Kenyan marathon runner Dennis Kimetto (© Getty Images)
Only once in the history of the IAAF World Championships has the world record-holder won the men's marathon: 1983, when Rob de Castella ran 2:10:03 for the victory, nearly two minutes slower than his 2:08:18 world mark from Fukuoka in 1981.
Dennis Kimetto would like to double that number here in Beijing on Saturday morning, and comes to the line with some confidence that he can do it.
Kimetto has little to no record in championship marathons, having arrived as a top-flight international runner in 2012 when he broke the 25km world record in May that year and then finished immediately behind training partner Geoffrey Mutai at that year's Berlin Marathon, his 2:04:16 being the fifth-fastest ever at the time.
He followed up with course records at the Tokyo and Chicago marathons in 2013 before running 2:02:57 in Berlin last autumn to set the current world record and become the first man ever to run faster than 2:03.
Discovered in 2008 by Mutai – who went on to record an eye-popping 2:03:02 at the 2011 Boston Marathon – Kimetto attributed his records to patient development and dedication over six years. The timing of his rise to marathon prominence, however, means that his appearance on the starting line in Beijing will be his first championship marathon; his previous races have largely been big-city races with time bonuses and dedicated pacemakers.
Kimetto appeared unconcerned by the differences in tactics usually seen between championship races and paced city marathons. "I feel suited to championship races," he explained when meeting the press in Beijing on Thursday (20).
Kimetto deferred most questions to Wilson Kipsang, the man whose record he broke last year, and he has frequently used Kipsang as an interpreter, preferring Swahili to English.
When Mutai invited Kimetto to join his training group, Kimetto was farming to support his family, and running in hope of finding an opportunity to improve his income. He cites his humble beginnings as his motivation, saying his desire to provide for his family drives him to pursue his best results.
His previous marathon outing in 2015 was somewhat short of the lofty standard he set in Berlin last year, finishing third in London behind Eliud Kipchoge and Kipsang where his countrymen left him behind in the closing kilometres.
He wouldn't commit to an ordering, but Kimetto agreed that it was possible for Kenya's trio of himself, Kipsang, and Mark Korir to sweep all three medals here in Beijing – the only result that could possibly better the gold-silver performances from 2009 and 2011. While apparently unconcerned about the air conditions in Beijing, Kimetto did concede that anticipation of heat and humidity played a role in his preparations. The forecast for Saturday morning includes temperatures in the low 20s at the start of the marathon, approaching 30C by the end, making Abel Kirui's 2:06:54 championship record from 2009 appear safe for another two years.
Kimetto's reticence about his predictions for the race might also belie a secondary goal for the championships. For a marathon runner unfamiliar with championship racing, even a silver or bronze finish at the World Championships, particularly in conditions not well-suited for fast marathons, might be a valuable experience in 2016, when the championship marathon will be the Olympics.
Parker Morse for the IAAF