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Will Kipchoge Compete At The 2024 Olympics?

BY: Mark Dredge
15 March 2024

With 15 major marathon titles, two Olympic gold medals, five of the 10 best all-time marathons, and the two fastest non-official marathon times, Eliud Kipchoge is the world’s greatest male marathon runner.

But after a disappointing 10th place at the 2024 Tokyo Marathon, are we seeing Kipchoge’s era of dominance coming to end? And with the Olympic Games just a few months away, will he be picked to run for the Kenyan team and have a chance to defend his Olympic title?

THE 2:01 GUY

In Kenya, they talk about elite marathon runners as 2:0-something. As in he’s a 2:06 guy, or he’s a 2:09. Each drop down in time is a step up in respect.

As of early 2024, globally there have been 15 performances of 2:02 and faster, run by just nine men, with five Kenyans and four Ethiopians breaking that barrier. For comparison, around 100 men are 2:03 or 2:04 guys, showing the increasing difficulty of these diminishing times.

Kipchoge has run five times at 2:02 or better, and he’s one of only three 2:01 guys. In achieving this he’s run the second, fourth, eight, ninth and tenth fastest official marathons of all time. It’s only the late Kelvin Kiptum who has bettered Kipchoge, and he did so with his incredible world record of 2:00:35 at the 2023 Chicago Marathon.

Kipchoge was the first 2:01 guy, when he ran 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon to break the world record (which he’d hold until Kiptum’s 2:00). At the 2022 Berlin Marathon, Kipchoge lowered the world record by another 30 seconds, taking it down to 2:01:09. In that race he passed halfway in 59:51, and had many of us expectant that we were about to see the last great athletic milestone officially broken: the 1:59 marathon.

And we all knew Kipchoge was capable of it, because he’d already done it.

THE 1:59 GUY

In 2017, Kipchoge ran a marathon in 2:00:25.

As part of Nike’s Breaking2, his time-trial attempt was held on the Monza race track in Italy, engineered – literally, in every way possible, including the introduction of Nike’s Vaporfly running trainer – to create the conditions necessary to run a sub-two hour marathon. 

He was tantalisingly close – an average just one second per mile off the pace – but it represented a leap forward in time which was almost three minutes faster than Kipchoge’s then-best, and a leap towards an achievement which had long been discussed and disputed as to whether it was even humanly possible. Kipchoge believed that it was, and a little over two years later he’d prove it.

In October 2019, Kipchoge, flanked by a rotating pack of pacers, wore sail-white Nike Alphafly trainers as he followed a perfectly-timed pacing car on a perfectly coordinated loop up and down the perfectly-flat Prater Park in Vienna.

After 1:58 minutes of the INEOS1:59 Challenge, Kipchoge pushed through the pacemakers and sprinted “into the history books,” called race commentator Chris Dennis. “Neil Armstrong, we had on the moon in 1969. We had Roger Bannister, the four-minute mile, 65 years ago. Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Everest in 1953.” The inference was clear: we were witnessing human history.

Kipchoge pointed to the crowds and pointed to the timer, a display of emotion – even bravado – that he’d never shown us before. He soared across the finish line in 1:59:40 and he kept on running, straight into the arms of his wife, then his children, then his coach, and then the pacers who caught back up to him and lifted him up. 

It was one of the most extraordinary achievements ever witnessed, and though it wasn’t an official world record, it showed the world that it was possible to run 26.2 miles in under two hours.

THE 2:08 DOUBLE OLYMPIC CHAMPION GUY 

But does an historic and a singularly brilliant achievement guarantee Kipchoge gets one of Kenya’s three spots on the starting line of the Paris 2024 Olympic marathon? And could their selectors leave behind one of the most famous runners in the world in their search for gold?

Kenya will see the marathon as one of their best chances to win Olympic medals. More than half of the 30 fastest male marathoners during the 2024 Olympic qualifying window have been from Kenya, and going back to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Kenya have won three golds, a silver and a bronze. And let’s not forget that two of those golds belong to Eliud Kipchoge.

If Kipchoge runs in Paris, it’ll be his fifth Olympic Games – and he’s always returned to Kenya with a medal.

In the 2004 games in Athens, he won bronze in the 5,000m, returning to the same distance at Beijing 2008, where he won silver. His time of 13:02:80 was inside the Olympic record but was beaten by Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele’s time of 12:57.82 (those two runners have had long careers battling each other on the track and then the road, with Bekele one of the only other 2:01 guys).

