August 21, 2019

6 Athletes Who Changed Their Sport in 2018

6 Athletes Who Changed Their Sport in 2018

Easy, right? Wrong.

The results were hilarious. Most of the people who attempted the treadmill experiment tumbled in spectacular fashion, often after just seconds of sprinting all out. And their post-wipeout reactions went something like this: Kipchoge did this for 26.2 miles? Impossible.

But sure enough, he did — and the running community is still buzzing about it.

It was a cool fall morning in Berlin when Kipchoge, a Kenyan who is now 34, set such a blistering pace — covering the opening 10 kilometers in just over 29 minutes — that two of his three pacesetters had to drop out about 15 minutes later. The third peeled off halfway through the race, leaving Kipchoge to fend for himself for the final 13-plus miles. He made it look effortless.

At 5 feet 6 inches and about 115 pounds, Kipchoge skimmed along the pavement with smooth, metronomic strides, breaking the previous record held by Dennis Kimetto, a fellow Kenyan, by 78 seconds — and defeating the second-place finisher by nearly 5 minutes.

But most remarkable was that his performance was almost expected. In 2017, at a nonsanctioned event sponsored by Nike, Kipchoge attempted to break two hours with the aid of pacesetters on a race car track in Italy, only to miss by 25 seconds. It seemed a foregone conclusion that he would smash the world record on a sanctioned course given ideal conditions, and he delivered in Berlin, averaging 4:38.4 per mile. His average 5-kilometer pace was 14:24.9, and process this: He did more than eight of those consecutively.

Adding to his growing status as a living legend, Kipchoge is something of a philosopher. He reads biographies and keeps a journal. He runs with monastic self-discipline in the hills not far from his hometown in Kenya, but he told me when I met with him in Berlin the week before his record run that he never overextends himself in training. Instead, he said, he reserves his full effort — all 100 percent of himself — for race day, which is a strategy that runs counter to the no-pain, no-gain attitude of so many distance runners.

“I want to run with a relaxed mind,” he said.

The reigning Olympic marathon champion, Kipchoge has now won 10 of the 11 marathons he has entered, and he told me that he would love to run the New York City Marathon someday. (Race organizers would love to have him, of course.)

It is a sign of the times that doping suspicions tend to trail the best athletes — especially when that athlete is a true outlier like Kipchoge, and also when several other Kenyan runners have been caught — but he has steadfastly denied using performance-enhancing drugs, and he has never failed a test for banned substances.

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