Brigid Kosgei

Sao Silvestre Kibiwott Kandie Jacob Kipligo
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Early celebration proves costly in San Silvestre de Sao Paulo race

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Ugandan teenager Jacob Kiplimo was just a couple of steps away from winning the 95th San Silvestre de Sao Paulo Road Race road race on Tuesday in Sao Paulo and was set to break the record set by Paul Tergat. He raised his arms in celebration as he took his last strides.

But then Kibiwott Kandie suddenly appeared alongside, also raising his arms in celebration, then hit the finish line half a stride ahead of Kiplimo and keeping the record in Kenyan hands.

Kandie is the first person to break the 43-minute mark in the 15k race, crossing the line in 42:59. Kiplimo’s time was 43-flat.

Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei won a far less dramatic women’s race, finishing in 48:54. Kosgei smashed the marathon world record 11 weeks ago in Chicago.

The popular annual race, which has inspired other Saint Silvester’s Day races in Spain and Portugal, has attracted strong fields for several decades. Tergat’s record run in 1995 was the first of five wins for the five-time cross-country world champion and two-time Olympic silver medalist, who would also hold records in the marathon, half-marathon and 10,000 meters over the course of his career.

Kiplimo also seems poised to threaten records over his career. Last year on New Year’s Eve, Kiplimo won the San Silvestre Vallecana in Madrid in 26:41, handily beating the race record held by Eliud Kipchoge, for whom Kiplimo would serve as a pace-setter when the the Kenyan broke the two-hour marathon mark.

The time from last year was faster than the then-world record of 26:44, held by Kenyan Leonard Patrick Komon, but the race was downhill and therefore not eligible for record consideration. Joshua Cheptegui officially broke the record earlier this month in Valencia with a time of 26:38.

Kandie took his third major road race win of the year, all in personal-best times. In August, he won a half marathon in Lille in 59:31. Last month, he won a 10k in Casablanca in 27:56.

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2019 U.S. and world marathon rankings

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The last full year of marathons before the 2020 Olympics saw not only Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge‘s successful bid to break the two-hour mark under controlled conditions but also a women’s world record and four of the fastest men’s times ever.

Brigid Kosgei of Kenya took more than a minute off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old record, winning the Chicago Marathon in 2:14:01.

FAST TIMES: Kosgei, Kipchoge herald new era

Kipchoge still holds the world record of 2:01:39, set in the 2018 Berlin Marathon 14 months ago. But Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia came within two seconds of that mark in this year’s Berlin race, and Kipchoge himself won the London Marathon with the third-fastest time in history (2:02:37).

Add the runners-up from those races — Ethiopians Birhanu Legese (Berlin, 2:02:48) and Mosinet Geremew (London, 2:02:55) — and the four fastest times behind Kipchoge’s world record were posted in the past seven months. 

The top U.S. runner on the IAAF’s compilation of the year’s best times is Sara Hall, whose time of 2:22:16 in Berlin tied for 33rd on the list. (The IAAF site currently has a glitch listing a U.S. runner higher on the list; the time is incorrect.) Emily Sisson was 49th with her 2:23:08 in London. Sally Kipyego‘s 2:25:10 in Berlin ranks 93rd. (Add times from courses the IAAF considers “irregular” for various reasons, and Kipyego ranks 96th.)

With Galen Rupp out of action while recovering from Achilles surgery, the only U.S. runner among the top 100 was Leonard Korir (tied for 87th, 2:07:56, Amsterdam), but nine of the top 10 U.S. times in the Olympic cycle were posted this year. Only Rupp’s 2:06:07 from Prague in May 2018 ranks higher.

The two next-fastest U.S. men’s times from 2019 were at the Boston Marathon, which the IAAF considers “irregular” because the finish line isn’t near the start line and the overall elevation at the finish line is lower than the start.

The top U.S. women’s times from the Olympic cycle still belong to Jordan Hasay (2:20:57, Chicago 2017) and Amy Cragg (2:21:42, Tokyo 2018), followed by Hall and Sisson.

USA Track and Field will hold its Olympic marathon trials Feb. 29 in Atlanta.

The fastest times of the year (* – on “irregular” course) …

U.S. men

Name Time Race Result
Leonard Korir 2:07:56 Amsterdam 11th
Scott Fauble 2:09:09 Boston* 7th
Jared Ward 2:09:25 Boston* 8th
Jacob Riley 2:10:36 Chicago 9th
Jerrell Mock 2:10:37 Chicago 10th
Jared Ward 2:10:45 New York City 6th
Parker Stinson 2:10:53 Chicago 11th
Andrew Bumbalough 2:10:56 Chicago 12th
Matt McDonald 2:11:10 Chicago 14th
Matt Llano 2:11:14 Berlin 14th
Scott Smith 2:11:34 Chicago 15th

U.S. women

Name Time Race Result
Sara Hall 2:22:16 Berlin 5th
Emily Sisson 2:23:08 London 6th
Sally Kipyego 2:25:10 Berlin 7th
Jordan Hasay 2:25:20 Boston* 3rd
Emma Bates 2:25:27 Chicago 4th
Kellyn Johnson 2:26:27 Prague 4th
Molly Huddle 2:26:33 London 12th
Desiree Linden 2:26:46 New York City 6th
Aliphine Chepkerker Tuliamuk 2:26:50 Rotterdam 3rd
Kellyn Johnson 2:27:00 New York City 7th

