in future, his collection of achievements ought to go down as one of the sport’s most iconic.

Read a piece on Christian Coleman here.

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