Kipchoge primed for course record, says coach Sang
For 18 years, coach Patrick Sang has savoured every minute of watching the transformation of Eliud Kipchoge from polite teenage wannabe into the greatest marathon runner of all-time â€“ and the one thing that has amazed him most over that period is how the delightful personality of his illustrious charge has remained unchanged.
Kipchogeâ€™s still organised, humble, dignified and has retained his common touch, says Sang, the man behind THE man who, in turn, is saluted by the Olympic champion as the best coach â€“ and life coach â€“ on the planet.
At their Rift Valley training camp in Kaptagat, Kipchoge, surely the most unpresuming superstar in world sport, can still be found smiling as he attends to weekend toilet cleaning and gardening duties along with the rest of his less-feted colleagues, confirms Sang.
And another thing that never seems to alter, he adds, is Kipchogeâ€™s insatiable hunger to improve while proving that â€œthe mind hasn't given us limitsâ€.
All of which spells the very best of news for Sundayâ€™s Virgin Money London Marathon with Sang suggesting that Kipchoge is in the form, shape and mood not just to win a record fourth menâ€™s title but also to produce the fastest run in the eventâ€™s 39 editions.
â€œSince he set the world record in Berlin last September, weâ€™ve taken enough rest, prepared like normal and I think heâ€™s in almost the same condition as when he came to London last year and also in Berlin,â€ said Sang on Friday.
â€œOf course, in London last year, the weather conditions were difficult in that it was warmer and a bit humid and, ideally, going by the weather forecast weâ€™ve been given â€“ a high of 13 degrees and starting at 11 â€“ they are ideal marathon-running conditions.
â€œSo if all goes well, he should be able to better his course record of 2:03:05 from 2016. The guyâ€™s in good shape. Of course, other factors can come into play â€“ how the race is run after the pacemakers have gone, how the weatherâ€™s behaving, all those uncontrollables â€“ but all factors remaining constant, hopefully, it could be the first sub-2:03 in London.â€
This time last year, of course, such a performance would even have threatened Dennis Kimettoâ€™s then world record of 2:02:57 but though the soaring temperatures kept the winning time of Kipchogeâ€™s marvellous third London triumph to 2:04:17, he then proceeded in Berlin to obliterate the global mark with his staggering, ground-breaking 2:01.39.
It completely transformed Kipchogeâ€™s fame, reckoned Sang. â€œThe whole country was watching. In different cities, they put up open air screens for people to watch in every major city. It has helped make Eliud like a change agent in our society.â€
It also marked the most significant milestone yet in the fruitful relationship between the former Olympic steeplechase silver medallist, Sang, now 55, and the protege who first approached him for training guidance as a star-struck 16-year-old.
Sang, a star in Kenya, could easily have rejected the approach of a kid he had never heard of before, even though it later turned out they came from the same village and that Kipchogeâ€™s mum had been his kindergarten teacher. â€œThe thought that I could have said â€˜noâ€™ to him still gives me chills!â€ laughs Sang.
But even then, he recognised something different in the boy who had the courage and persistence to keep gently pestering him. â€œIt was very unusual but showed from the word go he knew where he wanted to go. And itâ€™s made my ride easier because here was someone who knew their destination.â€
Two qualities above all have marked Kipchogeâ€™s greatness, says Sang. One, his respect for the sport he loves; and, second, his 100 per cent commitment to squeezing the best from himself, including the sacrifices that see him spend two to three months apart from his wife and three children when in full marathon preparation.
â€œThe good thing is that his family understands that itâ€™s for a good purpose, that his God-given talent has to be exploited to the maximum,â€ says Sang.
Theyâ€™ve both enjoyed an incredible journey, smiles Sang, a man who seems to share so many of the same unassuming, humble qualities as Kipchoge â€“ but itâ€™s far from over.
He would not be surprised, he said, to see Kipchoge still running competitively, and well, at 40. And as far as the magical two-hour barrier is concerned? â€œWell, if you set goals that involve barriers, it may take you in the wrong direction,â€ warns Sang.
â€œI think itâ€™s better to have Eliud enjoy his running. For as long as the body can still respond, and the mind can still support it, letâ€™s continue to enjoy the beautiful runs that he keeps giving us.â€
Hopefully, the next one will be Londonâ€™s pleasure on Sunday.
Photo: NN Running Team/Dan Vernon