Eliud Kipchoge: a gold medal for the human spirit

Running a marathon in under two hours is one giant leap for mankind.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
Columnist

Eliud Kipchoge did not win any medal for his marathon run at the weekend. His achievement will not be recognised in the official record books. But by becoming the first man ever to run the marathon in under two hours, Kipchoge did something even bigger than that. He made the impossible seem not just possible, but inevitable.

‘I am the happiest man to run under two hours to inspire people’, said the 34-year-old Kenyan (looking as if he’d just strolled around the block rather than run 26 miles), ‘to tell people that no human being is limited’.

To paraphrase another history-maker we have been celebrating this year: Kipchoge’s run was several thousand small steps for a man, one giant leap for mankind. His time of one hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds might ‘only’ have broken the legendary two-hour barrier by 20 seconds. But it was one of those rare moments when a few seconds (or, as when Roger Bannister broke the four-minute-mile, a hundredth of a second), can write a whole new chapter of human history.

Kipchoge’s mammoth feat will not be recognised as the new marathon world record because it was not achieved in an open athletics competition, and he used 41 rotating pace-makers – many of them world-class athletes – to keep him up to speed. Fair enough, rules is rules. It was not, strictly speaking, sport. But it was nevertheless an uplifting, earth-shattering achievement that had viewers around the world reportedly cheering and weeping in front of their screens.

Whatever the official record books say, we should have no truck with those who want to denigrate Kipchoge’s historic run. Cynics protest that it was merely a marketing stunt. The chemical company Ineos, owned by Britain’s richest man Jim Ratcliffe, spent a reported £15million on the event. They relaid the road, with a pace car projecting a green laser beam on to it to ensure a perfect speed, and employed a small army not only of world-class pacemakers, but also meteorologists, nutritionists and road-sweepers to ensure conditions were perfect. Meanwhile, Nike provided special prototype running shoes that no mere mortals have ever set foot in.

All very impressive, and no doubt ‘unnatural’. But so what? Complaints of ‘technical doping’ are historically naive. Humans have been using whatever they can find to enhance their performance since the original games of Ancient Athens. At the 1904 Olympic games in St Louis, American Thomas Hicks won the marathon gold medal on a cocktail of brandy and strychnine. Every record-breaking effort since has been facilitated by advances in athletics kit, supplements and technology. Even Usain Bolt’s jaw-dropping 100-metres run in Beijing 2008 owed a little to the new poly track surface the Chinese installed.

Like Bolt’s record-breaking sprints, however, Kipchoge’s marathon was no techno-fix. In the end, it comes down to the raw ability, training and human spirit of the athlete. Kipchoge is, after all, already holder of the official marathon world record, at two hours one minute and 39 seconds. No matter how fancy those Nike running shoes might be, they are not magic slippers. They could not make me (or, I venture, you) run the marathon in under two hours.

Nevertheless, as a champion of the human spirit, Kipchoge was surely right to tell us that his achievement showed ‘You can do it. If you believe in something and put it in your mind and heart, it can be realised.’

It is the grumbling cynics who are truly debasing sporting achievement with their self-righteous fantasies of ‘pure’ athletics, where presumably all will run on an old-fashioned cinder track in bare feet, vest and pants, while drinking tap water from a non-plastic container. No wonder some reported their culture-absorbing children reacting to the news of the historic sub-two hour marathon by objecting that ‘he must be taking drugs’.

In reality, Eliud Kipchoge’s run should restore anybody’s faith in humanity. His marathon was certainly not a sporting spectacle; watching a team of black-clad pacemakers form a wind-blocking wall around him while running at a uniform pace for almost two hours could hardly have quickened the spectators’ heart rate. But the moment when he broke free and joyously crossed the finish line, obliterating the two-hour barrier, will live in the memory of millions.

As retired British marathon hero Paula Radcliffe (whose own women’s world record was broken at the weekend) said of Kipchoge’s achievement: ‘It’s superhuman, really. I can’t believe he did it. Remarkable that we’ve actually pulled it off.’ We’ve pulled it off. A gold medal for the collective human spirit – and, no doubt or shame, for our achievements in sports science.

Mick Hume is a spiked columnist. His latest book, Revolting! How the Establishment is Undermining Democracy – and what they’re afraid of, is published by William Collins.

Picture by: Getty.

