This year, Eliud Kipchoge, the son a single-mother school-teacher hailing from the Northern Rift Valley, broke the world record in the marathon by 78 seconds. In some respects, it was almost a foregone conclusion that he would some day set the world record.
He is the most recent Olympic gold medalist in the event and has never run slower than 2:05:30 in the event when not competing in a championship race (i.e. the Olympics). After watching him run 2:00:25 in the highly publicized (and marketed) Breaking2 event, the world was ready for him to assume the helm as greatest-of-all-time and he was already considered by many, including myself, as the best-ever.
It even got to the point where Kipchoge winning and running 2:04:17 at the 2018 London Marathon was a bit of a disappointment, which, as fans of him, is an insane sentiment to harbor. Sure, it was 74 degrees Fahrenheit and the professional pacers somehow botched the first 5K, taking the race out in an outrageous 13:48 (4:22 first mile) and 61 minutes for the first half. Eliud still found a way to win.
Transcending performance, Kipchoge has become a symbol for perseverance and the long-game. Sure, Kipchoge is extremely gifted in running and has been winning on a world stage for nearly two decades. The dominance started just two years after he starting training with Patrick Sang and soon enough, he was beating guys named Kenenisa Bekele and Hicham El Guerrouj in the 2003 World Championship 5,000 meters final. The presumption that he would have a great running career is not that provocative. Given all of this, his 2:01:39 is still outrageous.
It’s become an ideogram of something previously thought of as at best extremely unlikely and more reasonably, probably impossible in this lifetime.
The magnitude of Eliud’s contribution to the sport this year can be measured in pure, quantitative terms. However, he has also provided inspiration to scores of athletes to scrutinize their own goals and maybe think a little bigger. All this makes him my male athlete of the year.