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Three runners who could threaten the two-hour marathon barrier

Breaking the two-hour barrier could happen sooner than we think

Photo by: Bob Martin

On Sunday, Eliud Kipchoge made history again, winning the 2022 Berlin Marathon and breaking his previous world record from 2018 in 2:01:09. Although his time was spectacular, Kipchoge went through the halfway mark in 59:51, the fastest-ever half-marathon split in a marathon. His half split shows he has strong potential to achieve a sub-two-hour marathon. But who else might have the potential to do it?

Eliud Kipchoge running behind his pacemaking team at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge. Photo: Jon Super for The INEOS 1:59 Challenge

At INEOS-1:59 in 2019, Kipchoge showed the world that breaking two was possible with the help of 20 or more pacers, fluids handed to him in motion, pace lights and ideal weather conditions.

The previous eight marathon world records have been run at the Berlin Marathon. The course attracts many of the world’s top marathoners due to its fast, flat and open course. If the two-hour barrier is broken, it’ll likely happen in Berlin.

In my opinion, there are three runners who can threaten this barrier based on their previous performances.

1) Jacob Kiplimo (Uganda)

The half-marathon world record holder has not immersed himself in the marathon scene yet, but is bound to run something special when he does. The 21-year-old Ugandan has already won a medal at every level–double Commonwealth gold in the 5,000m and 10,000m, Olympic bronze in the 10,000m and world championship gold in the half-marathon.

Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo and Joshua Cheptegei at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Ore. Photo: Kevin Morris

Although it’s unlikely Kiplimo will rush onto the startline of a marathon anytime soon, he’s shown his incredible talent from 5,000m to the half. He has the eighth-fastest time over 10,000m (26:33.93) and the fastest time ever over 21.1 km (57:31–two minutes and 44 seconds per kilometre pace, which is predictive of a 1:55:20 marathon, or thereabouts).

When he is ready to make the jump, he’ll likely run around 2:02 to 2:04 for his debut and then aim for the two-hour mark in his second.

2) Joshua Cheptegei (Uganda)

The men’s 5,000m and 10,000m world record holder is currently the fastest distance runner in the world. He’s been almost unbeatable over the 10,000m, and has the long stride and the speed to threaten the two-hour mark. Cheptegei has only run one half-marathon (59:21) but holds the world record of 41:05 over 15 km (which translates to a 57-minute half-marathon).

Photo: Kevin Morris

At 26, Cheptegei has some unfinished business in the 10,000m, taking silver to Selemon Barega of Ethiopia at the Tokyo Olympics. We won’t see him move up distances until after the 2024 Olympic Games.

3) Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya)

If anyone knows what it takes to break the sub-two barrier, it’s Kipchoge. He did it unofficially in Austria and was on pace to do it in Berlin on Sunday, up until the 24 km mark. Although he’s only getting older, with his performance in 2022, he has shown the world that he is still in the prime of his career.

Eliud Kipchoge wins London Marathon in 2:02:37 establishing new course record
Eliud Kipchoge won the 2019 London Marathon for the fourth time

Kipchoge has spoken about wanting to win all six Abbott World Marathon Majors (he is missing only Boston and New York) and becoming the first triple Olympic champion in the marathon. This 2:01:09 from Kipchoge won’t be his last shot at sub-two; he’ll likely go back to his camp in Kenya, tweak a few things, and return to Berlin in 2023 for another shot at sub-two before taking on the Paris Olympics in 2024.