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Comments

Life Coach

15th October 2019 at 8:32 am

I’m not at all comfortable with the black privilege that these East African runners have as they have a clear genetic advantage. To make things more fair, can we let non black runners start ten minutes early?

antoni orgill

14th October 2019 at 4:22 pm

Hmmm? Sorry, Mick but who’s being naive? Frankly, you are. It’s just great that this guy’s broken a running record but not world-shattering. It’s momentarily up-lifting. Then what? The same old Brexit shit that reminds us that no matter how cute a few ultra-resilient athletes can be for a few moments the ****s that run this country still do so and with ever more brazen venality. Nice try, though. Enjoy your telly … old man.

Jim Lawrie

14th October 2019 at 3:51 pm

It is right and fitting that he was sponsored by a chemical company.

Amin Readh

15th October 2019 at 12:53 am

White Racist at it again…

Jim Lawrie

15th October 2019 at 10:09 am

By calling me a white racist you are exhibiting your own race based discrimination.

Amin Readh

16th October 2019 at 6:18 am

“By calling me a white racist you are exhibiting your own race based discrimination.”

A white racist objecting to being called white [but not racist]. #priceless

Jerry Owen

14th October 2019 at 2:50 pm

One small step for mankind , one giant leap for Nike.

L Strange

14th October 2019 at 12:35 pm

The comment by children that he must have been taking drugs is a common one. Like many people, they’ve imbibed the narrative of non-exceptionalism – of dismissing the concept of talent, determination, effort and so on. Everyone is equal in ability and evidence to the contrary is, in fact, evidence of ‘cheating’, of some form of unearned advantage – ‘privilege’.

It’s a tempting narrative because it allows resentment – to brush aside one’s own lack of effort as being a factor in any lack of achievement in any field of endeavour, great or small, public or private.

Ven Oods

14th October 2019 at 1:33 pm

It’s an unfortunate effect of two or more decades of drug scandals in sport – in some instances state-sponsored.
While I feel sympathy for the clean competitors, I’ve stopped watching most sports, since I never know who did the winning – the competitor or the ‘team doctor’.
Perhaps if they enforced those life bans, I’d believe those clean-up campaigns were serious.

Jerry Owen

14th October 2019 at 2:52 pm

My opinion bizarre as it may seem is to allow athletes to take all the drugs they want with impunity, it then becomes a level playing field !

Jim Lawrie

14th October 2019 at 4:04 pm

He is the same age as was Lance Armstrong when he hit peak performance.

Testosterone peaks at 21, then starts to drop. Unless you are them, in which case 34 is the new 21.

Jim Lawrie

14th October 2019 at 4:49 pm

Calling people who disagree with you children is a child like response.

The latest findings against Alberto Salazar back up the pharmaceutical input.

Did not the world marvel at Abebe Bikila? Yet here is a man 40 yards per lap faster for an unrelenting 103 laps.

Life Coach

15th October 2019 at 11:02 am

1. Everybody is not equal in ability
2 He did have a genetic privilege in being from that part of the world – otherwise it’s a strange coincidence that marathon running at this level is dominated by one ethnic group.

Andrew Leonard

14th October 2019 at 12:04 pm

An unbelievable time!

So what is the current trans-women/women’s record?

Jane 70

14th October 2019 at 12:11 pm

They’ll construct a fluid one to fit the narrative: an intersectional world record

Dominic Straiton

14th October 2019 at 1:33 pm

Men are better women than women.

Andrew Leonard

14th October 2019 at 1:39 pm

LOL. What an ironic end to the feminist century.

Jane 70

14th October 2019 at 10:48 am

Absolutely brilliant! These Kenyan runners are fascinating, inspiring and a joy to watch.

Several years ago in Bath,I watched a half marathon won easily by an Ethiopian runner, who seemed to float over the ground, so effortless was his style.(I’m no sports fan, but I’ll never forget this.)

East Africa produces many of these amazing athletes

jessica christon

14th October 2019 at 3:02 pm

The East Africans have got this long distance running game well and truly clocked, and I think it’s a triumph of environment and lifestyle.

They’re acclimatised to living at a high altitude, plus running is sometimes used just as a way of getting around, unlike in the West where it’s reserved for sports and exercise. A Kenyan friend once told me that her and her siblings, as children, ran a 10 miles round trip to school every weekday.

Jane 70

14th October 2019 at 3:10 pm

Yes, it’s rather humbling to feel pleased when one does one’s daily walk, plus a session on the peddle exerciser!

They also have a distinctive ectomorphic physique don’t they? Long slender limbs and comparatively short torsos, compared to the average westerner. The female runners are just as impressive.

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