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Can Kenya’s Kipchoge break ‘the last barrier in modern athletics’?

By Morris Kiruga, in Nairobi
Posted on Thursday, 10 October 2019 15:22

Berlin, Germany - September 16, 2018 Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge celebrates winning the Berlin Marathon alongside a clock showing his World Record breaking time REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

This Saturday, Kenyan elite runner Eliud Kipchoge will attempt to break the 2-hour mark in the marathon.

The attempt, dubbed the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, is Kipchoge’s second run at breaking what organisers are calling “the last barrier of modern athletics”.

This time, it means shaving off just 26 seconds from his best time yet.

Why it matters

While the modern marathon has been a premier Olympic event for more than a century, no one has run the entire 42.195km course sub 2 hours.

  • Some scientists believe it is near impossible, while one recent study estimated that it would take another 12 years for a human to break the 2-hour barrier in an official race.

Two years ago, Kipchoge was the only one of three elite runners — selected by Nike as part of its Nike Breaking2 attempt — who came close to doing it. His time, just 25 seconds off the mark, is the unofficial world record for the distance.

  • The elite runners made their 2017 attempt on the Formula One track in Monza, Italy, in a race that was not considered for an official record because it didn’t follow IAAF rules.
  • This weekend Kipchoge will run on a course in Prater Hauptallee, a park in Vienna, with the help of a total of 41 pacemakers and a pacemaker vehicle projecting lasers on the ground to guide the lead pacemaker. Because of this use of pacemakers as well as hydration on demand, the attempt will also not be considered for an official record.
  • The date is not fixed. Instead there is an eight-day, weather-dependent window between October 12 – 20 when Kipchoge could make his attempt.

“The world now is just 25 seconds away from under two hours,” Kipchoge said after the first attempt in May 2017.

“Breaking the two-hour barrier is crucial for me. I want to show the world that when you trust in something and have faith in what you are doing, you will achieve it, whether you’re a runner, a teacher or a lawyer,” the Olympic gold medalist and four-time London Marathon winner told Runners World recently.

Nearly every aspect of this attempt, which is sponsored by British tycoon Jim Ratcliffe’s chemicals company INEOS, has been under scrutiny.

…and some found humour in it.

While telecoms giant Safaricom changed its MPESA logo.

Can he do it?

For fans everywhere, the answer is yes he can. Breaking the 2-hour barrier is Kipchoge’s last hurdle in the marathon, which he has dominated progressively over the last decade.

  • He is the reigning Olympic marathon champion and world record holder with a time of 2:01:39hrs. When he broke the record at the 2018 Berlin Marathon, it was with the greatest improvement on a world record time in five decades.
  • He is also the first person to win the London Marathon four times, and the Berlin Marathon three times, with a second-place finish in the latter on his resume as well.
  • He has only lost one of the 11 marathons he has participated in, an impossible feat by any measure.

“Most people believe if you run under 2 hours, you might die. But I personally believe its possible,” Kipchoge said while preparing for Breaking2 in early 2017.

Bottom line: While the conditions of the race itself make it impossible for him to claim a new world record, which he already holds, the attempt to run under 2 hours is already a turning point in modern athletics. Having proven himself as the greatest marathoner to ever grace the sport, Kipchoge is out to make history by racing against time itself.

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