18 September 2018

Kenya: Unsung Heroes Behind Record Holder Kipchoge

Eliud Kipchoge's spartan life at the monastery-like Global Sports Communication (GSC) training camp in Kaptagat, his attention to detail and philosophical approach to an austere life makes him stand out among his peers.

There was no doubt that if there was anyone to beat Dennis Kimetto's marathon world record of two hours, two minutes and 57 seconds, then it would be the Olympic champion.

His patience, resilience and focus finally paid off when he crossed the iconic Brandenburg gate to slice one minute, 18 seconds off Kimetto's record by winning the 45th Berlin Marathon in 2:01:39.

Rave reviews greeted his latest feat in the German political capital, with his long-time manager and ex-athlete, Jos Hermens, summing up the achievement as a result of "handling the details perfectly."

"His training, recovery, handling of drinks and mindset were good," Hermens, Director at the star-studded, Nijmegen-based Dutch sports management company, GSC, told me on telephone from Berlin after Sunday's earth-shattering performance.

"He was in an amazing shape," Marleen Rennings, GSC's Marketing Manager added.

"He just needed to wait for the right circumstances in the race.

"The marathon is a distance you should respect and although Eliud has always been ready, he was waiting for the right moment."

Valentijn Trouw, the Athletes' Manager at GSC, chips in that planning was key in the build-up to Berlin.

"After winning the London Marathon, Eliud took about one good month of rest before starting his preparation towards Berlin," Trouw explains.

Hermens, Marleen, Trouw and, most significantly, coach Patrick Sang, represent a strong backroom team that made Kipchoge's record attempt on Sunday successful.

Often the unsung heroes and heroines.

Of course, the Olympic champion's family (wife Grace and children Lynne Jebet, Griffin Kiprono and Gordon Kiprop), represent an integral part of his support system.

Kipchoge's management team includes Peter Nduhiu, one of Kenya's finest physiotherapists who has handled scores of Kenyan track and field champions and, in recent times, also a vital part of the GSC stable.

Sang, the 1992 Barcelona Olympics steeplechase silver medalist and former Nandi County Government's first sports executive, has been a huge inspiration to the 33-year-old Kipchoge since he noted his distance running potential as a teenager, guiding him to victory in the junior race at the World Cross Country Championships in 2003 before the big break, a gold medal in the 5,000 metres on the track at the World Championships in Paris the same year.

Kipchoge's shoe sponsors, Nike, have been instrumental to his maturity on the road, with the well choreographed "Breaking Two" campaign, in which they sought to break the two-hour barrier in the marathon, perhaps spurring the Olympic champion to world record glory.

At Nike's headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, the American sportswear manufacturer's research and development team has always involved Kipchoge in the development of his running shoe.

Nike were a bit embarrassed when, in 2015, the in-soles of the Streak 6 racing shoe flipped out with Kipchoge braving the malfunction to still win the Berlin Marathon.

Unperturbed, he said the show merely needed small adjustments.

"The shoe (Nike Streak 6) doesn't need any research. It's only a matter on glueing and it's done!," he told me after winning the race in 2:04:00, before paying glowing tribute to the team at Nike, at some point going philosophical.

"I totally appreciate the Nike technicians... they are resourceful people... remember, in life, challenges must be present," he said then, before throwing in some marketing for the brand.

"I urge my fans to run to Nike stores and grab this version immediately it's out."

And this they did, before also responding favourably to the arrival of the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite, a version of the shoe Kipchoge used in the "Breaking Two" campaign.

And after shattering the world record on Sunday, Kipchoge will most certainly delay his return home to embark on some promotional engagements for Nike, BMW Berlin Marathon organisers and his other backers, including drinks specialists Maurten.

"In sport you need to have a good team. That's why, in terms of where I'm going to run next, I'm going to have a full discussion with the management, with the sponsors, technical team, coaching team. It's part of the team where they hold me in their hands," he said at the post-race press conference in Berlin on Sunday.

Hermens, Rennings, Trouw, Sang, Nduhiu and the team at Nijmegen most certainly have their hands full at the moment as they strategize the next big thing for the distance running sensation.

Most certainly, another attempt at "Breaking Two" will be in Kipchoge's cross-hairs.

But for now, he can sit back, relax and probably travel to the "Big Apple" to motivate his GSC stable-mate, training partner and rising superstar Geoffrey Kamworor in his attempt to keep the New York Marathon title on November 4.

Why not? Because Kamworor, too, has been an integral part of Kipchoge's support system alongside the group of training partners, coaching staff, cooks and the orderlies at Kaptagat.

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