What it took to outrun Kipchoge in London

Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge during the elite men’s race. [Reuters]

To say the 2020 London marathon was dramatic is an understatement.

The drama began two days to the race, when Kenenisa Bekele dropped out due to a calf injury and it was assumed that it was all systems go for Eliud Kipchoge.

This was also a big blow to the race organisers because all along, it had been billed as the race where the world would know the best, between him and Eliud Kipchoge. In the end even Kipchoge never made it to the podium, after finishing a distant eighth.

As the race was being hyped, many pundits had asked how prepared Eliud was for a sprint finish should the race be ran in mixed splits. It seems Eliud never had an answer to that question and it is what the Ethiopian trio of Shura Kitata the eventual winner, Mosinet Geremew and Sisay Lemma deployed to outmaneuver the defending champion.

On a rainy and slippery London morning, the conditions were not conducive for a fast pace and so neither the course nor world record was going to fall. Eliud began in his characteristic initial fast sprint to break out of the crowd, build momentum and cruise for the greater part of the race. Unfortunately, due to the slippery road and constant drizzle, his pacemakers could not run as fast.

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So bad was this that at some point he literary urged them to increase their speed, but to no avail. The disrupted Eliud did not have the last of his misfortunes. The Ethiopian team decided to hunt as a pack by alternating the lead athlete to confuse Eliud who his actual adversary was as they ran mixed splits. The pace was further slowed down towards three minutes and one second per kilometre pace that Eliud has not run for the last four years, messing his race strategy even more.

At the 30th kilometre mark when the pacers dropped out, Kipchoge tried to surge ahead but the Ethiopians had outnumbered him in the lead pack and continued teasing him with mixed splits. Signs that all was not well with the defending champion came after the 35th kilometre when he started to grimace and looked stuck in the pack unable to pull away in his characteristic style.

Realising the king had cracked; the three Ethiopians went for it. They stepped up the pace and Kipchoge could not respond and from then onward the sad reality dawned that he wasn’t going to be on the podium. His Kenyan compatriot Vincent Kipchumba stepped up to the Ethiopians, matching them in every way until the last 100 metres when it became a sprint finish and Kitata beat him to second position. 

The new kid on the block, Kipchumba, running in the new Adidas Adeos Pro shoes, kept his momentum with both Eliud and the disruptive competitors but never showed his intentions for a podium finish. His strategy worked.

This year’s London Marathon proved why the 42 kilometre distance is the ultimate test of human athletic endurance. 

Ochieng ([email protected]) is a sports economist and Dean of Students at Strathmore University. Gerald Lwande ([email protected]) is a Biomedical scientist

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