Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, already an athletics legend after 15 years of monumental achievements on the track, cross country and roads, believes he would top them all by winning a third Virgin Money London Marathon title on Sunday.
The 33-year-old Kenyan, who is right in the thick of the argument about who is the greatest distance runner of all-time, said on Thursday that joining compatriot Martin Lel and Mexican Dionicio Ceron as the only men ever to win London three times would be his greatest feat.
It was a remarkable admission from a man who won his first world senior track title over 5,000 metres when he was just 17 and who has been building his path to sporting greatness ever since, culminating with his Olympic marathon triumph on the roads of Rio in 2016.
But asked if coming back here to win a third London title in four years would be the greatest achievement of his storied career, Kipchoge exclaimed: “Absolutely!
“If I was to win on Sunday, it would mean so much. It would show my consistency and I would be the happiest man on earth. To win London three times would be the best.”
The farmer from Kapsisiywa is, naturally, the favourite to win the race again, as befits a phenomenon who has lost only one of his nine marathons and who has not been beaten in any for nearly five years.
Indeed, Kipchoge has become so dominant that the overriding question more recently has become not whether he is going to win but whether he is going to finally achieve his aim of breaking the official world record of 2 hours 2 minutes 57 seconds set by his compatriot Dennis Kimetto in Berlin in 2014.
In London two years ago, Kipchoge had looked on course to break that mark on a much less record-friendly course than Berlin but eventually missed out by just eight seconds with a superlative course record run 2:03:05.
Last year he gave up the chance to go for a consecutive hat-trick of London titles, concentrating instead on an ambitious project to record the first sub-two hour marathon in ideal, contrived conditions on the Monza race circuit in Italy, running behind an arrow-head formation of pacemakers to reduce drag in a non-record eligible race. Astonishingly, though, he finished only 26 seconds outside the target.
“That showed me that there is no limit,” Kipchoge mused on Thursday. “One day, I’ll try to run a world record that can be ratified by the IAAF and it will show the next generation what can be done.”
Might that day be on Sunday, he was asked. “I’m going to run a beautiful race this weekend – but I won’t predict a time,” he said, tantalisingly.
Was that because of the forecast that this is set to be the warmest London Marathon of all? “I’m not worried about the weather,” smiled a man who never looks worried about anything.
The idea that he could still improve at 33, based on his combination of “talent, good coaching and technology” evidently still appeals to Kipchoge. “I’m still a student – and Patrick [Sang, his coach] is my teacher. I’m just doing what a student is required to do.”
His younger teammate Daniel Wanjiru, who took advantage of Kipchoge’s absence last year to keep the London men’s title in Kenya, may see Kipchoge as a master more than a pupil.
Yet the reigning men’s champion is determined to prove he can again beat the best, just as he did last year when outduelling Kenenisa Bekele, the second fastest man in history, to win in 2:05:48.
Recently second behind Sir Mo Farah in London’s Big Half, the 25-year-old reported on today that his training has been going very well in preparation to defend his crown.
Yet when he looks across and sees the world’s greatest marathoner smiling late on in the race, it may prove a very dispiriting sight. “A smile ignites my mind to forget all about the pain,” explained Kipchoge, beaming as usual. “That’s the beauty of the smile.”