Here are the six men who could stop the Kenyan from winning his second Olympic gold in Sunday’s men’s marathon race.
Eliud Kipchoge is an athlete who chooses his words wisely. The ‘philosopher of running’ always wants to be understood and his words interpreted to mean what he wants them to mean. Three days before his second Olympic marathon race, he chose to send out a strong message, “Niko tayari,” he said meaning “I’m ready,” in Swahili.
Kipchoge wants to defend his Olympic marathon title and become only the third runner to have achieved this, matching the feat of Abebe Bikila (Ethiopia – 1960 and 1964) and Waldemar Cierpinski of East Germany, winners in 1976 and 1980.
He failed to win the 2020 London marathon, his first loss in seven years after 10 consecutive marathon victories. The Kenyan is ready for what he considers his next biggest target since becoming the first man to break the two-hour mark in the marathon.
But there is an impressive field of runners in Tokyo capable of stopping the 36-year-old marathon star from his second Olympic gold.
So, who are Kipchoge’s biggest challengers at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics that you should keep an eye on? Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya left the rest of the field in his wake to win the Olympic men’s marathon on a rainy Rio day.
1 – ShuraKitata
The Ethiopian knows what it takes to beat Eliud Kipchoge.
The 25-year-old ShuraKitata, was the star as he topped the 2020 London marathon when Kipchoge finished eighth. Before then, the closest he had come to the Kenyan was when he finished a surprise second at the 2018 race in the British capital.
Kitata, the winner of the Ethiopian marathon trials at high altitude, is a strong finisher and aggressive runner, who can push Kipchoge to the line as he seeks to win his nation’s first marathon title in 20 years.
22-year-old Gezahegne Abera, the youngest marathon champion in Olympic history, was Ethiopia’s last marathon winner at Sydney 2000.
2 – Lelisa Desisa
Lelisa Desisa is a championship runner. He triumphed in less than ideal conditions when he won gold at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, to add on to the marathon silver he had won in 2013.
He knows Kipchoge on the course well. He was part of Nike’s Breaking2 attempt in 2017, when the fastest marathoner won in 2:00.25. The 31-year-old won the New York marathon in 2018 to add on to his two Boston marathon victories and could be a legitimate threat to Kipchoge.
3 – Amos Kipruto
Before 2019, no one would have picked Amos Kipruto as a contender for Team Kenya’s marathon team. He took bronze behind Desisa in the sweltering Doha heat at the Worlds.
At 28, Kipruto is the youngest of the three Kenyans and could just spring a surprise at the biggest race of his career. He was runners-up at the 2018 Berlin marathon when Kipchoge set the world record of 2:01.29.
Kipruto, who looks up to other Kenyan greats – Paul Tergat, a former world marathon record holder and Samuel Wanjiru, the only other Kenyan to have won a marathon Olympic title – cherishes running alongside Kipchoge and is tipped to be one of his closest and main challengers.
4 – Lawrence Cherono
He considers himself ‘lucky’ to have been picked for Team Kenya’s Olympic marathon team. It is his first national team call-up and Lawrence Cherono is keen to cement his name amongst Kenya’s heaving list of great marathoners.
He earned his stripes after two solid performances in 2019.He claimed the Boston marathon ahead of Desisa and won the Chicago marathon in a sprint finish. The 32-year-old has not won a championship marathon yet, but he has the speed to chase to the finish.
5 – Stephen Kiprotich
He became a household name when he stunned the world to win Uganda’s second Olympic gold medal ever at London in 2012.
Stephen Kiprotich proved that his victory at the Olympics was not a fluke by winning the 2013 World marathon title. He returns to the Olympic course for the third time eager to atone for his 14th place finish in Rio.
His fifth place at the NN Mission Marathon in the Netherlands in April 2020, behind the winner Kipchoge, proved that he can still go the distance.