NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 19 – Superstar Eliud Kipchoge embracing his life-long coach Patrick Sang moments after setting the world marathon record of 2:01:39 in Berlin is perhaps one of the most striking athletics images of 2018.
Sang, the 1992 Olympic and two-time world steeplechase silver medallist, explains what this precious moment means to him.
This picture evokes so many emotions in me. It was, in some ways, a reflection of our journey together and that we had arrived at our destination. When you see first-hand someone put in so much hard work over many years and for them (Eliud) to deliver was such an emotional moment.
I can’t really recall what I said to Eliud at this moment, but I know his only words were ‘thank you’. I don’t know whether he was thanking me, or God or somebody else, I’m not sure (laughs).
We started planning for his first marathon in 2012 and after making his (marathon) debut with a 2:05:30 in Hamburg (in April 2013), I knew he was a guy who had potential.
We then focused more on what was possible and later he started knocking on the door (of the world record) with times of 2:04 and 2:03. He achieved some of these times when the weather conditions were not so good, so we knew there was more to come.
We didn’t change too much in his training leading into Berlin. Technically the programme was more or less the same. We sought a little extra input from his stakeholders. We received a little extra physiotherapy and we were able to do more strength training to enhance any weak areas.
All the analysis we had received from the team on the ground who assessed his physiological condition indicated everything was green (for go). From my perspective, I was comfortable that he had done the work and he could chase what was required in Berlin.
However, as a coach you are always worried about your share of responsibility. Did I carry out all my duties well? Did I do something wrong? For three days before the race I did not sleep well.
As for Eliud, he did not feel the extra pressure. He managed the whole situation very well.
I was also pleased when I was told that Eliud was going to be in the first group on his own with the pacemakers. I felt this gave him every opportunity to run at exactly the pace he wanted and that if all things came together something special was going to happen.
Then the excellent race-day weather conditions filled me with more confidence.
The only point in the race when I was a bit concerned was when the pacemakers started peeling off. The other surprise for me was after Eliud reached halfway in 1:01:06 he could then go on to produce a negative split (completing the second half of the race in a mind-boggling 1:00:33).
This image makes me reflect on a moment 18 years ago when Eliud, then a young man, asked me to help him with his training. It makes me wonder had I told him ‘no, get out of my way’ would we have seen this magnificent performance from Eliud?
It has taught me the value of never taking anything for granted.