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March 9, 2022

Eliud Kipchoge Is The Greatest Of All-Time: There Is No Debate

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For those who don’t already know, Eliud Kipchoge is very good at the marathon. With two Olympic gold medals, nine major marathon victories, and perhaps the greatest PR “stunt” in our sport’s history, it is impossible to dispute his status as the greatest to ever do it. And that makes my job as the writer of an opinion-based track newsletter a whole lot harder. What’s the scintillating take here if everyone’s in agreement on the guy’s GOAT-ness?!

Alas. On Sunday morning in Tokyo, Kipchoge etched his name even deeper into the record books as his 2:02:40 winning time established a new Japanese soil record. The time is officially the fourth-fastest all-time; two of the spots ahead of it are his own world record (2:01:39) and his London Marathon course record (2:02:37).

From a race organizer’s standpoint, it’s in their best interest for Kipchoge to continue building his legend by winning the race, but he hasn’t exactly been dealt layups in terms of the fields he’s faced. In Tokyo the eventual second place finisher was Amos Kipruto, whose finishing time of 2:03:13 is now tied for ninth-fastest ever run. And in third place was Tamirat Tola in 2:04:14, whose resume includes an Olympic bronze medal, a World Championship silver and a marathon best of 2:03:39.

If I may reach for a lukewarm-at-best take to spin here, the one criticism of Kipchoge — remember, I said this is a reach— could be that he has never run a “hard” course. Who can blame him? Running fast is fun! But, with virtually every accomplishment checked, Kipchoge’s new arbitrary goal is to win every marathon major. That would be very cool, even if it’s still a relatively new series. It was founded in 2006 and Tokyo was added to the series in 2013.

That means he’ll have to race New York and Boston where there is more climbing, and no pacers. Do I think he can win under these circumstances? Obviously. He’s the best at this!

I’m more concerned with the tactical error he made from a negotiation standpoint. Kipchoge’s appearance fee must be astronomical — it’s a competitive market, locking down the sport’s biggest draw. But now that his intentions are public, he needs Boston and New York just as much as they need him. Why pay top dollar if he’s gonna run your race anyway?

Good luck getting in via the lottery system, Eliud! My suggestion would be to do the NYRR 9+1 program to get guaranteed entry the following year. That means your final major win will be on November 5, 2023 — what better way to celebrate your 39th birthday than at the 52nd running of the New York City Marathon?

Podcast Plug: New York Road Runners Professional Athletes Director Sam Grotewold was asked about what it would take to get Eliud Kipchoge to run the New York City Marathon on D3 GLory Days.

Podcast Plug: Eliud Kipchoge one-on-one on The CITIUS MAG Podcast last year after winning his second Olympic gold medal

If someone besides Eliud Kipchoge is going to win all six marathon majors, then it’ll likely be Brigid Kosgei. Her win at the Tokyo Marathon in 2:16:02 is now her third marathon major badge unlocked (with five titles overall) and the third-fastest time ever. The world record holder even had plenty of fast women behind her — fifth place finished in 2:19:10! But Kosgei still finished almost two minutes before second place.

It feels like the general running newsletter-consuming public is due to wake up to the brilliance that is Brigid Kosgei. The 16 seconds that separated her, earning the silver medal, from Peres Jepchirchir winning gold at the 2020 Olympics might have delayed her gaining the notoriety that she deserves on the biggest of stages. However, father (mother?) time is on Brigid’s side. She’s just 28 years old — it feels like we are in the process of witnessing the chosen one.

While it’s generally not fair to compare anyone to Eliud Kipchoge, consider this: for all that Brigid Kosgei has already accomplished in her career, at the same age, Kipchoge hadn’t even debuted in a marathon. Maybe in nine years we’ll be having a much more heated discussion about who the true GOAT is!


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