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Brigid Kosgei, 2019 Chicago Marathon winner and world record holder (2:14:04.20). Photo: Video screen capture.

Brigid Kosgei must have taken Eliud Kipchoge’s sub-2 performance over the marathon distance and his motto, ‘no human is limited’ seriously as she hammered the first 5K of the Chicago Marathon at 2:10 pace on Sunday – this was no mistake.

Kosgei is an experienced athlete who entered the race with a 2:18:20 marathon best from London 2019, just six months ago. It was the ninth and now is the 10th fastest performance all-time. She knew what she was doing in Chicago as did her pacers. To purposely go out at 2:10 pace is to attempt the unthinkable; to attempt a better than the sub-2-hour-marathon equivalent for men.

In April, she became the sixth-fastest female all-time – now she is the fastest.

Rather than blowing up as runners typically do when they start too fast, she slowed to 2:14:04 to smash the 16-year-old record held by Paula Radcliffe of London, UK. Radcliffe, at the 2003 London Marathon, ran 2:15:25. At the time, the performance was viewed as an outlier.

But it wasn’t really an outlier. The men just needed to catch up to the women or woman, as in Paula Radcliffe.

Kipchoge did that in Berlin in 2018 with his 2:01:39 run. In Vienna, with an aided and not certified 42.195-kilometre effort of 1:59:40.20, he attempted the once inconceivable. It is not a marathon world record. It was a demonstration of what man can do. Organisers likened the benchmark-cracking performance to Sir Edmund Hillary being the first to climb Mt. Everest, Roger Bannister with the first sub-4-minute mile (1609m) and Neil Armstrong making one giant leap for mankind by being the first to step onto the moon.

Kipchoge’s 1:59:40.2 did not quite carry the same history–making and cultural impact as the former events, but attempted to demonstrate what is humanly possible. However, his 2:01:39 from the 2018 BMW Berlin Marathon and Kenenisa Bekele’s 2:01:41 from Berlin 2019 are performances that are 10.2% faster than Kosgei’s in Chicago – typical of the female to male performance difference of around 10%.

The question many people will ask is, was Kosgei’s 2:14:04 possible for a clean athlete? In fairness, to ask that of Kosgei, the same question can be applied to both Bekele and Kipchoge.

At Chicago, apparently athletes are drug tested 30 days in advance as well as after the race to 20-deep. The running world will have to wait to see how this turns out.

Meanwhile, former Nike Oregon Project athletes did not fare as well, as Galen Rupp and Jordan Hasay both dropped out of Chicago with an achilles and hamstring injury, respectively, while Mo Farah finished eighth in 2:09:58 nearly five minutes slower than his previous Chicago performance last year (2:05:11)

Hasay, Rupp and Farah’s performances over the years may be called into question because their one-time coach Alberto Salazar was banned for four years for doping violations. Subsequently, Nike Oregon Project was shut down by Nike and athletes were told by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to sever ties with Salazar.

But to question them, it would only be fair if Kosgei’s performance is questioned too. Her agent Gabriel Rosa, owner of Rosa Associati is known to be linked to athletes who have been caught doping including Kenya’s fastest female marathon runner in 2015, Rita Jeptoo.

She was suspended by Athletics Kenya for two years. Jeptoo tested positive for EPO.

Lawrence Cherono won the men’s race in the time of 2:05:45, with a late surge, to pass Ethiopia’s Dejene Debela, who Cherono nipped by one second. The third-place finisher was Asefa Mengstu, also from Ethiopia, two more seconds back.

Behind Kosgei was Ababel Yeshaneh in 2:20:51. Another four seconds back of her was Gelete Burka of Ethiopia.

Of note, Emma Bates ran a new personal best of 2:25:27. It was the American’s debut at the distance.

It has been one impactful stretch for the sport of athletics. The Berlin 2019 performance by Bekele (2:01:41) was unexpected and is just two seconds back of Kipchoge’s world record. The 2019 IAAF Doha World Athletics Championships were full of drama, especially with the oddly-timed announcement of the Salazar suspension. The 1:59:40.20 performance by Kipchoge and his bevy of 41 pacers transcended sport – his performance was uttered from the mouths of non-athletics fans.

There was a lot to take in over the past month in the sport of athletics. On Sunday with Kosgei’s astounding Chicago Marathon performance, and Saturday with Kipchoge’s sub-2 accomplishment, the world turned its head toward the sport for the first time in decades.

Expect more news to happen over the following few weeks about all of the above.

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