CRITICS of the INEOS 1:59 Challenge described it as a ‘pantomime’ or ‘circus’ due to the fact it did not conform to the recognized rules of athletics. The only fun fair I saw in Vienna, though, was the large Wurstelprater amusement park that Eliud Kipchoge and his pacing team ran past several times on their way to breaking the two-hour barrier for the marathon.
The 34-year-old Kenyan ran 1:59:41 in a solo time trial using a pacing car and 41 elite athletes flitting in and out of the event to act as a wind shield. He also wore controversial new Nike shoes on a road that was resurfaced by the organizers to the tune of several million pounds.
For those reasons it will not be accepted as a world record and it has irritated the purists. Yet there are so many positive elements to come out of Kipchoge’s performance that I can’t understand why there have been so many negative comments about it in the past fortnight.
Some have questioned the estimated £15 million spent by organizers INEOS on the road improvements and general infrastructure involved in preparing Vienna’s Prater park for the event. Yet how much would it have cost to place such an inspirational story about running on the front pages of so many of the world’s newspapers and magazines, not to mention in the news bulletin broadcasts of television and radio stations in every corner of the planet.
Athletics rarely enjoys this kind of publicity. A total of 49 TV broadcasters aired the event to more than 200 territories with an estimated reach of 500 million people. The organizers’ own web stream has been viewed around 50 million times and soon after Kipchoge crossed the line he was the subject of five out of seven top trending topics on Twitter.
Even Barack Obama, the former President of the United States, tweeted about it, saying: “Yesterday, marathoner Eliud Kipchoge became the first ever to break two hours. Today in Chicago, Brigid Kosgei set a new women’s world record. Staggering achievements on their own, they’re also remarkable examples of humanity’s ability to endure—and keep raising the bar.”
On the course itself, Austrian police estimate 120,000 people were watching Kipchoge. Not all parts of the loop were packed with spectators but I bumped into several Brits at Bristol airport en route to the event – including members of Bitton Road Runners – and the finish area itself in the Prater was packed with fans two or three rows deep.
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