Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele should have spent this week finalising their preparations for the London Marathon but the two best distance runners in history are instead out alone on the trails of East Africa not knowing when they will race again.
Sunday’s planned showdown between the only two men to have gone under two hours, two minutes for the classic distance was an early victim of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although the race has been rescheduled for Oct. 4, it is far from certain if it will take place, in what form and whether the two superstars will be on the start line if it does.
“It would have been our 40th race and we think it would have been an incredible day,” London Marathon race director Hugh Brasher told a teleconference on Friday.
“We hope we can welcome them back in October but at this stage we just don’t know what is going to happen.
“We have to look at it in totality, with three quarters of a million spectators, the medical side, the charities — we are looking at probably 10 scenarios, and they are changing all the time,” said Brasher.
He added that staging an “elite-only” race, as run in Tokyo last month, was one of those options.
September’s Berlin Marathon has been cancelled and Brasher said, without revealing details, that he was in regular discussions with other major race directors where some “radical ideas” were being evaluated.
Brasher said last year’s London Marathon raised over 66 million pounds ($81.34 million) for charity.
In an attempt to help plug an estimated four billion pounds hole in charity fundraising across all events this year, it has helped set up the 2.6 Challenge where athletes, celebrities and the public are doing their own fundraising activities.
For athletics fans, however, it is the absence of what Kipchoge said “could have been the best race ever” that will be leaving them feeling particularly hollow this Sunday morning.
Kenya’s Kipchoge, the first man to run a sub-two hour marathon, in an unofficial race, is the defending champion and would have been chasing a record fifth London title.
Bekele, from Ethiopia, still holds the world records over 5,000 and 10,000 metres and last year got within two seconds of Kipchoge’s 2:01:39 official marathon best.
Now, instead of being the focus of the world’s sporting attention when “something special might have happened” according to Bekele, they, like millions of others, are doing their best to stay fit and keep their spirits up during lockdown.
“Training alone affects my physical and mental state,” Kipchoge told the teleconference from his home in Eldoret. “Physically I’m training to make sure I’m fit but with a team you train to be in your best-ever shape.
“Mentally, running alone, thinking alone, for an hour you can start feeling tired. I have been with a team for the last 15 years and this is really crazy for me and not comfortable at all.”
Bekele agreed. “It’s not nice to run alone and it’s not possible to run together here in Ethiopia so it’s really difficult to prepare well,” he said. “I’m praying this will be all over soon.”
In the wake of another Kenyan doping case last week, when 2017 London Marathon winner Daniel Wanjiru was provisionally suspended, there has been concern that the coronavirus lockdown, would present a “window of opportunity” for potential dopers in a country with a wretched recent record.
Kipchoge, however, said he had confidence in the agencies involved. “Two weeks ago I was tested at home – following social distancing rules,” he said. “The testers have passes to allow them to move around so I don’t think it will be a problem.”