The world marathon record holder and reigning Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge made sure of his chances at the Tokyo Olympics by winning a special event at an airport in the Netherlands on Sunday.
After Hamburg, Rotterdam, Chicago, London and Berlin, Kipchoge added the NN Mission Marathon to his list.
Organised at the last minute in Enschede, instead of Hamburg as initially planned, by NN Mission, the company of his Dutch agent Jos Hermens, this marathon does not have the prestige of the other races won by Kipchoge, but it could be crucial in the career of the Kenyan phenomenon.
Kipchoge, the first man to break the two-hour barrier in 2019 in an unofficial race, was coming off a rout at the London Marathon in October 2020 where he finished eighth, well behind Ethiopia's Shura Kitata.
This time, he was never worried or doubted, as the field was, it is true, tailor-made for him.
On the eight-kilometre circuit, to be covered five times, monotonous, despite the incongruous presence of big trucks in the background, without public and exposed to the winds, Kipchoge took the lead from km 30 and won in 2 h 04 min 30 sec, his 9th best time over 42,195 km.
- Still the best" -
If he remained far from his world record (2 h 01 min 39 sec) set in 2018 in Berlin, the 2003 world champion of the 5000 m offered himself the best world performance of the year on his favourite distance.
Above all, he chased away the bad memory of London and gathered valuable information at a time when the calendar is scarce due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"I achieved my goal (...) It was a bit windy, but in the end, the race went perfectly, it was a real test for Tokyo," he said.
"It's good to have been able to run a marathon a few months before Tokyo to test my physical condition (...) I'll be able to go back to Kenya to train," added Kipchoge, who relegated his runner-up and compatriot Jonathan Korir to more than two minutes (2 h 06 min 40 sec).
"For me, this was the best time to test myself. I want to show the world that I am still the best, even if I also know that the competition will be fierce in Tokyo. There are many athletes who can go very fast," he warned.
"COVID has not made life easy for us. You have to train in small groups and often alone, whereas the beauty of racing is to do it with as many people as possible," Kipchoge noted.
What's next? August 8, for the Tokyo Olympics marathon, which will take place in Sapporo, in northern Japan, to avoid the summer heat of the Japanese capital.