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A trend has emerged that has changed the way the marathon is viewed. No longer is the event necessarily a daunting task of survival for first-timers. Debutants now dish up world-class performances in their first go. Rinse and repeat.
Most notably, Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum, burst onto the scene last December in the Valencia Marathon, winning and clocking a 2:01:53 performance. It was a top-three run all-time behind only world record holder Eliud Kipchoge’s 2:01:09 and Kenesisa Bekele’s 2:01:41. Kiptum has since improved that number twice, including taking the world record down to 2:00:35 in Chicago one week ago.
His runs at 2:01:53, 2:01:25 and 2:00:35, going three-for-three for some previously unknown, cattle-herding, self-coached 23-year-old from small town Chepkorio is a lot — effulgent if it isn’t all a mirage.
Ethiopian Tigst Assefa ran a 2:34 performance pre-pandemic, then seemingly emerged from both the Tigray conflict and the Covid sequestering as a new super runner donning those fabulous super shoes. Last year in Berlin she ran 2:15:37 to get within 93 seconds of Brigid Kosgei’s then-world record of 2:14:04. Assefa followed up with a stunning 2:11:53 world record on Sept. 24 in Berlin. The 2:15:37 was already befuddling on its own. Career-defining. The 2:11:53 provoked retired journalists to come in from the garden tracking mud to blow the dust off their trusty old Royal Grand manual typewriters.
Former Ethiopian, Sifan Hassan, who competes for the Netherlands at least had a multi-medal-winning career before moving up. At age 30 she ran the London Marathon in April this year at 2:18:33, but had to stop to stretch a few times and even walked briefly. No problem. Hassan followed up that audacious performance (aren’t all her performances audacious?) with a win in Chicago on Oct. 8. She recorded what would have been a new world record at 2:13:44 for the win. Only if Assefa had not emerged like a superhero from DC or Marvel epic. No kryptonite to be seen anywhere.
Bring in Joshua Cheptegei
Like Hassan, Joshua Cheptegei is a known entity. Fast. He owns the world record in the 5000m and 10,000m events. The Ugandan has run 12:35.26 and 26:11.00, respectively. He also holds the current 15K world best at 41:05. Cheptegei’s half-marathon best is 59:21 from Gdynia, Poland two years ago.
Not every high-level 10,000m runner manages to graduate to the marathon successfully and certainly not always on the first go. Bekele who previously held the 5000m and 10,000m world records took several turns before churning out his 2:01:41 best from Berlin 2019. Mo Farah ran well, but quite to the level of his many Olympic and World Championships gold medal performances.
However, if Bekele can translate 26:17.53 into 2:01:41, then perhaps Cheptegei, a decade younger, can roll out a 2:00:30 in Valencia.
He told Xinhua News, “I know it will not be easy going for my first competition in marathon. But I have been running on the track for 10 years now and have a lot of experience at international level.”
Worked for Hassan. Worked for Kipchoge, and Bekele. But not required for Assefa and Kiptum. So, there are no guarantees.
The 27-year-old only ran 1:02:09 in New York in March. Not quite the dominant performance he is used to having having been bettered by fellow Ugandan Jacob Kiplimo by over half a minute. But as he has shown he can turn it around on a dime. In June, during the Diamond League in Laussane, he clocked a 12:41.61 5000m performance.
Kibiwott Kandie is an enigma of sorts
Great name, and some excellent results, but has run sideways a few times too. Whatever it is that keeps Kandie down, inquiring minds want to know. He can be supremely fast at times, like when he ran the half-marathon in 57:32 in Valencia in 2020. It is the Kenyan national record. Oftentimes that means also having the world record and he is not far from it. The 27-year-old is one-second shy of Jacob Kiplimo’s world record.
Finishing fifth in Bathurst at the 2023 World Cross Country Championships probably wasn’t what he was looking for. Running the New York City Marathon in the time of 2:13:43 in 2021 was off the mark — it was his debut though.
Who knows which Kandie will show up on Sunday, December 3, but if it turns out to be the 57:32 variety, it’s going to be sweet.
Last gasp for Sisay Lemma?
Perhaps it is a little early to circle the wagons on this Ethiopian horse, after all, he is still just age 32. However, it has been a minute, as the kids say. From 2018 to 2021, Lemma clocked four consecutive times between 2:03:36 to 2:04:51. That’s a solid range. Prior to that he was mostly a 2:08-runner and has run 2:07:26 and 2:06:26 in 2022 and 2023, respectively since then. If Lemma wants a win, he will need to take a good long run at the 2:03 level.
Lemma does possess the killer instinct as he won London in 2021 and has finished third in two other majors. Like Kandie, it will be interesting to see which version of Sisay Lemma we see on the streets of Valencia in six week’s time.
Alexander Mutiso is the fastest guy you never heard of
The fastest guy you never heard of was Kelvin Kiptum after Valencia last year. A minute behind him was Alexander Mutiso, yes, another Kenyan. Mutiso clocked 2:03:29. There is not much else known about this 27-year-old. He was simply a very consistent 5000m to 10,000m runner for several years, repeating similar times like clockwork, in 2020, he did well to run 57:59 in Valencia. In May this year, he ran Praque in 2:05:09.
Ethiopians Leul Gebresilase with his 2:04:02 (age 31, Dubai 2018), Chalu Deso going 2:04:53 (age 25, 2023 Tokyo) and Kenyan Titus Kipruto 2:04:54 (age 25, Amsterdam 2022), always seem to be in the mix.
The favourite going in, no doubt is Joshua Cheptegei. If the weather behaves, expect him to run sub-2:03. If the champion version of himself shows up, the Ugandan will challenge Kiptum’s world record.
“For next year, my focus will be on the track at the Paris Olympic Games, but hopefully my marathon debut will be a good experience and then I can decide after the Olympic Games what my next steps will be,” added Cheptegei.