Eliud Kipchoge has announced that he will open his season on April 11 at the NN Mission Marathon elite-only race in Hamburg. The event is a collaboration between the NN Running Team (a crew that includes Kipchoge and a number of other elites) and the Hamburg Marathon. The Hamburg race will give Kipchoge the chance to bounce back from his poor performance at last October’s London Marathon (when he ran to an eighth-place finish in 2:06:49), which is imperative for him to do ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
Hamburg was the site of Kipchoge’s first marathon, which he won back in 2013. As he wrote on Instagram, he will be returning to “the genesis” of his marathon career. The NN Mission Marathon course will follow a 10.5K loop that athletes will run four times, and organizers expect to see 100 elites toeing the line.
The event was already an attractive option for the world’s elites, but with Kipchoge now signed on to run in Hamburg, the race is even more of a draw. Kipchoge doesn’t need to run another marathon ahead of the Summer Games — as the marathon world record holder and defending Olympic champion, he’s a lock for the Kenyan team — but it will be an opportunity for him to gauge his current fitness in what will be his final race before the Olympics.
While Kipchoge doesn’t need a good run in Hamburg to earn his ticket to Tokyo (unlike many of the other runners who will be racing the Mission Marathon to qualify for the Olympics), there is still a lot riding on his race. After all, he is coming off the worst race of his marathon career. Up until his run in London, he looked unbeatable over 42.2K, but now, he has shown the world — and, more importantly, his competitors — that he is, in fact, human and capable of losing a marathon.
If Kipchoge takes the win in Hamburg and runs anywhere under 2:04, he will be able to leave his London Marathon result in the past and dismiss it as a one-time bad run. He will enter the Tokyo Games as a heavy favourite to win, and even though he has proven to be beatable, he will have his mojo back.
If he loses — or worse, if he runs another 2:06, which is a pedestrian time for someone like Kipchoge — then the narrative will change completely. Kipchoge will go from the man to beat to the man who can be beaten. Yes, he will still be a favourite for the gold in Tokyo, but many will begin to doubt him, and as mentally strong as he has proven to be, a second straight loss would have to weigh on him and affect his confidence.
At first glance, the NN Mission Marathon is just another race and a good test for Kipchoge ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. Looking deeper, though, this race has many implications, and it could have a big effect on his future marathons.