By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - Kenyan world record holder Eliud Kipchoge is to make another attempt at breaking two hours for the marathon later this year, probably in Britain, in a project backed by Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire owner of chemical firm INEOS.
Kipchoge ran two hours and 25 seconds in his "Breaking Two" project on Italy's Monza motor racing circuit in 2017, though the time was not ratified for record purposes as he used "in and out" pacemakers and a moving drinks station.
Last year he lowered the legal world record by an astonishing 78 seconds when posting 2:01.39 in Berlin and last week ran the second-fastest time in history when winning the London marathon in 2:02.37.
With an Olympic marathon gold and an amazing record of 11 wins from 12 races over the 26.2 mile distance, breaking two hours would appear to be the only thing missing from the CV of a man ranked among the greatest his sport has seen.
"This would really surpass everything because this will go in the history as far as the human family is concerned," Kipchoge said when announcing the bid at the Iffley Road running track in Oxford where Briton Roger Bannister became the first man to break four minutes for the mile 65 years ago on Monday.
"It is not about recognition or ratification but to make history and to pass on a message that no human is limited. Running the fastest-ever marathon of 2:00.25 was the proudest moment of my career."
There are still many details to be ironed out for the new attempt, labelled "The 1.59 Challenge" though it is likely to be in September or October on a two or three-km circuit course, probably in Britain and possibly in one of London's Royal parks.
It will again be un-ratified as the Kenyan will use a phalanx of pacemakers who run a number of laps, dipping in and out so that they can maintain the phenomenal two minute, 50 seconds per km pace necessary.
Although Nike is not spearheading the attempt as it did in Monza, Kipchoge, 34, will again wear their somewhat controversial carbon-insoled Vaporfly shoes that Nike says improve running economy by up to four percent.
The shoes have been passed legal by the sport's governing body the IAAF, though some critics say they give such an advantage that without them Kipchoge would be a "routine" 2.03/04 performer.
The shoes, pacemakers, apparel, wind-blocking paceclock car and rolling drinks stations helped take Kipchoge agonisingly close in Monza and he says the lessons learnt then will make him even more likely to pull off a feat that would undoubtedly rank at the very top of human sporting achievement.
Most importantly, Kipchoge said, has been a change in mentality as, having come so close there and subsequently massively improved his best legal time, he now fully believes he is capable of maintaining the necessary pace.
Ratcliffe, 66 and a keen runner for decades, said that the missing link could be a crowd to watch and encourage, after the Monza attempt took place in front of a handful of media, sponsors and associates.
"If Eliud has got a fantastic crowd cheering him on, it’s going to make a bit of difference and we don’t need to make a lot of difference to make up 26 seconds," he said.
"I was in the pace car in front of Eliud for the London Marathon and he was looking very serene and comfortable. He’s still getting better."
Ratcliffe has taken over ownership of cycling's former Team Sky, funded Ben Ainslie's 2021 America's Cup sailing challenge and owns Swiss soccer club Lausanne Sport.
"It's good fun. We make billions in profits so what’s wrong with investing a bit of that in sport, in good challenges, good people?," he said.
"Eliud is the finest marathon runner there has ever been and I think it will be very inspirational, to get kids putting running shoes on.
"It would be an extraordinary achievement. It's almost super-human, isn't it really? To break two hours in a marathon is quite unthinkable."
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, additional reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)