Battle of shoes as Kipchoge trains eyes on English crown
World marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge.

With focus shifting to the showdown in London, many expect the world record to be shattered when champion Eliud Kipchoge faces off with Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia.

Bekele, at 38, is older than Kipchoge by three years. They will race over a 1.9-kilometre loop more than 22 times. Their joint agent, Jos Hermens, said could allow them to run faster than the traditional London marathon course.

Kipchoge has won eight consecutive major marathons since 2013, including Chicago (once), Berlin (three times) and London (four times). Ten times, he has stopped the clock at 2:05:00 or faster. He has beaten Bekele four times in marathon, though the Ethiopian has a better record against him on the track.

But the focus will be on what each takes home from the race. Of late, a majority of athletes may have been forced to forfeit their bonuses despite having legal contracts with top shoe manufacturing companies. 

Shoe contracts in athletics are individual deals athletes sign with top sports apparel makers like Nike, Adidas, Puma, Fila and Reebok. These contracts have bonus clauses for specified targets. For example, Nike athletes must race every six months to receive a retainer. 

With London marathon champion Kipchoge and Berlin winner Bekele not having raced since the former’s landmark under-two-hour marathon record in Vienna, Austria in October last year; and the latter’s win at Germany’s capital in September respectively, their only earning from the race will be the prize money and appearance fees in their showdown in the English capital. 

At his prime, Bekele commanded an appearance fee of Sh15 million ($150,000), but with injuries and loss of form taking the winds out of his sail, that figure has since plummeted. He would be contented with the Sh5 million ($50,000) prize. Their clash would be an interesting one, especially after he caused a stir in Berlin by missing Kipchoge’s world record (2:01:39) by just two seconds, clocking 2:01:41.

According to Athletics Kenya officials, track and field fans generally have no idea how much money their favourite athletes make as endorsement contracts are private. 

According to Letsrun.com, Kipchoge is unquestionably a better marathoner than America’s Galen Rupp, yet, the Olympic marathon bronze medallist attracts higher appearance fees than any marathon runner.

Battle of shoes as Kipchoge trains eyes on English crown
The Nike Alpafly running shoes which Eliud Kipchoge is set to use at the London marathon on Sunday October 4, 2020. [Stephen Rutto, Standard]

Kipchoge is the greatest marathoner in history. His times and medal record on the track were better than Rupp’s. But Kipchoge is Kenyan, whereas Rupp has been the male face of American distance running for much of this decade, and as a result, Nike pays Rupp over $200,000 per year more than Kipchoge.

This year’s London marathon will be a largely modified event because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic 

 The London Marathon winner has traditionally taken home $55,000 prize money. However, in 2020, that has been slashed down, in what has also been revised to an elites-only race. Earlier in the year, the Tokyo Marathon was run on empty roads, also as an elites-only race.

Organisers said the prize money will be reduced by nearly half for both the men’s and women’s events. In total, the race dished out $313,000 in winnings last year. Another $850,000 was up for grabs for time bonuses.

Interestingly, the race organisers announced that the have created a separate prize pool for the best performing British athletes. No details have emerged on the size of the special purse.

However, what will come into sharp focus will be the war of shoes. Nike’s controversial Vaporfly shoes are believed to be helping runners storm to world records.

Kipchoge and the New York City Marathon winner Geoffrey Kamworor have been winning in Nike shoes. The former wore a pair during the INEOS 1:59 challenge in Vienna last October when he ran 1:59:40, becoming the first man to run a marathon in under two hours.

Battle of shoes as Kipchoge trains eyes on English crown
Kipchoge with the Nike Alpafly running shoe. [Stephen Rutto, Standard]

The Sh26,000 neon shoes come in bright green, pink and orange colours, and have featured in nearly every historic athletics competition in recent years.

According to researchers, the shoes’ foam and carbon fibre soles are designed to ensure that less energy is lost with each step in a run. 

“The athlete runs the race, but the shoe enables them to run it faster for the same effort or ability,” George Burns, a kinesiology researcher and pro-runner was quoted saying earlier this year.

During the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, Kipchoge was wearing a prototype of the Nike Vaporfly called AlphaFly, that hasn’t hit the market yet.

Women’s champion Brigid Kosgei, who is leading the women’s elite field in London, was also wearing Vaporfly in last year’s Chicago Marathon where she broke the world record of 2:14:04.

Current Vaporfly models have 1.4-inch thick soles, while midsoles of other racing shoes generally hover around 1 inch. Reports have indicated that it is 35 grammes lighter compared to ordinary running shoes.

The London Marathon holds the Guinness World Record as the largest annual fundraising event on the planet. Since its start in 1981, runners have raised more than $1.1 billion for various charities, according to Virgin Money.

 A third of all entry places are offered by charitable organisations.

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