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Seb Coe: Eliud Kipchoge is a hero beyond sports

Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge celebrates after winning the men’s marathon final

World Athletics President Seb Coe has described Eliud Kipchoge as “a global hero” after the world marathon record holder completed back-to-back Olympic marathon titles in the heat of Sapporo on Sunday.

And two-time Boston Marathon winner Moses Tanui sees Kipchoge as “the greatest man on earth” while Yamanaka-san, our transport manager at these Tokyo Games, simply says: “Kipchoge is superman.”

The defending champion delivered a masterclass in marathon running, breaking away at the 30-kilometre mark and never looking back to retain his Olympic title in two hours, eight minutes and 38 seconds.

He becomes only the third man to defend the Olympic men’s marathon title after Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila (1960 and 1964) and East Germany’s Waldemar Cierpinski (1976 and 1980).

Kipchoge’s winning time was two minutes and six seconds outside compatriot Sammy Wanjiru’s Olympic record 2:06:32, perhaps also demonstrating how talented the late Wanjiru was.

Kipchoge, 36, crossed the finish line at the Sapporo Odori Park one minute, 20 seconds faster than silver medallist Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands with Belgium’s Bashir Abdi taking bronze in 2:10:00, both athletes tracing their roots in Mogadishu.

Interestingly, all three medallists are managed by Jos Hermens’ Netherlands-based Global Sports Communication (GCS) and run for the Nijmegen-based NN Running Club.

GSC athletes were by far the most successful in the athletics programme with 19 medals: eight gold, five silver and six bronze.

Kenya’s ambassador to Japan, Tabu Irina – indefatigable in her service to Team Kenya throughout these Games – was at the finish line on Sunday and dutifully handed Kipchoge the national flag for his lap of honour after the race that had been touted as a battle between Kipchoge and the Kenyans on one hand, and the Ethiopians on the other, given the class of athletes both countries entered.

But the rift even in the elite class was quite evident as no Ethiopian finished the race, the boys from Addis Ababa separated from the men from Eldoret way before the final stages of the race.

First it was Shura Kitata – Kipchoge’s conqueror at last year’s London Marathon – who felt the heat and exited after nine kilometres.

Then Sisay Lemma, third in London last year, peeled off at kilometre 23, holding his hamstring in agony as the Sapporo thermometer struck 27.1 degrees Celcius.

Ethiopia’s world champion Lelisa Desisa too did not last the distance with another notable casualty being Uganda’s 2012 Olympic, champion Stephen Kiprotich.

The fact that all Ethiopians entered failed to finish will certainly provide some interesting talking point in Addis Ababa as Ethiopian selectors had overlooked Kenenisa Bekele, probably the closest challenger there could be for Kipchoge, in their choices for Tokyo.

When the peerless world record holder (2:01:39) shook himself off the lead pack at kilometre 30 to open up an unassailable lead, no one even attempted to respond.

“Kipchoge is Kipchoge. Nobody can go with him. He’s so strong,” bronze medallist Bashir Abdi explained why.

The sort of advice Brazil’s Daniel Do Nascimento, a 2:09:05 runner, ought to have heeded.

Do Nascimento was seen fist-bumping Kipchoge in friendly banter earlier on, the Brazilian taking the camaraderie a bit too far by stalking the legend, perhaps having assumed they were peers.

But the harsh reality that they were on different lanes dawned on Do Nascimento at kilometre 25 when the Brazilian – who shares a surname with the greatest footballer of all time, Pele – appeared concussed when he collapsed onto the tarmac.

Like an Olympic boxer floored by an uppercut, Do Nascimento attempted to get back on his feet but collapsed again, just metres later, as Kipchoge motored on, unaware of the unprovoked developments way behind him.

American Galen Rupp, who tried to keep up with the early pace, also ran into trouble dropping off the lead pack as South Africa’s veteran Stephen Mokoka, 36, too went in for the early shower at 30.6km.

Kipchoge – coached throughout his stellar career by Barcelona 1992 Olympic steeplechase silver medallist Patrick Sang – appeared quite comfortable, bouncing along on the green line (that indicates the shortest road distance) in cruise control on his Nike Zooms.

The chasing pack featured Nageeye, Abdi, Spain’s Ayad Lamdassem and Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono with the third Kenyan, 2019 World Championships bronze medallist Amos Kipruto, running into trouble after 33 kilometres and withering off the pace.

Kipchoge’s splits were: 15 minutes, 19 seconds (5km), 30:53 (10km), 46:04 (15km), 1:01:47 (20km), 1:05:15 (21km), 1:17:24 (25km), 1:32:31 (30km), 1:46:59 (35km) and 2:01:55 (40km).

It was an agonising finish for Cherono and his legion of fans, the Boston and Chicago marathon champion outsprinted to the podium by training partners Nageeye and Abdi with the finish line in sight.

Kipchoge said he hoped his victory will inspire the future generation of runners.

“I think I have fulfilled the legacy by winning the marathon for the second time, back-to-back. I hope now to help inspire the next generation,” Kipchoge said.

But the G.O.A.T. wouldn’t be drawn into speculating his future, the world record holder his philosophical self in responding: “I am a believer of the philosophy that you should only chase one rabbit. If you chase two, then you can not get all of them.

Athletes run inside the Hokkaido University area while competing in the men’s marathon final
Athletes run inside the Hokkaido University area while competing in the men’s marathon final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Sapporo on August 8, 2021.

“For the last two years I have been focusing on the Tokyo Olympic Games 2020, so I will only plan the next thing when there is a big job ahead of me.”

It was Kipchoge’s fourth appearance at the Olympics, his first two being as a track athlete.

In 2004, he won bronze in Athens in the 5,000m (13:15.10) – then as world champion – before earning silver four years later in Beijing, also in the 5,000m (13:02.80).

“It means a lot for me, especially at this time. It was really hard last year, when it (Olympic Games) was postponed. I am happy for the local organising committee who made this race happen.

“It is a sign that shows the world we are heading in the right direction – we are on the right transition to a normal life.

“I can say congratulations to them that they made this Olympics happen.”

Speaking in his final press conference at the Main Press Centre in Tokyo on Sunday, World Athletics President Seb Coe described Kipchoge as a hero both inside and outside of athletics.

“Eliud Kipchoge is a hero. He’s a hero to millions and millions of people, and it goes way beyond athletics,” Coe, himself a former Olympic middle distance champion and world record holder, said.

“You’ve only got to see the emotional appeal that he has – and I’ve seen this close at hand when he’s been in running communities,” Coe said.

The World Athletics boss also noted that Kipchoge’s INEOS 1:59 run in Vienna, in 2019 in which the Kenyan became the first man to break the two-hour barrier in the marathon, was an important landmark in athletics.

“The two-hour barrier was a massive moment in our sport – although it wasn’t in a competitive race but it was still one of those big moments.

“I’m delighted that he has probably got towards the end of his career with another Olympic title under his belt, and I think he thoroughly deserves it.”

Benjamin Njoga, Kenya’s track and field team manager at these Games, said Kipchoge’s victory was an excellent way to close the Olympics.

“Eliud has done us proud! What a way to conclude the Olympics!,” Njoga said. – nation.co.ke