By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Most people said it couldn’t be done and the record books say it hasn’t been, but for the thousands watching in Vienna and millions more online, Eliud Kipchoge unquestionably this year became the first human to run a marathon in under two hours.
When the peerless Kenyan unleashed a final kick to charge through the tape in one hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds in the specially set-up event in October, the sporting world reeled at not only that such a notable barrier could be broken, but destroyed – and seemingly with ease.
It did not count as an official world record due to the use of “in and out” pacers and a moving drinks provider, yet probably the greatest aid of all – the latest version of Nike’s Vaporfly shoes – were entirely legal.
Anyone still unsure how much the combination of carbon plates and super-compressed foam was the x-factor that enabled Kipchoge to reach such levels, would have been convinced 24 hours later when Brigid Kosgei used Vaporfly trainers to smash the women’s marathon record.
The Kenyan took 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe’s official mark that had never been threatened in the previous 16 years.
Then in December, the six year-old 10km world road record was also blown away by Joshua Cheptegei – the Ugandan also wearing “the shoes”.
The sport’s governing body World Athletics says it is comfortable that the technology gives no “mechanical advantage”.
But, fair or foul, its arrival means that comparisons with previous records are now about as useful as looking at today’s golf driving distances using metal and carbon clubs versus the persimmon and bamboo shafts of yesteryear.
Kipchoge’s amazing feat – coming a year after he claimed the official world record of 2:01.39 in Berlin, kept distance running in the spotlight and how the sport needed some attention after the Doha world championships lived down to all expectations.
The blue riband event, the men’s 100 metres, was tainted before it began by the ludicrous situation that allowed Christian Coleman to escape, on a technicality, what should have been an automatic ban for missing doping tests under the whereabouts system within 12 months.
Having made a laughing stock of the sport’s anti-doping program, the American duly took gold in a scorching 9.76 seconds – the sixth-fastest legal time ever – with evergreen, twice dope-banned compatriot Justin Gatlin taking silver in a virtually empty stadium.
That patent lack of interest, repeated for the women’s 100m, in what is normally the hottest ticket in town, was only one of the fallouts of the controversial decision to take the event to Doha, where cooling technology worked inside the stadium but could do nothing for those on the roads.
It was a harrowing sight to see more than 40% of athletes dropping out of the women’s marathon in distress due to the heat and humidity, despite a midnight start. It made such an impression on the International Olympic Committee that they almost immediately shifted the marathon and walk events in next year’s Olympics from Tokyo to the cooler northern city of Sapporo.
While Coleman beat the system, highly-rated distance coach Alberto Salazar could not, as, despite none of his athletes failing a test, he was given a four-year ban for doping violations.
That came as music to the ears of many Russians, who have long claimed that they are being victimized in the battle against doping while others got away with it.
However, few were really listening after the country endured another sorry year on the drugs front.
World Athletics and their task force were spectacularly unimpressed with Russia’s efforts to follow the “road map” back towards acceptance and by reports from WADA that evidence had been tampered with and so the Russian Federation remains banned heading into the Olympic year of 2020.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Christian Radnedge)