Kipchoge still the man to beat

Kenyan outruns rivals in last race before Tokyo; targets 2nd Olympic gold

Kenya's Jonathan Korir and Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge celebrating after finishing second and first respectively at the NN Mission Marathon in Enschede. The race was a qualifier for the Tokyo Games.
Kenya's Jonathan Korir and Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge celebrating after finishing second and first respectively at the NN Mission Marathon in Enschede. The race was a qualifier for the Tokyo Games.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ENSCHEDE (Netherlands) • Eliud Kipchoge, the Olympic marathon champion and world record holder, sent a warning to his rivals ahead of this year's Tokyo Olympics by cruising to victory in the NN Mission Marathon in Enschede, the Netherlands, yesterday.

In his first outing since a shock defeat at October's London Marathon, where he was eighth, Kipchoge finished the race at Twente Airport in 2hr 4min 30sec to reaffirm his status as hot favourite for the Olympic race in Sapporo in August.

"It is mission accomplished," the 36-year-old said after finishing well outside his official world record of 2:01:39 set in Berlin in 2018 but comfortably outpacing his competition.

"It was so good a marathon happened a few months before the Olympics to test our fitness."

Jonathan Korir of Kenya was second in a personal best of 2:06:40. He stayed with his training partner and compatriot until 33km when Kipchoge accelerated.

Goitom Kifle of Eritrea third in 2:08:07.

The invitation-only event, which served as a Tokyo Games qualifier, was originally scheduled for Hamburg but was moved to a closed circuit in the Netherlands and pushed back a week because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was billed as "the fastest way to Tokyo" and in overcast conditions 15 men and 10 women beat the Olympic automatic qualifying time.

As defending Olympic champion, Kipchoge had already qualified for the Games. Still, he ran his ninth fastest marathon and set a world best for the year as he showed strong form less than four months before the Olympic marathon on Aug 8 in Sapporo.

Considered one of the greatest marathon runners, Kipchoge, who has run below two hours in a specially tailored event, won 11 straight marathons before suffering his first defeat since 2013 in London. He clocked 2:06:49 then.

But he rebounded in eight laps on the Enschede runways. He went past the halfway mark in a little under 62 minutes before pulling away from Korir around the 95-minute mark.

"To organise this in the middle of a pandemic and show that people can still run and deliver their best race before the Olympics is very important," he said.

In the women's race, Germany's Katharina Steinruck prevailed with a personal-best 2:25:59 ahead of Portugal's Sara Moreira in 2:26:42 and another German Rabea Schoneborn (2:27:03).

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2021, with the headline 'Kipchoge still the man to beat'. Subscribe