President Uhuru Kenyatta Friday called Eliud Kipchoge to wish him well as the world marathon record holder attempts to be the first man to run the race in under two hours today.
Combined with the fact that Deputy President William Ruto is here accompanied by, among others, Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago, President Kenyatta’s call goes to show how huge the 34-year-old Olympic champion’s attempt in the Austrian capital is.
Besides, over 200 countries have signed up to broadcast the race, dubbed the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, live from The Prater Park in the heart of Vienna.
Viewers can also follow the challenge on the INEOS 1:59 Challenge YouTube channel.
On Friday, organisers announced that the race will start at 8.15am local time, which is 9.15am Kenyan time.
The late announcement was due to the fact that scientists and the weatherman wanted to get the best possible conditions for the challenge, with the right temperatures and wind conditions combining with Kipchoge’s mental and physical shape to beat the odds.
“We took into account all the different parameters and the decision has been made that the INEOS 1:59 Challenge will start at 8.15am, central European Time,” Fran Miller, the Team INEOS chief executive, announced yesterday afternoon.
Kipchoge did a light morning workout before spending the rest of the day resting in his room at the Marriott, by Courtyard Hotel, which has been taken up by his team and support staff.
It was while he was resting that President Kenyatta put through the call to wish him and his support team well.
“The fact that President Kenyatta called to wish Eliud well shows just how much support the athlete has from his country,” Athletics Kenya President Lt Gen (Rtd) Jack Tuwei, who is also in Vienna, said. “Eliud has done a lot to promote the sport and the country.”
Patrick Sang, Kipchoge’s coach of 19 years, was in huge demand here, with journalists seeking to know how he had prepared the Olympic champion for Saturday’s attempt.
“Of course it’s natural to feel the pressure now,” he said. “But I always try to be strong.”
In 2017, Kipchoge attempted to dip under the two-hour mark for the first time but fell just 26 seconds short, running two hours and 25 seconds in Monza, Italy, in an attempt dubbed Breaking2 and organised by American sportswear giant Nike.
The current attempt is bankrolled by British chemical company INEOS, which is owned by Sir Jim Radcliffe, one of Britain’s wealthiest persons.
The Vienna course was considered because it is flat, fast and shielded from the wind by trees, making it possible to improve from the Monza performance that was held on the famous Autodromo Nazionale Monza, the famous Formula One race track.
“Before we went to Monza, there was a big debate on whether it would be possible to challenge the two-hour barrier. But after Eliud ran 2:00:25, athletes have become more confident because someone has knocked on that door and shown it’s possible,” Sang, himself a steeplechase silver medallist at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, said. “After Monza, many athletes have run two hours, two minutes; and two hours three minutes.”
In today’s race, Kipchoge will be supported by a group of pacemakers who will follow a laser beamed from a lead car, targeting to run a steady pace of two minutes and 50 seconds per kilometre. This will translate to a finish time of one hour and 59 seconds.
Among the 41 pacemakers is USA’s Kenya-born former world 1,500 and 5,000 metres champion Bernard Lagat and Kenya’s former Commonwealth 5,000 metres champion Augustine Choge.
Lagat said Kipchoge’s attempt means a lot more to the world than just breaking the two-hour barrier.
“It tells the world that if you have the willpower you can break any barrier,” Lagat said.
“We are about to witness history. We don’t see ourselves as pacemakers but as being part of this history,” the Washington State University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology alumnus said.
“Pacemakers are crucial in making Eliud achieve the target,” Choge added. “We will be following a car with laser lights that will indicate what pace we should help Eliud run. The pace that has been projected is two minutes and 50 seconds for the entire 42 kilometres, which will make Eliud run one hour 59 minutes,” he explained.
The 41 pacemakers have been assigned to cover different distances, with some setting the pace for three kilometres and others for about five.
There will be five pacemakers running ahead of Eliud and some others behind him.
“After every 4.8 kilometres, new pacemakers will come in, but those running behind Eliud will run 9.8 kilometres, which is a full lap on the course,” Choge explained.
Kipchoge arrived in Vienna on Tuesday morning on a private G280 jet owned by Sir Ratcliffe.
He was accompanied by his coach Sang, physiotherapist Peter Nduhiu, Choge and another pacemaker, Gideon Kipketer.
“Flying in the jet as opposed to commercial flights definitely made a big difference for Eliud, and most importantly it was a good gesture by INEOS. That is very important to us,” Sang said yesterday.
On missing the Nike Breaking2 Project target, Bernard Lagat said: “I couldn’t sleep that night, thinking Eliud was just 26 seconds short. But to me, he had nailed it, and it even encouraged me to take up marathon running just to see how it feels.”
Lagat was among Kipchoge’s supporting cast in Monza.
After the Monza attempt, Kipchoge ran the world record two hours, one minute and 39 seconds at last year’s Berlin Marathon before deciding to have another go at the sub-two hour marathon in today’s race against the clock.
INEOS owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe, an athletics enthusiast whose worth is estimated at about 10 billion pounds (Sh1.3 trillion), told the Saturday Nation in Vienna that “Eliud is the greatest-ever marathon runner and the only athlete in the world who has any chance of beating the two-hour time”.
“We are going to give him every support and hopefully witness sporting history. Eliud has a great part to play. We can just facilitate it. But however good we are at getting the details right, it’s (running a sub-two hour marathon) still a super-human feat.”
INEOS have taken up about 14 rooms at the Marriott Courtyard hotel here for about two weeks. With rooms going for about 500 Euros (Sh57,000) each, bed and breakfast alone, INEOS have forked out Sh161 million, before even counting the meals.
But Kipchoge wouldn’t be drawn into discussing the money issue, and it’s not in the public domain just how much he will earn from today’s venture.
“Money is not important. I’m running to make history, but if you have a price, you can give me,” Kipchoge joked when asked by journalists how much he’s making out of the INEOS 1:59 Challenge.
“If I break the barrier, I will be a happy person because I will inspire millions of our generation.”
But Kipchoge is one of the wealthiest athletes in Kenya, having earned $250,000 (Sh25 million) just two weeks ago after winning the World Marathon Majors title in the series in which athletes accumulate points in the Chicago, New York, London, Tokyo, Boston and Berlin marathons.
Rough estimates say he could hit close to the billion shilling mark in income from the INEOS 1:59 Challenge should he dip under two hours today.
“Vienna was chosen to host the INEOS 1:59 Challenge after an extensive search that started with a map of the world and ended with a pinpoint in the Austrian capital,” organisers explain.
Their decision was based on scientific research and a deep study of weather patterns of the Austrian capital which is 165 metres above sea level, quite a drop from the 2,400 metres at Kaptagat, Kipchoge’s training ground.
Going down to run close to sea level will be a huge advantage for Kipchoge whose speed and endurance will be optimal.
Basically, training at high altitude, where the air is thinner, helps the body accumulate more red blood cells that in turn carry more oxygen, which is an advantage for endurance sports.
Vienna is also just one hour behind Kenyan time which means travelling to the Austrian capital would not have a big effect on Kipchoge’s eating, sleeping and training patterns.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that he (Kipchoge) is given the best change,” Sir Jim adds.
Kipchoge’s wife Grace Sugut and three children have travelled here, accompanying the Olympic champion for the first time to a major race.
“I want them to be part of history,” Kipchoge said on Thursday.