April 24, 2016
Eliud Kipchoge won Sunday’s Virgin London Marathon in a record setting 2:03:05, just missing Dennis Kimetto’s world record of 2:02:57. With his London win, Kipchoge became the first man to win four straight World Marathon Major marathons. Our full recap and analysis of the race is here, but we have copied the quick takes from our race recap on whether Kipchoge’s run was the greatest marathon performance ever and included them below as their own article.
Quick Take #1: Was this the greatest marathon performance ever?
Given the quality of the field, the ease with which he dropped Biwott (the world’s second-best marathoner) and the ridiculous time, Kipchoge’s run today unquestionably goes on the shortlist of greatest marathon performances ever. But is it the greatest?
Obviously it’s very hard to say anything definitively in the marathon as so much depends on the course/conditions, etc. Objectively, Dennis Kimetto’s 2:02:57 in Berlin in 2014 is the fastest ever, but Berlin has traditionally been a faster course than London and Kimetto didn’t have to face Wilson Kipsang in that race, who was the world #1 at the time.
Geoffrey Mutai’s 2:03:02 in Boston in 2011 was groundbreaking, but he only won by four seconds and everyone ran ridiculously fast that day because of the crazy tailwind. A better Mutai performance might be his 2:05:06 CR in New York that fall; no one else has come within 1:22 of that mark and only one other man has broken 2:07 there.
The other performance that stands out is Sammy Wanjiru’s 2:06:32 Olympic marathon in the heat of Beijing in 2008, a bold front-running performance that we called perhaps the greatest marathon ever run.
We can’t say with certainty, but line 2016 Kipchoge up against anyone in history and we like his odds. He looked like he had more in the tank even after he broke Biwott and only really got going once he saw the finish line. On our list, this is probably #1.
Kipchoge is also rapidly ascending the list of the world’s greatest-ever marathoners; you could even argue he’s #1 after today (though an Olympic gold this summer would strengthen that case). He’s won six of his seven career marathons, including five straight and four straight majors. He’s won London twice against two of the most competitive fields in history. He’s run 2:03:05, #2 all-time (record-eligible course); his slowest career marathon is 2:05:30 while his average marathon is 2:04:21. Certainly no one has ever started their marathon career better.
His only marathon defeat came in Berlin in 2013 when Wilson Kipsang set the world record to beat him.
Spring 2013 Hamburg 2:05:30 1st
Fall 2013 Berlin 2:04:05 2nd
Spring 2014 Rotterdam 2:05:00 1st
Fall 2014 Chicago 2:04:11 1st
Spring 2015 London 2:04:42 1st
Fall 2015 Berlin 2:04:00 1st
Spring 2016 London 2:03:05 1st (CR)
LRC Discussion: Is Kipchoge the GOAT of the marathon?
Quick Take #2: Could Kipchoge have gotten the world record?
Kipchoge ran 6:16 from 40k to the finish — that’s 4:35 pace (2:00:27 for a whole marathon). But by 40k, he already had nine seconds on Biwott and didn’t look as if he was really pushing himself. In fact, Kipchoge may not have even realized how close he was to the world record as they had fallen behind WR pace at 35k. If someone had told Kipchoge “you have to run 4:29 pace from here to the finish” at the 40k mark, he may have been able to get the WR.
Alternately, had he chosen to attack Biwott earlier, he may have been able to pick up a few extra seconds, leaving him less work to do at the end. Having someone to run with during a WR attempt is helpful but if they stick around long enough, athletes naturally start to think about winning the race rather than breaking the WR — as they should.
Kipchoge in his current form could break the WR in Berlin this fall if everything fell right for him (after all, he ran 2:04:00 there last year with his flappy insoles) but Kipchoge probably won’t get another crack at the record until London 2017 at the earliest as the Olympics fall too close to Berlin/Chicago for him to do both.
Quick Take #3: Eliud Kipchoge has raised marathoning to a new level
Three years ago, when the London Marathon went out in 61:34, we said the runners were foolish for challenging the marathon gods by running world record pace in London. At the time, the WR was 2:03:38 and going out at 2:03:08 pace on any course was viewed as suicide. Well three years later, Kipchoge went out even faster (61:24), and though he positive-splitted slightly, he still wound up producing one of the greatest runs in history. He’s simply on a different level than the top guys were in 2013.
Discuss: Official: Eliud Kipchoge Appreciation and GOAT Thread