(Kaptagat) “The priority is the Olympics and winning a third time”: two months after his disappointment in the Boston marathon, the Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge affirms in an interview with AFP his desire to continue writing his legend next year in Paris.
In recent years, the man who is considered the greatest marathon runner in history has set himself many challenges, insatiable despite his two Olympic titles (2016, 2021), his world record (2:01:09 in Berlin in 2022) and his ten “major” marathon victories in ten years of dominance over the queen distance.
He worked to break the mythical two-hour bar to cover the 42.195 kilometers, which he achieved in 2019 during an unsanctioned race organized by his sponsor (1:59:40). He also lacks victories at the Boston and New York marathons to become the first man to win all six “majors”.
But at almost 39, “the priority now is to focus on the Olympics and winning a third time. The others (challenges) will come” later, Eliud Kipchoge said in an interview with AFP at his Kenyan training camp in Kaptagat, on the Rift Valley plateaus.
His two Olympic marathon gold medals put him on par with Ethiopian Abebe Bikila (1960, 1964) and Germany’s Waldemar Cierpinski (1976, 1980). A third would make him the undisputed giant of the discipline at the Games.
It would also have a strong symbolic value in the city where he had won his first international crown in 2003, at the age of 18: a title of world champion in the 5000 meters ahead of two sports legends, the Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj and the Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele.
Kipchoge does not rule out giving up on his other challenges. “If the time comes to hang up the running shoes, I’ll say goodbye to other great things in sport,” he said.
Sitting on a shady bench in the Kaptagat camp where he has lived and trained for several months a year for 20 years, he looks back on his poor performance on April 17 at the Boston Marathon, where he had taken the lead at the 30th kilometer and finished sixth.
This rare failure marked the spirits, including his.
“I’m trying to forget what happened in Boston,” he says in his unfazed voice. It’s still in the back of my mind, the mind is still crossed by certain things, but I trust that it’s gone […] What happened has happened”.
With his lifelong coach Patrick Sang, he analyzed the reasons for this poor performance: “It’s mainly (a problem with) my hamstring”.
He brushes aside concerns about his difficulties on hilly courses, such as those in Boston and New York and as will be the Paris Games.
“It’s not really a concern, but I respect everyone’s opinion. I think it was a bad day. I look forward to next year. […] Everyone can write what they want, I don’t control it. But I know myself,” he says.
“I’m fine, training is going well,” he says, as he prepares for his last marathon of the year, without announcing the location, a priori between Berlin (September 24), Chicago (October 8 ) and New York (5 November). “At the end of July, I will know where I am going.”
He follows his regular training schedule, clocking in at more than 200 kilometers a week on the red dirt roads of the Kaptagat forest, at 2,400 meters above sea level.
Among the 20 or so training partners present at camp at the time of the interview are new 1500m and 5000m world record holder Faith Kipyegon and two-time New York Marathon winner (2017, 2019) Geoffrey Kamworor.
Respected dean of Kenyan athletics, Eliud Kipchoge does not take a dim view of the emergence of his compatriot Kelvin Kiptum (23), winner on April 23 of the London Marathon in 2:01:25, the second best time in history, just 16 seconds off his world record.
“I want to be an inspiration and I hope that having broken the world record twice is an inspiration to many young people. I hope they want more and beat my records,” he said.
But in a country where athletics has been singled out by international bodies as being plagued by large-scale doping, he opposes athletes who “take shortcuts” to success.
“The doping is there,” he admits.
According to him, “everything has to be put in the controls”. “I think testing is 80% and awareness is only 20%, because anyone who does drugs…knows what’s going on.”
“As long as we prioritize testing, where we map out who’s looking after athletes across the country, we’ll have the right data to know who’s who,” he said: “But if we ignore (who) the people who work with the athletes and the athletes themselves really are, we are in danger. »