By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – The head of world athletics Sebastian Coe wants to end his federation’s ‘computer says no’ approach which would mean that if Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge runs a sub-two hour marathon next month it would not be ratified as a world record.
What could be one of the most extraordinary feats of human endurance will be written off as a footnote with an asterisk by the sport’s governing body because of arcane regulations that nobody seems close to being able to explain or justify.
The 34-year-old Kipchoge will not be racing in the upcoming world championships but his latest attempt at breaking the two-hour barrier in October is likely to attract more worldwide attention than anything that happens in Doha next week.
He missed it by 26 seconds two years ago and is having another attempt in a Vienna park via the “1.59” project.
Kipchoge holds the official world 26.2 mile record of two hours, 1.39 minutes set in the Berlin Marathon last year.
But his 2:00.25 Monza time in 2017 is not recognized as it was achieved using “in and out pacemakers”, was not an official race and he was given mid-race drinks from a moving motorbike rather than having to collect them from a roadside table.
“If there’s an exciting attempt for getting under two hours for the marathon I’m not sure that most people are going to be sitting there going, ‘Well, it wasn’t sanctioned as a world record because it wasn’t in open competition,’, Coe told Reuters in an interview.
“I just don’t think it matters. It’s just a big milestone being met and our sport has space for all sorts of things and I think it will appeal and add value.”
Roger Bannister’s first sub-four minute mile in 1954 was achieved with the aid of pacemakers, while just about every middle and long-distance race on the elite Diamond League circuit uses them – and they do not complete the race.
Decades ago it was a disqualification offence if a runner took a drink within the first 10 miles of a marathon and Briton Coe, who set three middle-distance track world records in 41 days in 1979, recognizes the anomalies.
“It may be in years to come that we review those regulations,” he said. “We have to be a broad church here and that’s why I’ve encouraged federations and individuals to be brave and encouraged our commercial partners to activate in smart ways around the sport. I don’t want us to be the ‘computer says no’ federation.”
Coe carries that quest for inclusivity to the ever-expanding area of trail and mountain-road running, where superstars such as 31-year-old Spaniard Kilian Jornet are attracting armies of fans and lucrative sponsorship deals while many track and field athletes and events are struggling.
“We are connected and have a memorandum of understanding with trail,” he said. “Long before I was a (IAAF) Council member we were a bit sniffy about road running, much to our cost actually, and I don’t want anything like that.
“We are also talking to parkrun (the free weekly 5km events that now have over six million registered runners worldwide) and our new website will be all about that aspect – getting people moving and inclusivity.”
Continuing with his off-road theme, Coe said he would like to see the return of cross country to the Olympics – it was last raced in 1924 – but ideally as part of the Winter Games.
Coe has long recognized that traditional athletics has to fight to “stay relevant” and that battle is starkly illustrated by the Diamond League and the fractured athletics calendar.
“We need to look at formats – what should a one-day meeting look like? I think there’s agreement that we need some relatively radical change,” he said.
“Over the course of the year, how do people follow the sport? How do they follow the athlete from the beginning of the season to a world championships?”
The latest edition of that event starts in Doha on Friday – with Coe standing unopposed for re-election on Wednesday.
For all his concerns, and what many consider the still-unfilled void left by the retirement of Jamaica’s sprinting great Usain Bolt, the IAAF president is hugely upbeat about the next generation and the way they are engaging with fans.
“Look at (Norwegian 400m runner) Karsten Warholm – the impact he had on the stadium in Zurich and Paris was staggering,” Coe said.
“The Ingebrigtsens (the three Norwegian middle-distance-running brothers Henrik, Filip and Jakob) are knocking broadcast numbers out of the park with their reality TV show. (Venezuelan triple jumper) Yulimar Rojas is huge in South America.
“I recognize that they are generally not the big, worldwide names yet but I cannot remember a time in athletics when I have been more excited about the young talent coming through.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ken Ferris)