Kenenisa Bekele and Eliud Kipchoge Speak Ahead of 2020 London Marathon: WRs, Shoes, and Kipchoge’s COVID Message of Hope for the USA

The GOATs Speak Prior To Sunday’s Race

By Jonathan Gault
September 30, 2020

(Editor’s note: Read’s 3,000+ word men’s race preview here: LRC 2020 London Marathon Men’s Preview: What to Expect from Eliud Kipchoge & Kenenisa Bekele in the Race of the Year)

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So much about about the world has changed over the last seven months that when you find the familiar, you grasp it with two hands. And it didn’t take long to find the familiar in today’s Virgin Money London Marathon opening press conference featuring Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele, conducted virtually via Zoom from an undisclosed hotel outside of London.

The very first question, from The Guardian‘s Sean IngleIs a world record under threat?

Ah. That feels better. I’m pretty sure it’s a rule that the London Marathon can’t officially start until someone asks about the world record.

Kipchoge will try to win London for a record 5th time on Sunday (Bob Martin for London Marathon Events)

And while Kipchoge demurred with his answer, only going as far to admit he thinks the race will be “really beautiful,” it was clear Kipchoge is relishing the familiar in London as well. He knows exactly how long it has been since his last marathon effort at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge — 11 months, 18 days — but he has almost made it. Just four sleeps separate Kipchoge from his next marathon.

“I am really looking forward for Sunday, especially after a very long, long time of [not] showing up on the road,” Kipchoge said.

As for Bekele, he said he doesn’t know for sure what the pace will be on Sunday (61:00 for the first half is the number being batted around), but he knows it will be quick. It always is in London.

“The pace will be going really fast at halfway,” Bekele said. “It’s normal, you know. I’ve never seen the pace slow down, especially in London Marathon, especially when Kipchoge was there.”

Between COVID-19 and this year’s political unrest in Ethiopia, there is even more uncertainty surrounding Bekele’s fitness than usual ahead of London — and this is not a guy known for his consistency in the marathon. Bekele said that earlier this year, he could only leave his house to run around three times per week, doing the rest of his sessions on the treadmill, but added that his training was mostly back to normal during the final month of his London prep. Bekele said his fitness is “about the same” as it was for Berlin last year, where he ran 2:01:41 to scare Kipchoge’s world record, but even the man himself isn’t totally sure what to expect.

Bekele is 0-4 against Kipchoge in marathons (Bob Martin for London Marathon Events)

“In marathon, you never know what will happen,” Bekele said. “There [are] many challenges in the marathon. Even if you are 100%, 110% sure about it, sometimes you can get problems in the races or even before.”

But no matter how Bekele is feeling, expect him to try to hang with Kipchoge for as long as possible. When you’ve reached the heights that Bekele has during his career, backing off is not an option.

Four years ago, when they met in London for the first time, Bekele entered as a shell of himself; injuries to his Achilles and calf meant over 18 months had passed since he last finished a marathon. Yet when his former coach Renato Canova advised him to run conservatively, Bekele refused. He followed Kipchoge through a 61:24 first half (the fastest ever in a marathon at the time) and wound up third in 2:06:36 (Kpichoge won in 2:03:05).

“I suggested Kenenisa to run with the second group (it was a pace under 2:06, optimal for his current shape), after one minute of thinking, he answered ‘My mind is not ready for running with weak runners,'” Canova wrote on the LetsRun messageboard in 2016.


The Great Shoe Debate Continues

These are NOT the shoes Kipchoge will race in on Sunday (Bob Martin for London Marathon Events)

As is custom before a major marathon these days, the athletes were asked about their choice of footwear for Sunday. Kipchoge said he will be wearing the Nike Alphafly Next% — in custom Kenyan colors — while Bekele is sticking with the Nike Vaporfly Next%, the same shoes he wore for his 2:01 in Berlin.

“Vaporfly, not Alphafly,” Bekele said. “Because a little bit with Alphafly, I have some problem. I need more time to adapt.”

This isn’t a shocking development. Ahead of the Olympic Marathon Trials in February, several American athletes chose to race in the Vaporflys over the Alphaflys for comfort reasons.

Now that World Athletics has confirmed that both the Vaporflys and Alphaflys are legal for competition on the roads, Kipchoge also called on those who have sought for the shoes to be banned to accept the new technology.

“We live in 21st century, whereby first we need to accept change,” Kipchoge said. “Secondly is that development [goes] hand in hand with technology. The shoe is good, it’s the accepted technology pattern. I will give you an example. We are now doing press conference virtually. Is that not technology? It’s technology. So we need to accept technology in our hands, move on. We want to develop in this world and actually accept technology and marry technology.”

Bekele says he has no advice for Joshua Cheptegei ahead of his 10,000m world record attempt

Last month, Bekele lost his 5,000-meter world record to Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei, who ran 12:35.36 in Monaco to break Bekele’s 16-year-old mark of 12:37.35. Next week in Valencia, Cheptegei will go after Bekele’s 10,000m mark of 26:17.53. Though Bekele congratulated Cheptegei for joining him in the world record club, he said that, after his run in Monaco, he doesn’t think he needs to offer any advice to Cheptegei on how to attack the 10,000 record — he’ll just sit back and watch like the rest of us.

“It’s really difficult to comment on this for me,” Bekele said. “Someone breaking the 5,000, how can you give advice on second record to attempt it? I think he [doesn’t] need advice from me. But the only thing, maybe someone new who doesn’t break record before, I’m willing to advise. Because maybe someone who doesn’t know before, you need to give some hint how to run for the records. But Cheptegei, he already runs it. No advice [for the 10,000]. Just watching.”

Kipchoge offers message of hope to USA amid pandemic

More Americans have died from COVID-19 than any other nation — the death toll surpassed 200,000 last week — and Kipchoge was aware of that fact. I had a brief one-on-one chat with Kipchoge after the main press conference concluded, and after answering my final question, the always-classy Kipchoge offered a message of hope for Americans as the country continues to battle the disease.

“I wish you all the best in America,” Kipchoge said. “I want to say sorry for what is happening in America as far as COVID is concerned. It has hit America in a bad way. But I want to tell the Americans please take heart. COVID cannot make you lose self-esteem. Make sure in life, you joke around, make sure in life you keep positive, and all Americans will be great again.”

Read’s 3,000+ word men’s race preview here: LRC 2020 London Marathon Men’s Preview: What to Expect from Eliud Kipchoge & Kenenisa Bekele in the Race of the Year

Talk about 2020 London on our messageboard. And be sure to come back to the messageboard for the live discussion thread as the race takes place.

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