Eliud Kipchoge is immortal now.
In what has been justly branded as sport’s moon landing, Kipchoge made a giant leap for mankind by setting a new marathon world best in 1:59.40 through the streets of Vienna.
The Olympic champion didn’t just break the two-hour barrier, he drove a tank through it and even had time to salute the Austrian crowd before he’d crossed the line.
I’ve seldom seen such emotion surrounding a sporting event. There was a real sense that Kipchoge was striding through the pages of the history books and giving everyone a ‘where were you when?’ moment.
Men, women and children were all crying, fans walked around with eyebrows pinned up their foreheads in shock and smartphones swung everywhere as if proof was needed for what they witnessed.
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Kipchoge blows the world away
The event was almost like a dormant volcano. The lack of publicity – the broadcast was cloistered away on the BBC red button – saw it sitting quiet until Kipchoge caused it to erupt with his brilliance.
Now, the aftershocks will tremor through the back-pages of newspapers around the world and the long-since-legendary Kenyan will be heralded in the same esteem as Sir Roger Bannister.
And after Kipchoge had the chance to enjoy the moment with his family, he strode into the press conference to an unabashed round of applause that I had never experienced before.
Sir Roger Bannister comparisons
“It is a great feeling to make history in sport after Sir Roger Bannister [set the first sub-four-minute mile] in 1954,” Kipchoge reflected with almost ill-fitting calmness.
“I am the happiest man in the world to be the first human to run under two hours and I can tell people that no human is limited.
“I expect more people all over the world to run under two hours after today.
“The pacemakers did a great job, they are among the best runners of all time. I thank them and appreciate them for accepting to do the job.
“I wanted to run under two hours and show human beings can do a good job and lead a good life. It shows the positivity of sport.
“I want to make the sport an interesting sport whereby all the human beings can run and together we can make this world a beautiful world.”
Toughest hours of his life
The more Kipchoge spoke, the more apparent it became that breaking two hours was almost inevitable for him – claiming that he knew it was possible after just one kilometre.
That, and when a journalist asked whether he was as tired as he looked after the halfway point, Kipchoge had the whole room in stitches by simply replying: “That’s untrue.”
However, if you’re wondering how a human being possibly prepares to run a marathon quicker than anyone in history, reassure yourself with the fact that Kipchoge was most certainly nervous.
The 34-year-old – who selected a champion’s breakfast of oatmeal, for those interested – described the time between his 5am awakening and the start of the marathon as the toughest hours of his life.
“I think it was the hardest of times ever in my life – between 5am and 8:15,” Kipchoge modestly admitted. “I went to bed last night just after 9 and had a good sleep until about 3 O’clock.
“I just didn’t feel ok! I can’t describe it. It was like four hours passed in 30 minutes, it was that fast. I felt a little bit weak.”
The man behind the project
By Kipchoge’s definition of weak, he meant the kind of shape to run 17-second 100m runs back-to-back over 400 times.
The whole INEOS 1:59 Challenge was the brainchild of Britain’s richest man Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who sat alongside Kipchoge like a proud father after ploughing interminable resources into the project.
With giddy excitement, Ratcliffe reflected: “That was sensational. It is quite difficult to believe it’s actually happened because it happened so quickly.
“That last kilometre where he actually accelerated and came through on his own was just superhuman. I can’t believe he did it.
“I can’t believe he ran the first half marathon in less than an hour and then he had to do that again. Everything had to go right to do this and it’s been immaculately well organised.
“It was especially brilliant to see the pacemakers because running is normally such a solitary sport and here they were all running for Eliud. They’re the best athletes in the world and so full of enthusiasm, it’s almost like a new sport for them.”
A day that history will remember
What Kipchoge achieved today will rightfully endure as one of the greatest sporting moments in history as well as a landmark in human achievement.
Whenever athletics makes an errand step into the mainstream, it’s often for negative reasons and the recent Alberto Salazar ban has dragged it kicking and screaming through yet another quagmire.
But Kipchoge’s historic run proved that the athletes themselves, their brilliance and their dedication will always shine brightest.
Kipchoge ran through the trachea of Vienna’s ‘Green Lung’ and breathed new life into the sport in the process. Physically, at least, every single one of us are lesser Kipchoge’s.