Marathon

Eliud Kipchoge runs on his way to break the historic two hour barrier for a marathon in Vienna, Saturday, Oct. 12. Eliud Kipchoge has become the first athlete to run a marathon in less than two hours, although it will not count as a world record. The Olympic champion and world record holder from Kenya clocked 1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds Saturday at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, an event set up for the attempt. Jed Leicester / The INEOS 1:59 Challenge via AP

VIENNA -- Roger Bannister, 1954. Neil Armstrong, 1969. Eliud Kipchoge, 2019?

Like the sub-four minute mile and walking on the moon, running a marathon in less than two hours had seemed impossible -- until Saturday, Oct. 12. So when Olympic champion Kipchoge broke the barrier, the question arose as to where to rank his achievement in historical context.

The 34-year-old Kenyan completed the 26.2 miles in 1 hour, 59 minutes, 40.2 seconds at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, an event set up for the attempt.

Ahead of the event, Kipchoge even compared the feat to being "like the first man on the moon." Afterward, he drew comparisons to Bannister, the late Briton who 65 years ago became the first athlete to run a mile in under four minutes.

"It is a great feeling to make history in sport after Sir Roger Bannister," Kipchoge said. "I am the happiest man in the world to be the first human to run under two hours and I can tell people that no human is limited. I expect more people all over the world to run under two hours after today."

With all variables tailored to his advantage, it was still the full marathon distance but it was no regular marathon race, which means his jaw-dropping finishing time will not be ratified by IAAF.

Different to an ordinary race, event organizers had set a nine-day window to be flexible and stage the run in the best possible weather conditions.

Also, Kipchoge was supported throughout his run by 36 pacers who accompanied him in alternating groups, with five athletes running ahead of him in a V-shape and two others closely following.

Unlike a normal race, a timing car just in front of the pack also helped keep the scheduled pace, and was equipped with a laser beam, projecting the ideal position on the road, parts of which also had painted stripes to indicate the optimum running line.

Furthermore, Kipchoge received drinks handed over by a cyclist to prevent him from having to slow down.

Even though his attempt was never meant to set an official world record, Kipchoge was understandably delighted and twice punched his chest in celebration while smiling when he finished.

"That was the best moment of my life," he said, before adding that he trained 4 months for his extraordinary race against the clock. "The pressure was very big on my shoulders. I got a phone call from the president of Kenya."

In a statement, President Uhuru Kenyatta said: "Hearty congratulations, Eliud Kipchoge. You've done it, you've made history and made Kenya proud. Your win today will inspire future generations to dream big and aspire to greatness."

Kipchoge was cheered by thousands along the course in Prater Park and there were celebrations in his home country before he had even finished.

Hundreds of joyous Kenyans brought traffic to a standstill in the middle of the capital, Nairobi, as they gathered to watch the end of the run on a large screen. People pumped their fists, clapped and fell to their knees as Kipchoge cruised to the finish line.

In Kenya's running mecca of Eldoret, called the home of champions, hundreds of people burst on to the streets in celebration.

Running at an average pace ofaround 4:33 per mile, Kipchoge was 11 seconds ahead of schedule halfway through his run. He then maintained his tempo until the paceers left him for the final 500 meters, where he sped up.

"I was really calm, I was just trying to maintain the pace," said Kipchoge, adding he was never in doubt about breaking the barrier. "For me it was not 50-50, it was 90%."

Organizers said normal anti-doping regulations were in place and that Kipchoge and all the pacers were being tested in and out of competition by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU).

Kipchoge, who took Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and has won 10 of his 11 marathons, holds the official world record of 2:01:39 since shattering the previous best mark by 78 seconds in Berlin last year.

In the near-perfect circumstances at the meticulously planned attempt, Kipchoge shaved almost two minutes off that time.

After missing out on qualification for the 2012 London Olympics on the track, Kipchoge switched to the marathon and has since been pushing the boundaries of the discipline. But he still faces one big challenge -- to run under two hours in a regular marathon race.

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