South African marathon runner Stephen Mokoka and the legendary Hendrick Ramaala say Eliud Kipchoge’s historic sub-two-hour marathon record yesterday is a huge boost for long-distance running.
The 34-year-old Kenyan made history by clocking an unofficial time of 1 hour 59 minutes and 40 seconds in an exhibition race in Vienna, Austria.
Although it was just one man racing against the clock, Ramaala and Mokoka believe Kipchoge has left a mark, especially if history repeats itself in an official marathon.
“The lesson we can take from Kipchoge is that teamwork won the day. He had all the support to do it and it showed that he was psychologically ready to break the barrier,” said Mokoka.
The Mahikeng runner was one of the pacemakers in Kipchoge’s previous attempt, dubbed Breaking2, in Italy in 2017 when he fell just 25 seconds short of his goal.
“I was a bit sceptical at first, but I changed my mind after meeting him. He is a humble person, but he is different in a race due to his dedication. If a sub-two-hour marathon was to happen in an official race in future, it would take all the contenders to be in the same shape as Kipchoge to do it.”
Kipchoge, the Olympic champion and world record holder over the classic 42km distance, achieved the feat yesterday with a team of 41 pacemakers who were guided by lasers projected on to the road by a lead car.
Because these aided the conditions, Kipchoge’s achievement will not count as an official world record.
Ramaala, the 2004 New York Marathon winner, said: “Whether it’s an unofficial time or not – this was a mental barrier. Personally, I am inspired that it took a determined human being to run a marathon in less than two hours.
The lessons we can take from Kipchoge’s effort as South Africans is that our sport can flourish if corporate firms were to invest heavily in athletics.
“Ineos [a private UK multinational chemicals company] and Nike shared a common dream in Kipchoge’s case – they wanted to break a barrier and they achieved that. My guys [Ramaala’s team] were watching and it’s all about inspiring the next generation,” he said.
Ramaala managed Team SA’s marathon team at the recent IAAF World Championships in Qatar, where Mokoka finished fifth, the best placing by a South African in the competition.
Ironically, Mokoka went to Qatar after smashing Ramaala’s long-standing 21km record. Mokoka broke the 60-minute barrier at the Buenos Aires Half Marathon in Argentina in August.
He finished fourth, but his time of 59:51 took 16 seconds off the 1:00:07 set by Ramaala in 1997.
“It’s all about the belief. In Kipchoge’s case, he believed he could do it after he came 25 seconds short in Monza [Italy],” said Ramaala.
“They did their homework this time and, most importantly, the [sponsors] came on board. But still, one can’t take away that Kipchoge did it with his dedication to break the last barrier in athletics – the marathon.”
Ramaala said it was going to be a huge challenge to break the two-hour mark in an official race. The official world record stands at 2:01:39, set by Kipchoge in the Berlin Marathon last year.
The jubilant Kenyan said: “I am feeling good. It has taken 65 years for a human to make history in sport. After Roger Bannister [running a sub-four-minute mile in 1954] it took another 65 years … I’m happy to be the man to run under two hours. No human is limited, and I’m expecting more people to do it after today.”