And the Olympics comes to an end with a worthy performance.
I was going to write about meditation being a superpower, but this felt so much better to write about due to timing. With the men’s marathon being the last event of the athletics it always tends to have a little more weight about it. It has some great history and has had some historically brilliant athletes win it, as well as surprises.
With no prize money at stake, no pace makers and in this case brutal weather there always seems to be a greater purity about winning the Olympic marathon. In Kipchoge’s case he was aiming to be the third athlete to retain his title (this in itself an incredible achievement, probably slightly more so than retaining a track title) and was now running against the backdrop of slight doubt, for the first time in his career. Coming 8th in London earlier this year, the reasons he gave of illness begun to create pundits to postulate on whether he was vulnerable, whether his reign was coming to an end – which of course it must. His unparalleled consistency has been a thing of beauty and also unique rareness. To step up to a world marathon, be the overwhelming favourite and deliver time and time again (13 of 15 marathons he’s won) is something I doubt I will ever see again and hope that I don’t. So would Kipchoge deliver last night
The marathon itself started at 11:00pm UK time, which meant coffee and the expectation to drop off on the sofa from time to time. I managed to do this for the women’s marathon the night before, having a mid race slump, then revitalised. However the mens was setting off an hour later and I knew I would find this tricky. As the race got underway it settled into a different pattern to the women’s. The men seemed far less able to pace themselves sensibly – nor wanted to with a lot more noticeably dropping out earlier. Something that many of the men could learn from the women (and Chris Thompson the older British athlete showed) in running to your capabilities and finishing the race, as opposed to going out for something that just isn’t achievable. By half way the leading men’s group had dwindled down to around 15 athletes. Galen Rupp of the US still looking OK, Kipchoge had fist bumped a Brazilian runner around 20k in. So competitive but still relaxed. At this point it seemed to settle down into the waiting game.
There wasn’t too long to wait, as on hitting 30K Kipchoge did the thing he is so capable of doing and does so consistently, he just ups the pace to see who can go with him. He doesn’t surge, he simply speeds up and holds. Quote amazingly (in light of the heat around high 70 degrees and 75% humidity) he dropped the pace down to a 2:02 equivalent, leading to a 14:28 5k from 30 – 35km and leaving him with an unassailable 70 second lead. Having gone for a 30K run this morning I finished and considered what Kipchoge had done. In terms of times I can’t relate, but I can relate to the idea of having got that far, you just go to another gear and move on. Something that blows my mind in terms of just how able he is to do that.
The way he did this was brilliant, speeds up his cadence, extra force and glides away from the rest. No extra sweat, an almost imperceptible smile on his face belying the extra effort and away he goes. No-one else could follow and so Kipchoge had to run the last 10K as a solo effort. In itself this fitting as he has been out on his own in the world of marathons for such a long time.
Watching him win, then stop and look so fresh was staggering. He really didn’t look like he had just run 26.1 miles in really tricky conditions. He then got to watch a great race for silver and bronze, which provided a similarly warming moment to the 2 high jumpers sharing gold. There were 3 runners closing for 2 places. 2 as training partners, versus another Kenyan. Abdi Nageeye turning and willing his training partner Bashir Abdi on, confident that it wouldn’t jeopardise his place (or maybe winning a medal without his partner doing the same would have been empty). To see this, when both athletes are done, was a thing of beauty and a fitting end to the marathon.
What Kipchoge does next, who knows, but the man is humble, determined and utterly focused. His demeanour is inspiring, the way he talks soft and the way he carries himself something for us all to admire and learn from. He quietly goes about what he needs to do. The respect that he is held in clear from watching the other athletes around him during a race. I am looking forward to the film he is releasing later this year.