‘No human is limited,’ says marathon champion

Running into history: They kept up with the green laser and the Kenyan smashed two hours. © Jon Super

Was it tainted by technology? Eliud Kipchoge has entered the sporting hall of fame alongside Roger Bannister who ran a four-minute mile, 65 years ago. A triumph for sport — or for science?

He had run a marathon in less than two hours. Eliud Kipchoge chewed up the 26.2 mile course in the Austrian capital, Vienna, in 1 hour 59 minutes and 40 seconds.

And he looked as if he had barely broken a sweat.

Inspired by Sir Roger Bannister, who broke the four-minute mile on a cinder track in Oxford in 1954, he said: “It took me another 65 years [...] but I’ve done it!”

For most of history, the “sub-two” marathon existed only as science fiction.

To achieve the goal on Saturday required a massive investment from sponsors.

First, a laser-guided route to maintain the perfect pace around a spectator-lined course chosen in Vienna’s Prater Park for its favourable gradients.

Second, a troop of 41 world-class pacesetters, rotating in groups and in the perfect wind-reducing formation.

Third, a start time carefully chosen and in conditions judged most favourable by weather experts.

Fourth, energy gels handed to Kipchoge from a bike to avoid any need to break his stride.

Plus, a specially designed pair of Nike shoes believed to be able to provide a 4% improvement for runners.

So, was the record tainted by technology?

The appliance of science

Yes, it was. This was a massive team effort funded by a billionaire. The time will not be an official world record because the world governing body does not recognise performances with help from pacemakers and drinks being handed over by a man on a bicycle.

Not at all, say most experts. This does not detract from a physical feat that will be remembered forever by everyone who witnessed it. Kipchoge has not faced doping allegations, nor is there any suggestion of foul play in Saturday’s run. The conquest of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay was made in 1953 using supplementary oxygen. Yet nobody denies it was a triumph.

You Decide

  1. Is this one of the greatest human achievements of all time?

Activities

  1. Create a visual timeline of the history of the marathon, starting with the incredible run by the Greek messenger that inspired it in 490BC.

Some People Say...

“I might live long enough to see a 2.06 [but] a two-hour marathon — definitely not.”

Derek Clayton, athlete who set the marathon record of 2:08:33 in 1969 (and is definitely still alive).

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
On Saturday, Kipchoge wore a sleek sneaker stuffed with a spongy but responsive foam and a carbon-fibre plate, called the Vaporfly Next%. Yannis Pitsiladis, a professor who himself has been engaged in attempts to break the two-hour mark, said the shoes gave Kipchoge an “unfair advantage”.
What do we not know?
Did they make that much difference? Kipchoge is undoubtedly the best in the world: an Olympic champion, the world-record holder, and the winner of multiple big-city marathons. Since when did we question an athlete’s performance because of their shoes?

Word Watch

Eliud Kipchoge
A Kenyan, long-distance runner who competes in the marathon and, formerly, the 5000 metres. He won the Olympic marathon in 2016, and set the marathon world record of 2:01:39 on 16 September 2018 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. His run broke the previous world record by 1 minute and 18 seconds. It was the greatest improvement in a marathon world record time since 1967.
Sir Roger Bannister
The first athlete to finish the mile run in under four minutes. He accomplished this feat on 6 May 1954 at Iffley Road track in Oxford, with Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher providing the pacing. When the announcer declared, “The time was three...”, the cheers of the crowd drowned out Bannister’s exact time, which was 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds. He had attained this record with minimal training, while practising as a junior doctor.
Cinder track
A type of race track whose surface is made up of cinders (a coarse rock).
Gradients
Slopes.
Pacesetters
Athletes who run alongside you in order to keep you “up to speed”.
Wind-reducing
The front V shape of five runners created an air flow around Kipchoge, reducing the drag on him. Two runners behind Kipchoge provided “static pressure” to push Kipchoge along.
Energy gels
These offer a quick and easy way to replenish carbohydrates to help a runner, cyclist or footballer perform harder for longer.
Tainted
Ruined, spoiled.
Billionaire
Kipchoge’s attempt in Vienna was funded by Ineos, a British chemicals company. The owner of Ineos, Jim Ratcliffe, is Britain’s richest man. His company’s ownership of sports teams has been termed “sportswashing”— reputation laundering, through sports — a charge that Ratcliffe denies.
Feat
An achievement that requires great courage, skill or strength.

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