World Male Athlete of the Year Eliud Kipchoge’s achievement in 2019 included the far-from-inconsiderable feat of winning a second successive London Marathon title – and a record fourth in all – something he did in 2:02:37, the second fastest performance ever at that time behind his official world record of 2:01:39.
But it was his second major achievement, in which he became the first person to run the marathon distance within two hours, which resonated throughout and beyond the world of athletics.
The effort, achieved over 4.4 laps of the flat Hauptallee course in Vienna’s Prater Park on 12 October, came within the self-styled INEOS 1:59 Challenge.
It did not count as an official world record as it was a collaborative rather than a competitive affair, with Kipchoge being handed fluids by his support team throughout and benefiting from rotating teams of aerodynamically arranged pacers and a pace car throwing down a green laser marker.
But the sight of the 34-year-old 2003 world 5000m champion and Olympic marathon champion breaking clear of his final phalanx of world-class assistants over the final lap and pointing repeatedly to the line before crossing it in 1:59:40.2 was extraordinary and unforgettable.
And witnessed all around the world.
The event was broadcast live to more than 200 territories from 49 broadcasters, with a live reach of more than 500 million.
The YouTube live stream of the run reached a peak of 779,000 concurrent viewers as Kipchoge crossed the finish line just before 10:15am CEST. The YouTube stream of the event had 4.9million views within two days of the run.
As was revealed soon afterwards, densely packed crowds had been following the effort back in Kipchoge’s native Eldoret, and reacted to his success with joy.
Before and after his run, Kipchoge had repeated a keynote message: no human is limited.
His achievement was widely compared to that of Roger Bannister, who in 1954 became the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes.
Among those acknowledging his breakthrough was the former US President Barack Obama, who tweeted: “Yesterday, marathoner Eliud Kipchoge became the first ever to break two hours. Today in Chicago, Brigid Kosgei set a new women’s world record. Staggering achievements on their own, they’re also remarkable examples of humanity’s ability to endure—and keep raising the bar.”
Yesterday, marathoner Eliud Kipchoge became the first ever to break two hours. Today in Chicago, Brigid Kosgei set a new women’s world record. Staggering achievements on their own, they’re also remarkable examples of humanity’s ability to endure—and keep raising the bar.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) October 13, 2019
While Kipchoge was not able to be present on the night at the World Athletics Awards 2019 at Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, he was present on a live link and was uncharacteristically lost for words when asked about the Obama tweet.
“Wow!” he said. “It was really a good response. I was utterly overwhelmed … I’m still overwhelmed. I hope in future I might meet Barack Obama in person. He is the first black person to be President of the United States, and he is the best human being and deliverer of the fact that no man is limited.
“I am happy to be the first man to break the barrier of running the marathon in under two hours – just to break the barrier.
“I hope I have inspired the younger generation, and the whole human family. And I trust that everybody can be positive in their own life. In general I am really happy for making history.
“I had a big, big and a great team around me – my coaches, management, my training partners, nutritionists, all the sponsors. They did all they could, and it was massively and hugely successful.
“I think it was a big inspiration to other athletes, and now the athletes, I think in the near future, will run under two hours. Running under two hours – it is possible.”
The day before, Kichoge’s compatriot Brigid Kosgei, a finalist for the women’s World Athlete of the Year award, had reflected on his influence on her own performance the day after his Vienna run, saying that she had watched his race live on screen the day before.
“I felt inspired,” she said, adding: “I decided to persevere with my own goal, to run more positively and see what was possible.”
Like the man said – no human is limited…
Mike Rowbottom for World Athletics