Eliud Kipchoge’s historic streak ends, and what comes next, from the eyes of his coach

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Patrick Sang, who has coached Eliud Kipchoge since 2002, offered a final few words of encouragement to his pupil before Sunday’s London Marathon.

Let’s go and make history.

Sang said that Kipchoge, the greatest marathoner of all time, was prepared as he put a six-year, 10-marathon win streak at stake in St. James’s Park. The 35-year-old Kipchoge was bidding for a record-breaking fifth title for a runner in London’s 40-year history.

“I was really confident that all was going to be at par with what he had done before,” Sang said by phone on Tuesday, after flying back to Kenya.

Kipchoge finished eighth in 2:06:49. Ethiopian Shura Kitata won in 2:05:42.

Kipchoge won London in 2019 in a course record of 2:02:37, seven months after lowering the world record to 2:01:39 in Berlin.

But this was a very different London Marathon. It was not held on the traditional course hugging the River Thames, but with 19 loops around the park. The weather didn’t help, either — hovering around 50 degrees with wind and rain.

“We went to the competition prepared,” Sang said, “but the weather conditions were a bit too much.”

Sang watched the race broadcast. He noted that an impatient Kipchoge requested pacers to speed up after about 12 miles.

“The pacers said they got the message, but I think the reaction was not visible,” Sang said with a laugh. “They said they really suffered with the winds and the rains and the cold.”

Later, Kipchoge missed one of his drink bottles. The leading group remained at nine men through 21 miles. Then Kipchoge dropped in the 24th mile, afterwards citing an ear blockage followed by hip cramping.

“He felt like the hip area was not coordinating well, and the leg movement was not bouncing,” Sang said. “He was saying he was trying to communicate with the legs to bounce, but the coordination was not there.”

Sang and other friends spent time with Kipchoge in his hotel room later Sunday — “just to uplift his spirits, but you could see he was somewhat down,” Sang said. Kipchoge said he had never experienced that kind of ear problem before.

“The first lesson is to know that I am also human and can be beaten,” Kipchoge said in a video interview Tuesday. “The second is I’m now able to implement what disappointment is.”

As Sang saw what he called “the emotional effect” on Kipchoge, he was reminded of his student’s last defeat of this size. In 2012, Kipchoge placed seventh in the Kenyan Olympic Trials 5000m, missing the team for the London Games and leading to his victorious marathon debut the following spring.

“The feeling of not accomplishing something that you really look forward to,” Sang said. “You can see that he’s still passionate about doing a lot in the sport. You can see the spirit of going farther is still there.”

Kipchoge, who even in defeat presented his usual calm and philosophical demeanor (amid shivers while enveloped in a heavy coat), has never been in the business of comparing himself to others. The withdrawal of Kipchoge’s biggest threat, Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, two days before the race did not affect the Kenyan great.

“The focus has never been on beating an individual,” Sang said, “but the higher the competition, you can see the higher the motivation to perform at his best.”

Kipchoge and Sang both flew out of London earlier this week. Sang went back to Kenya. Kipchoge jetted to the Netherlands to see a specialist for the ear blockage, then said Tuesday that he was given a clean bill of health.

He plans to race London again and is expected to defend his Olympic title in Tokyo next summer, aiming to become the second-oldest men’s marathon gold medalist in history, according to Olympedia.org.

No matter what happens, Kipchoge distanced himself from the other greatest marathoners in history these last seven years. Former world-record holders Haile Gebrselassie and Abebe Bikila each had six-marathon win streaks.

“Each generation gives us something to remember,” Sang said. “We had a generation of Abebe Bikila. We had a generation of Haile. Now we have the generation of Eliud. All these athletes gave us beautiful competitions, things to look forward to and took the sport to the highest level of their generation.

“[Kipchoge] has been an inspiration beyond our sport. We hope that, after overcoming this setback, he will continue for the next few more years to inspire us and give us beautiful performances.”

MORE: With major marathons canceled, Emily Sisson chose a virtual one

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Saudi Arabia to host 2029 Asian Winter Games

Olympic Council of Asia
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Saudi Arabia will host the Asian Winter Games in 2029 in mountains near the $500 billion futuristic city project Neom.

The Olympic Council of Asia on Tuesday picked the Saudi candidacy that centers on Trojena that is planned to be a year-round ski resort by 2026.

“The deserts & mountains of Saudi Arabia will soon be a playground for Winter sports!” the OCA said in a statement announcing its decision.

Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal said the kingdom’s winter sports project “challenges perception” in a presentation of the plan to OCA members.

“Trojena is the future of mountain living,” the minister said of a region described as an area of about 60 square kilometers at altitude ranging from 1,500 to 2,600 meters.

The Neom megaproject is being fund by the Saudi sovereign wealth vehicle, the Public Investment Fund.

Saudi Arabia also will host the Asian Games in 2034 in Riyadh as part of aggressive moves to build a sports hosting portfolio and help diversify the economy from reliance on oil.

A campaign to host soccer’s 2030 World Cup is expected with an unprecedented three-continent bid including Egypt and Greece.

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Jim Redmond, who helped son Derek finish 1992 Olympic race, dies

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Jim Redmond, who helped his injured son, Derek, finish his 1992 Olympic 400m semifinal, died at age 81 on Sunday, according to the British Olympic Association, citing family members.

At the 1992 Barcelona Games, Derek pulled his right hamstring 15 seconds into his 400m semifinal, falling to the track in anguish.

He brushed off help from officials, got up and began limping around the track. About 120 meters from the finish line, he felt the presence of an uncredentialed man who rushed down the stadium stairs, dodged officials and reportedly said, “We started this together, and we’re going to finish this together.”

“As I turned into the home straight, I could sense this person was about to try and stop me,” Derek said in an NBC Olympics profile interview before the 2012 London Games. “I was just about to get ready to sort of fend them off, and then I heard a familiar voice of my dad. He said, ‘Derek, it’s me. You don’t need to do this.'”

Derek said he shouted to his dad that he wanted to finish the race.

“He was sort of saying things like, ‘You’ve got nothing to prove. You’re a champion. You’ll come back. You’re one of the best guys in the world. You’re a true champion. You’ve got heart. You’re going to get over this. We’ll conquer the world together,'” Derek remembered. “I’m just sort of saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.'”

At one point, Derek noticed stadium security, not knowing who Jim was, having removed guns from their holsters.

“It’s the only time I’ve ever heard my dad use bad language,” Derek said. “He just goes, ‘Leave him alone, I’m his father.'”

Derek told himself in that moment, “I’m going to finish this race if it’s the last race I ever run.” It turned out to be the last 400m race of his career, after surgery and 18 months of rehab were not enough to yield a competitive comeback, according to Sports Illustrated.

Derek had missed the 1988 Seoul Games after tearing an Achilles, reportedly while warming up for his opening race. He looked strong in Barcelona, winning his first-round heat and quarterfinal.

“I’d rather be seen to be coming last in the semifinal than not finish in the semifinal,” he said, “because at least I can say I gave it my best.”