World record holder Eliud Kipchoge doesn’t just win marathons. The Kenyan champion, considered the greatest marathoner in history, believes his running can help make the world a better place.
On Saturday, he celebrated a historic achievement by becoming the first man in four decades to win two back-to-back Olympic marathons, saying he hoped it would inspire future generations.
“I want to be remembered as a person who brought change and inspiration to the sport,” he said. “I hope it’s the only way to get together, it’s the only way to enjoy life. This is the only way to change this world.
The philosopher-runner responded to his skeptics at the Tokyo Games by destroying the peloton in a flurry at the 30-kilometer mark a day after his compatriots Peres Jepchirchir and Brigid Kosgei won gold and silver respectively in the female race.
Kipchoge won in 2 hours 8 minutes 38 seconds to become the third man to repeat as the marathon champion. The others are Abebe Bikila from Ethiopia and Waldemar Cierpinski from Germany, who did so in 1976 and 1980.
“Kipchoge is Kipchoge,” said silver medalist Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands. “No one can go with him at this rate.”
Kipchoge, 36, was nowhere near his world record of 2: 01.39 on another wet day in Sapporo, Japan.
But that didn’t matter as a group of 10 riders tried to stay with him for the first 18 and a half miles. Oregon runner Galen Rupp led for part of the 26.2 mile race but was eighth overall in 2: 11.41.
The two-time Olympic medalist lost contact with the leading group when Kipchoge took off at the 30 km mark. Rupp was 1 minute 7 seconds behind in the next five kilometers as Kipchoge ran an insane time of 14.28 minutes.
At that point, the rest of the peloton were racing for the silver and bronze medals.
“I wanted to create a space to show the world it’s a great race,” Kipchoge said of the gap he built. “I wanted to test my physical condition, I wanted to test how I felt. I wanted to show that we have hope for the future.
But the quadruple Olympic medalist was not sure that the margin was sufficient. Running alone ahead, he felt like an island. Kipchoge calmed down and found the peace of mind to move forward.
Nageeye, who was unfamiliar with sports other than football while growing up in Somalia, expected his rival to run wild sooner. But the rest of the runners knew that once Kipchoge made his move, there wasn’t much they could do to counter him.
Kipchoge arrived in Tokyo with some skeptics despite his impeccable CV. His streak of 10 consecutive marathon wins ended last October when he finished eighth in the 2020 London Marathon. Kipchoge did not panic because a race did not live up to his standards.
He remained focused on winning in Japan, calling the Olympic race one he wanted to win.
“The marathon is like life,” said Kipchoge. “In life there are a lot of challenges. On the road, there are potholes, large and small.
He described the London Marathon as one of the challenges of his journey which he had accepted and continued.
Kipchoge brought a philosopher’s point of view to Tokyo after the Games were delayed for a year. The 2.5-week-long competition that ended on Sunday was held under strict COVID-19 protocols that barred spectators from the venues – but not the streets of Sapporo as runners sped past.
What about the energy-intensive heat of a Japanese summer?
“It was the same frying pan for everyone,” Kipchoge said.
Kenya were in position for another brace as the women with Lawrence Cherono looked strong as the riders rushed to the finish line.
But Cherono couldn’t hold back Nageeye and fellow Somali immigrant Bashir Abdi from Belgium, who won the bronze medal. Cherono was two seconds from the podium. Nageeye and Abdi became training partners in France ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
Abdi suffered a cramp in the last three kilometers but was encouraged by Nageeye to win a medal for Belgium.
“He said ‘you have to go,” Abdi said. “If he hadn’t been here today it would have been difficult. We knew it was possible, but until you did. do, you never know.
Former Stanford Jake Riley entered the top 20 late in the race but ultimately fell to 27th with a time of 2: 16.26. Abdi Abdirahman, 44, of Tucson, was 41st (2:18:27) in his fifth Olympic appearance.
Kipchoge hoped that others might enjoy the performance of the final day of the Tokyo Games as much as he did.
With that, he had one more Socratic phrase.
“They say the enjoyment of the sport is near perfection,” said Kipchoge.
At least it was for the Olympic champion.