World men

Name Time Race Result
Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) 2:01:41 Berlin 1st
Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) 2:02:37 London 1st
Birhanu Legese (ETH) 2:02:48 Berlin 2nd
Mosinet Geremew (ETH) 2:02:55 London 2nd
Mule Washihun (ETH) 2:03:16 London 3rd
Getaneh Molla (ETH) 2:03:34 Dubai 1st
Sisay Lemma (ETH) 2:03:36 Berlin 3rd
Herpasa Negasa (ETH) 2:03:40 Dubai 2nd
Marius Kipserem (KEN) 2:04:11 Rotterdam 1st
Asefa Mengstu (ETH) 2:04:24 Dubai 3rd

World women

Name Time Race Result
Brigid Kosgei 2:14:04 Chicago 1st
Ruth Chepngetich 2:17:08 Dubai 1st
Worknesh Degefa 2:17:41 Dubai 2nd
Brigid Kosgei 2:18:20 London 1st
Valary Jemeli 2:19:10 Frankfurt 1st
Degitu Azimeraw 2:19:26 Amsterdam 1st
Lonah Chemtai Salpeter 2:19:46 Prague 1st
Tigist Girma 2:19:52 Amsterdam 2nd
Vivian J. Cheruiyot 2:20:14 London 2nd
Ashtete Bekere 2:20:14 Berlin 1st

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Brigid Kosgei, Eliud Kipchoge herald new era of fast marathons

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Eliud Kipchoge‘s success in breaking the two-hour mark (final time: 1:59:40) for the marathon on Saturday was expected. He had come close before, and like Alex Honnold‘s unprecedented climb of El Capitan documented in the film Free Solo, the feat required meticulous planning — the ideal mix of pace-setters, course conditions and weather — to steer a once-in-a-lifetime talent to a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment.

Brigid Kosgei‘s world record at the Chicago Marathon on Sunday was a far greater surprise. Kosgei had run fast times before, but her time of 2:14:04 took more than four minutes off her personal best earlier this year in London, which is typically a faster race than Chicago.

MORE: Chicago Marathon results

The two feats had some common threads. Both runners are Kenyan, no surprise in an event in which the top 100 men’s performances of all time are almost exclusively Kenyan and Ethiopian and the top of the women’s all-time list is similarly homogeneous aside from the presence of British runner Paula Radcliffe, whose time of 2:15:25 had stood as the world record for 16 1/2 years until Sunday. Radcliffe was present in Chicago to greet Kosgei when her record fell.

Kipchoge and Kosgei also wore the same shoes, Nike’s ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%, thanks to Kosgei’s last-minute decision to switch. Earlier versions of those shoes, like the high-tech swimsuits that were eventually banned from competition or golf equipment whose advertising revels in their alleged illegality,

Both marathoners also had pace-setters running with them. Kipchoge’s effort took the concept to an extreme, with an all-star cast running pieces of the course in front of him, and will not be considered an official world record because it didn’t happen under race conditions. (The Atlantic ran a piece on the Kipchoge run with the headline “The Greatest, Fakest World Record,” though the piece itself was more inquisitive than judgmental.)

MORE: Kipchoge shakes off nerves to break barrier

Kosgei was running in an actual race and has already had her time touted as a world record by the international organizer IAAF, but because she was running in a mixed-gender race, she was able to run behind two hired guns, Geoffrey Pyego and Daniel Limo. They were easily distinguished from men’s race contenders by the singlets with the word “PACE” written in the space where a number or name would usually go.

But in general, marathoners are simply getting faster and faster. Perhaps it’s scientific, with specifically engineered shoes, pace-setters and refined training methods, or perhaps all the tinkering and lab experiments are simply a sign of increased focus on the race that traces its history to the myth of the Greek soldier Pheidippides running such a great distance to herald a momentous military victory before falling over dead.

Of the top 20 women’s times on the IAAF list, only five were run before 2012 — one by Catherine Ndereba, four by Radcliffe. Three were run in 2017, then six in 2018 (three in Berlin) and four this year. All 20 of the fastest men’s times have been posted this decade, eight of them in 2019 alone. Kipchoge, in addition to his unofficial best from this weekend, has the official record of 2:01:39 from the 2018 Berlin Marathon.

The all-time list also reminds us that, for all the controversy over the context of Kipchoge’s run, marathons aren’t really standard, anyway. Some courses are more difficult than others. Some races, like the Boston Marathon, aren’t eligible for record consideration for a variety of technical reasons. (Boston’s hilly course doesn’t lend itself to fast times, anyway — the men’s course record of 2:03:02, set by Geoffrey Mutai in 2011, would rank seventh all-time, but no other time would crack the top 100. The women’s course record is nowhere near the best ever.) London, Berlin and Dubai are the places to go for assaults on the record book.

No matter where the race takes place or how it was run, fast times in the marathon capture the imagination.

Purists may cling to romantic notions of long-haired, bearded runners pounding the Boston or New York pavement in shoes that didn’t even have a basic level of air cushioning. But the modern marathon era is built for speed.

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