© Copyright – 2021 – Athletics Illustrated

“It’s every generation throws a hero up the pop charts.”
– Paul Simon, Boy in the Bubble.

A few great rivalries

It may be premature to predict a marathon rivalry between two athletes that have yet to run the distance, however, there is so much potential in the making.

Firstly, let’s visit the recent past. It wasn’t long ago that Ethiopian, Haile Gebrselassie, with his 2:03:59 world record performance – the first under the 2:04 benchmark – and his perpetual smile, that “Gebr” was referred to as The Emporer. He continues to carry that mystique about him. He lights up a room when he enters.

Haile Gebrselassie

Kenyan, Eliud Kipchoge, with his current world record of 2:01:39 and calm demeanour and wisdom is sometimes referred to as Buddha. There is also a mystique about Kipchoge. He seems almost inhuman and unbeatable. The only glitch in his career was not winning London 2020, not because he was done, but he had his first bad day in over a decade. Inclement weather, and an ear issue; save it for another day. He went on to dominate the Tokyo Olympic marathon in commanding fashion. Perhaps providing a sense of redemption and certainly cementing his career as the greatest, for now.

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele having run 2:01:41 is intriguing. He ran that time on the same course as Kipchoge’s 2:01:39 in Berlin, but the conditions were poorer with rain and wind. Two seconds is nothing. Sadly, the running world will never get the best of the two going head-to-head. Bekele at age 39 has committed again to Berlin in September and two months later New York. Kipchoge committed to London in October, perhaps closing the book on his career and gaining a little more redemption. Buddha has hinted at retirement.

The two will become paladins of marathon nobility. In the not too distant future, waxing poetic, running fans will harken back on the glory days that they created as had Gebr and Tergat, Shorter and Rogers, or Benoit and Waitz. However, the one caveat, they never raced head-to-head at the top of their game; a crime of competition if there ever was one.

In Berlin this year, you can bet that Bekele will want to better 2:01:41. What will Berlin do to his chances in New York? In theory, racing a blazing Berlin should dampen his chances of winning in New York. But these guys are immortal, right?

Kibiwott Kandie

The 25-year-old is the world championships silver medallist in the half-marathon. He also owns the world record at the distance set in Valencia 2020 at 57:32. Being great at the half-marathon does not automatically promise greatness over the marathon distance, but the odds are greatly in his favour.

Kandie will be running the New York Marathon head to head with Bekele. Although it is ill-advised to predict a victory in a debut marathon, he has a chance of winning that race. Fewer and fewer marathon runners need the requisite three marathon start to begin to run their best over the distance. Fast debuts are becoming the norm.

Kandie finishing Valencia, setting the world record.

A decade ago, albeit not that recent, Kenyan, Moses Mosop, enjoying tailwind support, debuted at 2:03:06 in Boston. Ethiopian, Guye Adola, clocked a 2:03:46 in 2018 in Berlin. Ethiopian, Leul Gebrselassie, clocked a 2:04:02 in Dubai in 2018. Expect more brazen first-time performances in the near future. New York does not lend itself to world record-like performances. New York has many corners, and hills and less emphasis from the race organisers in pacing and time-oriented results. But rather character efforts, like Rod Dixon in 1983 when he took out England’s Geoff Smith with metres to go while nursing a cramp. Or Meb Keflezighi in 2009 becoming the first American to win the event since Alberto Salazar in 1982, it’s the stuff of nostalgia.

Joshua Cheptegei

What about this guy and when is he going to run the marathon? His dominance in the 5000m and 10,000m distances may become his domain, stolen in a timely fashion from the enigmatic, Mo Farah, who never went for times, but golds. Well, Farah was enigmatic like Mickey Mouse is handsome. He never really developed a mystique about him.

When and if Cheptegei takes on the marathon, Chetegei versus Kandie, could be the next great rivalry.

Cheptegei has run the half-marathon distance in the time of 59:31. Those two minutes is a giant chasm between the 24-year-old and Kandie, however, there is no way the running world has seen the best of Cheptegei at the distance. That particular performance was run at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia, Poland, not a blazing time trial offering.

Joshua Cheptegei world 5000m and 10,000m record holder.

What is more impressive are his 5000m (12:35.36), 10,000m (26:11.00), and 5km (12:51, road) world records. He owns three world records and a world best (15km, 41:05, road). Except for the 15km (2018), they were all set during the pandemic in 2020. The 5000m and 10,000m records were Bekele’s for a decade and a half. Those records seemed unbreakable. That is until super shoes and super Ugandans came along.

Look out world for, Jacob Kiplimo, who owns the world 20km road best at 54:42 and the Ugandan half-marathon record at 57:37. Demonstrating great range, the 20-year-old has the national 3000m record too. He set it at 7:26.64, a performance nearly as good as his half-marathon. There is much more to come from this one.

Uganda may be the new Kenya; a rising nation of distance runners. And Cheptegei or perhaps Kandie will be the new Kipchoge, certainly, there is a potential rivalry in the making that could turn the running world’s attention to their performances.

And by the way, the autumn of 2021 is setting up to be one of the greatest marathon seasons to date with Berlin, London, Chicago, Boston, Toronto and New York all taking place within six weeks of each other.