Kipchoge wasn’t selected to run for Kenya at the 2012 games in London, which coincided with his transition towards marathons, but he made up for that by winning Olympic gold at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 (held in 2021). His times in those marathons were 2:08:44 and 2:08:38 – aside from his 2:09 at the 2023 Boston Marathon, they are the two slowest marathons of his career.

So how do those times, and the times of others, look ahead of Paris?

The official qualifying time for the men’s Olympic marathon for 2024 is 2:08:10. Only once has someone run the actual men’s Olympic marathon in under 2:08, and that was Sammy Wanjiru’s 2:06:32 in the 2008 games, which remains the Olympic record.

If we create a cut-off using the 2:08:10 standard, and the official marathon qualifying window of 1 Nov 2022 to 30 April 2024, then there have been 65 Kenyans who have run inside the time, and 31 of them have been under the Olympic marathon record – the Kenyan selectors have a deep field of athletes to choose from (Team GB, by contrast, have had two runners achieve the standard – with a few hopefuls targeting the time at the 2024 London Marathon). 

Of those Kenyan times, Kipchoge has run the third fastest, which he achieved at the 2023 Berlin Marathon. Benson Kipruto’s win in Tokyo was faster than Kipchoge’s time, while Kiptum’s world record remains the fastest. But if you look at the times from 2024, then five Kenyan runners finished ahead of Kipchoge at the Tokyo Marathon, and there are still some fast European marathons coming before the end of April, including Paris, Rotterdam, London and Hamburg, plus the Boston Marathon. 

Those races feature Evans Chebet, a 2:03 guy (2:03:00 to be exact); Alexander Mutiso Munyao, another 2:03 guy who also ran a 59:17 half marathon in February; Geoffrey Kamworor, who ran 2:04 at the 2023 London Marathon, and has twice won the New York City Marathon.

Regardless of those other performances, we still expect that Kipchoge will be selected for the Paris 2024 Olympic games, and Kipruto seems a strong choice. But who will make the final three? What kind of historic performances would be needed for someone to take Kipchoge’s place? 

One other consideration is the aura of Kipchoge. In any race he starts, there’s an expectation that he’ll finish as the winner. Kipchoge is a smart runner and will run his race. If others want to run Kipchoge’s race with him then they can try. Sometimes they will win, but if we look at his record, then most of the time they will suffer hard, and fall away. If a 2:08 stands next to Kipchoge, do they even think about gold? 

WHAT’S NEXT FOR KIPCHOGE? 

This also asks an even bigger question: with Kipchoge turning 40 in November 2024, how much longer will he continue as an elite marathon runner?

In January 2020, Kipchoge announced that he wanted to win all the Abbott’s World Marathon Majors. He currently has four of the six (Chicago, London, Berlin and Tokyo) and he ran the 2023 Boston Marathon where he finished in 6th place. He has yet to run the New York City Marathon. Assuming he does run in Paris, will he try to run a third marathon in the year and go to New York? Will he return to Boston in 2025 and perhaps double-up with New York? They are not world record courses (Boston isn’t an eligible course even if a world best time is run there), so choosing these races over London, Berlin and Chicago means conceding that he’s no longer a 2:00 guy – or even a 1:59 guy.

But then at some point running becomes less about wins and records, and it transitions into something important in other ways.

Soon after winning the 2022 Berlin Marathon, Kipchoge explained on the Feel Better, Live More podcast that he’ll run for as long as his body and his mind can still consume the training. In that interview he also said that he plans to continue running marathons long after he steps back from the elite start line, joining the rest of us in the main corrals (imagine lining up next to Kipchoge!) where he’ll run to raise money for charity and for his foundation. 

“The meaning of running is that you inspire many people and you still run and show them running is life,” he said. Removing barriers in people’s minds, like the two-hour marathon, is a great thing, “but you have to keep on.” If he stops running, he stops inspiring people. 

We’ve excitedly followed Eliud Kipchoge’s career for many years, and we hope to see him running for many more years. Perhaps more than any other person, he’s inspired people to run – and that matters to us, and to millions of other people all around the world. 

Will Eliud Kipchoge be competing for his third Olympic gold medal in a row? Will he become the first able-bodied athlete to win all six World Marathon Majors? Is there one more shot at a 1:59? At what point does he start jogging marathons and become a 3:15 guy?! Whatever happens, we’ll be there watching. 

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