Even as Austria took on Israel in a Euro 2020 football qualifier at the Ernst Happel-Stadion in Vienna Thursday night, most of the focus was on the activities next door at the Hauptallee Park.
Workers were busy branding the start and finish areas of the INEOS 1:59 Challenge with huge posters of Kenya’s world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge coming up all around the venue for Saturday’s race against time.
The Ernst Happel-Stadion is adjacent to the Hauptallee Park where Vienna’s sports action is concentrated, perhaps similar to having a football stadium right inside Nairobi’s Uhuru Park.
As I arrived at the Vienna Airport shortly after 4pm local time (5pm Kenyan time) Thursday, transition through immigration was smooth, perhaps because I wore a Kenyan athletics jersey and said I was in Vienna to cover Kipchoge’s historic run on Saturday.
Kipchoge has played a huge role in marketing Kenya beyond the borders. Over 60 journalists have been accredited for the INEOS 1:59 Challenge which will be broadcast to over 200 countries, easily one of the most eagerly-awaited sporting events this year.
Also, for the first time, Kipchoge’s family – wife Grace Sugut and three children – have travelled to race venue with the Olympic marathon champion saying he wants his family to be there when history is made.
He traditionally doesn’t tag his family along to the races, and his latest gesture only goes to confirm his confidence levels are pretty high.
The stakes are pretty high too ahead of Saturday’s race with Kenyan betting firm BetLion, through managing director Spencer Okach, announcing that they offering odds of 1.85 for Kipchoge to beat the two-hour barrier. Vienna is generally tranquil and recently retained its title as “the world’s most liveable city.”
According to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit last month, Vienna topped the vote partly due to its “effective public transport, refreshing Alpine tap water and varied cultural life.”
The Marriott Courtyard Hotel, next to the park where Saturday’s action will be concentrated, is the nerve centre of the INEOS activities with an accreditation and information desk at the lobby.
Kipchoge and co. are staying at this hotel from where they can conveniently dash out for their training runs and have a feel of the course for Saturday’s big race against the clock.
Hotels around the race venue are fully booked with scores of media, fans and other support staff flocking to follow the build-up to the race which is building up to a crescendo if the interest shown at yesterday’s pre-event press conference is anything to go by.
Deputy President William Ruto is among the Kenyan dignitaries expected here along with governors Stephen Sang (Nandi) and Jackson Mandago (Uasin Gishu).
Several Kenyans living in Austria and central Europe are also gathering to make some noise for Kipchoge Saturday, with London-based athletics super fan Jack Waiyaki having tailored a special Kenyan flag with the inscriptions “Eliud You Can Do It” on one side and “We Have Done It” on the other. “Let’s pray he does it,” Waiyaki told me as he prepared to catch his flight from London to Vienna.
It’s going to be one big party on Saturday!