Sunday April 18th, 2021
Twente Airport, Netherlands
Eliud Kipchoge will bid to resume winning ways in his last race before the Tokyo games with around 70 runners looking to make the Olympic qualification standard on April 18th in Twente.
After suffering a rare marathon defeat in London last October, reigning Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge makes his return at the NN Mission Marathon in 2021. It is set to be an elite-only affair with around 70 invited athletes trying to achieve Olympic qualification times and complete their preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, just three months away.
The race was originally due to take place in Hamburg on 11 April on a closed loop circuit, but it was announced at the end of March that local Covid-19 restrictions would prevent it being staged in the German city.
Now it has been moved to Twente Airport in the Netherlands on April 18. The world was stunned six months ago when Kipchoge, the sub-two-hour man and world record holder, was beaten in a special 2020 London Marathon.
Postponed from April due to Covid-19 restrictions, a closed loop London course race was held in St James's Park with the contest billed as a duel between Kipchoge and his former track rival, three-time Olympic athletics gold medalist Kenenisa Bekele.
The Ethiopian pulled out through injury two days before the race, with cold and wet conditions dispelling any thoughts of a world record attempt. And the unthinkable happened when Kipchoge started to lose touch with the leaders inside the final 5km and Shura Kitata took victory.
The Kenyan hero suffered with a blocked ear and hip discomfort as he eventually finished in eighth place,the first time he had finished out of the top two in a marathon and his first defeat at the distance since his debut in Berlin in April 2013.
Speaking before the Hamburg postponement, Kipchoge Told NN Running Team he was in "great mental and physical shape". "My number one goal is to run a beautiful race. We are in a situation where a lot of us have been down but I feel we are now in a transition towards a brighter future.
"A beautiful race will give people hope. It is another step that we are on the right track to normality." Like many athletes across the world, Kipchoge had his training interrupted by goverment measures to control the spread of coronavirus. He admitted, "It was really hard to go training and not mix with people to fight the virus. I am happy to have since resumed training with the team, but we continue to make sure we do so safely within the protocols because the virus is still with us.
"Life has been hard but that is the way of the world – we need to get through it but I think we are on the right track to a brighter future." And the 36-year-old is keen to look beyond his own journey as an athlete at the bigger picture for people in these troubled times.
"Life cannot stop, it does not stop for a single second. But what everyone should know is, the pandemic is just one of life’s challenges. Marathons are just like life, there are ups and downs every kilometer. Every mile there is a challenge. Kipchoge is expected to have some familiar faces around him as he bids to make a statement ahead of Tokyo. It's thought that there will be 12 pacemakers in the field including Victor Chumo who helped Kipchoge to his historic sub-two-hour-run in Vienna in October 2019.
Before the Hamburg postponement, Chumo's assignment for the NN Mission Marathon was to hit halfway in 64:45 and set a tempo for a marathon time of 2:10:00. A former winner of the Lille Half Marathon in a personal best time of 60:03, 33-year-old Chuma told NN Running Team how he assisted Kipchoge before the Vienna race.
"Ahead of the INEOS 1:59 Challenge I practised running ahead of Eliud in training, so I could get used to running at the right pace and he could get used to my stride length. "I really enjoy the role of pacemaker because you know that you are helping someone. At some point in the future you hope the favor will be repaid, but I know at the moment it is my turn to help others.
"When you do a great job as pacemaker it fills my heart with joy knowing that I have influenced somebody’s life by helping them to a quick time." The diminutive Philemon Rono was 10th in December's Valencia Marathon in 2:05:37. Instead of racing in the Mission Marathon, he will be setting the pace for athletes to achieve a time of 2:07:00.
Rono's first time on pacemaker duty was hugely successful as Wilson Kipsangbroke the world record in Berlin in 2013 with Kipchoge taking second place. More recently, he was part of Kipchoge's first sub-two-hour attempt in Monza in 2017.
He told NN Runninig Team, "It is important to start at a consistent pace and continue to maintain a consistent speed. Once you get into a nice rhythm pace-making becomes much easier, it is much harder if the speed goes up and down. "I know that I will not be finishing the race and that is a different feeling but it is nice to be able to help others." Both men have important roles to play with several runners aiming for the Olympic qualifiyng satndard of 2:11:30.
There will be 80 runners lining up in Tokyo comprising those achieving the standard time, those placed sufficiently high in the World Athletics rankings, top-10 finishers at the 2019 World Championships and Marathon Majors, and top-five finishers at Gold Label events.
A maximum of three athletes per country are permitted to take part.
NN Mission Marathon: Women's Race
Kenya's Gladys Chesir is one of the notable entries in the female race. She won the 3,000m at the 2012 Youth Olympic Gamesin Singapore.
Mexico's Madai Perez is aiming to qualify for her fourth consecutive Olympic Games in Twente. And Portugal's Jessica Augusto is also hoping to make the Olympic qualification times.