Eliud Kipchoge at the 2015 Berlin Marathon (© Victah Sailer / organisers)
Given his racing record in the marathon, with five wins out of six over the classic distance after his triumph in Berlin on Sunday, the odds on Eliud Kipchoge claiming the gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games have shortened considerably in the last couple of days.
The Kenyan, despite suffering problems with his shoes when the insoles came loose in the opening kilometres, videos of which have gone viral and been transmitted around the world via social media, won in the German capital in a personal best and 2015 world-leading time of 2:04:00 on Sunday, consolidating his sixth place on the marathon world all-time list on record-legal courses.
“After Berlin, I need to prepare for Rio and plan; but that is 11 months away so I would want to do another marathon, probably next spring. Eleven months without a marathon is too long, you need to test the body, and that will tell the mind and body that another marathon, (the 2016 Olympic Games marathon) is coming,” explained Kipchoge shortly after Sunday’s race.
“The main thing is the mind, not the body. If you train for 11 months, the mind might get tired so it’s better for the body to get tired than the mind, so I’ll do another marathon before the Olympics,” he added.
He has not revealed where his next marathon will be, and certainly no major race organisers will publish its elite field this far in advance, but it’s a decent bet that he will defend his title in London next April, where he won this year in 2:04:42.
And then, injuries and Kenyan team selection permitting, it will be full steam ahead with his preparations for Rio four months later, with the marathon on the programme for the morning of the last day of the Olympics.
The man guiding Kipchoge’s campaign to go to his third Olympics is the famed former steeplechaser Patrick Sang.
“I’ve been with my coach all my life as an athlete. In fact, we were neighbours, Patrick lived about one or two kilometres from me in the same village of Kapsisiywa (in the Nandi district). When I was eight or nine, I’d see him training and began to notice him.
“Our plan was to run very well on the track, then we decided to turn to the road. The transition so far has been good and I can say our plans are up to date,” added Kipchoge with a heavy touch of understatement.
Kipchoge now lives in Eldoret although his training base is in Kaptagat, some 30 kilometres away.
He knows what it is like to be victorious on the global stage, having come out on top as a teeanger after an epic three-way duel with Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele for the 5000m gold at the 2003 IAAF World Championships in Paris.
It came just a few months after he had won the junior men’s race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
Gold a rare commodity for Kipchoge
However, since then, despite going to another four IAAF World Championships as well as the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games, another triumph at this level has eluded him.
He won 5000m bronze and then silver medals at the Olympic Games in Athens and Beijing, and also picked up a silver medal over the same distance at the 2007 IAAF World Championships.
A pivotal point in turning him from a track to a road runner was the 2012 Olympic trials in Nairobi when he could only finished seventh over 5000m and he did not make the Kenyan team for London.
Just a few weeks after the London 2012 Olympic Games had ended, he had fast half marathon of 59:25 in the French city of Lille, a time which remains his personal best, and that convinced him that his future lay on a different surface.
In fact, Kipchoge has not raced on the track since the summer of 2012 but in April 2013 he made a winning marathon debut in Hamburg in 2:05:30, an astonishingly quick time for his first outing over the distance despite his track pedigree, and he has never looked back.
Going full circle, after the disappointment of not going to the London Olympics, Kipchoge now finds himself talked about as a long-distance – in every sense given that we are almost 11 months away from the race itself – gold medal prospect in Rio.
The level-headed and extremely affable Kipchoge is unlikely to get too distracted by all the talk, which is inevitably going to increase in volume over the coming months, of him winning in Rio, or even getting a medal.
After all, Olympic marathons regularly don’t conform to expectations and who would have expected Stephen Kipkoech winning in London or, going a bit further back, Gezahegn Abera or Josia Thugwane taking the honours in 2000 and 1996 respectively?
Nevertheless, Kipchoge can prepare for Rio confident in the knowledge that he will enter everyone’s reckoning as a leading prospect to stand on top of the podium on Sunday 21 August, 2016.
Phil Minshull with assistance from Andy Edwards (organisers) for the IAAF