OPINION: Kipchoge begins long, winding quest for 'redemption' after Kiptum missteps

28th February 2024

The double Olympic champion will take part in the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday 3 March 2024.

Eliud Kipchoge. PHOTO| AFP
Eliud Kipchoge. PHOTO| AFP
  • Eliud Kipchoge is the main attraction in the Tokyo Marathon which is among the six Abbott World Marathon Majors.
  • This will be the first time that the legendary athlete takes the road after his record-breaking feat in the 2023 BMW Berlin Marathon. 
  • Kipchoge entered the record books in the streets of Berlin when broke the tape at 2:02:42 to win his fifth title.

By Stephen Ayoo

A story is told that when Eliud Kipchoge won the marathon gold at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, he, alongside silver medalist Bashir Abdi from Belgium and bronze winner Abdi Nageeye from the Netherlands, found themselves waiting in a holding room for their medal ceremony.

Facing logistical delays, the trio were informed that they would be confined to a room with nothing to occupy their time but sitting.

After sharing some post-race hoo-ha and weary observations about their new surroundings, Abdi and Nageeye resorted to passing the time with their cell phones, scrolling through social media.

However, Kipchoge chose a different path.

The GOAT simply immersed himself in silence, gazing at the wall with an air of serene contentment for hours on end. Abdi light-heartedly remarked, "He (Kipchoge) is not human."

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This little story gives us a hint at the unconventional demeanour of the multiple Olympic champion.

He doesn’t think, act, or behave like an ordinary person.

For what would an ordinary person do if, for example, someone, let’s call him Kiptum, emerges out of nowhere and sets a new benchmark in the most strenuous distance on the track?

You would congratulate him (at least on your huge social media platforms in this digital era), even if half-heartedly, and vow to go again and raise the bar higher. Right?

Or better yet, what would an ordinary person do if, the Kiptum, tragically loses his life in a harrowing road accident, plunging the world into mourning and despair?

The expected course of action would be offering your heartfelt condolences – like Kipchoge did -  and paying final respects by attending the funeral – like Kipchoge didn’t.

In hindsight, the oversight decision by Kipchoge’s camp not to publicly congratulate Kelvin (may he rest in peace) upon breaking the marathon world record in Chicago last October proved to be a significant misjudgement.

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The 23-year-old surpassed Kipchoge's previous world record by 34 seconds in Chicago, crossing the finish line in an astonishing 2 hours and 35 seconds.

This marked the first instance of an athlete breaking the 2:01 barrier in a record-eligible marathon, sparking jubilation within the athletics community and among admirers alike.

Kiptum's achievement echoed Kipchoge’s own mantra that indeed, ‘No Human is Limited.’

However, Kipchoge, who previously held the record with a time of 2:01:09 set at the 2022 Berlin Marathon, remained silent amidst the celebration.

If Kipchoge had foreseen the extent to which this decision would damage his reputation in the unforgiving court of public opinion, he would have undoubtedly been the first to welcome the new record-holder upon his arrival at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport just two days later.

The subsequent backlash and roasting on social media became unprecedented for a man who is the marathon equivalent of Lewis Hamilton in Formula 1, LeBron James in the NBA or Faith Kipyegon in women’s middle-distance running.

ALSO READ: Faith Kipyegon nominated for prestigious Laureus Awards 2024

To many of Kipchoge’s admirers, he had turned heel: a common phrase used in wrestling meaning a reversal of direction or change in character where a righteous person abandons a heroic course in pursuit of an unscrupulous or villainous one.

A classic case of hero to villain. Jealous, he was called. Shouted at, in fact.

Could it get any worse?

The tragic passing of the young athlete and his Rwandan coach, Gervais Hakizimana, on the night of February 11 unfortunately thrust Kipchoge back into the spotlight of scrutiny. To the astonishment of many, his name dominated the trending topics for days.

Armchair sleuths on social media, fuelled by speculation and conjecture, amassed what they believed to be evidence, even going so far as to create diagrams.

It is best to refrain from dignifying such absurd claims and accusations with further discussion.

You would however think that Kipchoge and his advisers would make an ordinary human decision and walk the emotional journey with Kiptum’s family.

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Kipchoge's absence at the send-off for the deceased in Elgeyo Marakwet on February 23 provided additional fodder for his detractors to escalate their accusations.

This time, one couldn’t help but sympathize with those questioning his actions.

What compelled Kipchoge to miss such a crucial occasion? Did he not foresee what ramifications this move would have on his legacy?

As the dust settles on this heartbreaking chapter, one thing becomes abundantly clear: the Kiptum saga has left Kipchoge's once-pristine reputation in shambles. It serves as a sobering reminder of the far-reaching consequences of one's actions, or inactions, particularly in moments of both triumph and tragedy.

The path to redemption, if it exists at all, seems long and uncertain for the marathon icon, whose silence when he needed to show direction, has left his legacy marred, his reputation tarnished, and his once unwavering admirers disillusioned.

He, Kipchoge, may go ahead and set new benchmarks in marathon running. He is the GOAT after all.

And it may be sooner rather than later, with the double Olympic gold medallist headlining the 2024 Tokyo Marathon this Sunday 3 March.

ALSO READ: Eliud Kipchoge’s main challengers at 2024 Tokyo Marathon

This will be the first of six Abbott World Marathon Majors with Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York yet to come.

Barring a catastrophe like an injury, he is also expected to lead the elite marathon team at the Paris Olympics in August, where he will be endeavouring to etch his name as the first marathoner to clinch three Olympic marathon titles.

And so, the stage is meticulously set for Kipchoge to ascend to further unprecedented heights and solidify his standing as the preeminent long-distance athlete on the globe.

You can’t bet against that.

After all, as Abdi light-heartedly remarked, "He (Kipchoge) is not human."

Unfortunately, the shadow of Kiptum shall forever linger like a weighty medal around Kipchoge’s neck due to what might have been just a human error.

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