Forget The Cynics, Kipchoge's Moment Of History Is The Real Deal
World records capture our attention precisely because they remain so rare.
It’s not often you see sporting history being made. And when you do, it becomes an “I remember where I was” moment. Even more so when the moment transcends all sporting significance to become one of humankind’s greatest achievements.
On Saturday, Eliud Kipchoge pulled off this trick by becoming the first human to run a marathon in under two hours.
His time of 1:59:40, however, comes with an asterix, as has been pointed out by many sceptics over the last few days.
Kipchoge’s remarkable run in Vienna is not a world record.
For a start, this was not a competitive race against other marathon runners. And Nike’s special ZoomX Vaporfly trainers, though not banned, are said to improve a runner’s metabolic efficiency by up to five percent.
That this race took place in the wake of the recent Alberto Salazar and Nike Orgon doping scandal only adds to the cynism.
To top off an apparently ideal set of conditions, there was the presence of 41 rotating pacemakers and an electric car both of which ensured Kipchoge did not flag. This, to many, is triumph of planning of technology rather than human spirit.
So the Kipchoge's time of 2:01:39 set in Berlin last year remains the official world record.
But those questioning the legitimacy, or greatness, of Kipchoge’s run in Vienna are missing the point. As anyone who watched the drama unfold on YouTube would testify, this was to witness humanity at its very best. Raw, emotional, exhilarating.
Try telling Kipchoge, his watching wife, his team-mates, the cheering crowds and the millions of viewers around the world that his run is devalued because of that asterix.
That Kipchoge attempted, and failed, to beat this landmark at Monza Formula 1 race track back in 2017 only adds to his monumental achievement this time around. Whatever the advantages the Kenyan was afforded, this was far from some sort of formality some are making it out to be.
Kipchoge's feat has variously been compared to those of first man on the moon Neil Armstrong, first man to conquer Everest Sir Edmund Hillary and, perhaps most relevantly, to Sir Roger Bannister.
Bannister became the first man to ever run a sub four-minute mile on May 6, 1954. A month and half later, on June 21, the Australian John Landy smashed Bannister’s record, the time of 3.58.00 remaining an official world best for three years. But while history remembers Bannister, historians remember Landy.
The pursuit of excellence means that one day someone will break Kipchoge’s “record” and it will be official. But whatever the record books say, we’ll always remember Kipchoge as the first human to break the two-hour marathon.