Kenyans have turned up en masse to support Eliud Kipchoge’s battle with the clock on Saturday.
The Marriott Courtyard Hotel, where the world marathon record holder and his team are staying here, has been a beehive of activity with the fans and VIPs converging to share the build-up to the big race at which the Kenyan Olympic champion will be pushing to run the marathon in under two hours.
Fans in Kenyan caps and carrying Kenyan flags stayed late into the night discussing where they would watch the race at which entry is free.
From the Vienna Airport to the city’s streets, ubiquitous branding by INEOS, the British chemical firm bankrolling the challenge, are visible, creating an atmosphere of expectation.
With organisers setting 8.15am (Austrian time) as the start time, fan parks have been set aside where fans will watch Kipchoge and his team of pacemakers complete the 4.4 laps around the iconic Prater Park where weather conditions are perfect since there is no rain as predicted.
Next to the course is the Prater athletics track, venue for the famous 10,000 metres world record by another Kenyan legend, Henry Rono.
In 1978, Rono ran the 10,000m in 27 minutes, 22.05 seconds to break the world record paced by Jos Hermens who is now Kipchoge’s manager.
Jack Waiyaki, a Kenyan athletics fan based in England, flew into Vienna on Friday night carrying a special Kenyan flag with the inscriptions “Eliud you can do it” on one side and “We have done it!” on the reverse side.
“I pray Eliud achieves 1:59. I’ve made this flag specially for him,” Waiyaki told Nation Sport after landing from his two-hour flight from London Heathrow.
Governors Jackson Mandago (Uasin Gishu) and Stephen Sang (Nandi) were among the dignitaries at the Marriott.
“On behalf of the people of Uasin Gishu County, I want to wish Eliud Kipchoge all the best as he seeks to break the two-hour barrier,” Mandago said.
“As people of the North Rift, we are inspired by the performance of Eliud Kipchoge and we believe his performance will inspire new and young talents that are aspiring to make it not just in athletics, but also in other sports.”
Sports Principal Secretary Kirimi Kaberia was equally upbeat.
“The whole world is gathered together for once to witness one person break the record.
MORE THAN ATHLETICS
“It’s so big that the entire country, from His Excellency the President to the youngest child in the villages in Kapsabet, in Meru, in Kisii and every part of the country is there cheering and wishing him the best.
“This is more than athletics. It has gone into a display of what discipline, hard work and focus can deliver,” Kaberia said.
Duncan Muhindi, communication manager at Isuzu East Africa where Kipchoge is brand ambassador, is also in Vienna to cheer the legend.
Isuzu have offered a single-cabin D-Max pick-up to Eliud if he beats the two-hour barrier.
“I’m excited to be here for the big race where we shall be supporting our Isuzu D-Max brand ambassador Kipchoge,” Muhindi said.
“It’s fantastic out here and you can feel the excitement, happiness and joy in the city.
“I’ve met a lot of Kenyans here and lot of Eliud’s fans from around the world, from Romania to Brazil. They are just excited because of Eliud’s inspiration and what he’s about to do.
“It’s just a fantastic time to be here.
“As a brand we have walked this journey with Eliud for the last two years, supporting him in his training, encouraging him and giving him incentives.”
Isuzu gave Kipchoge a double-cabin Isuzu D-max last year after he ran two hours, one minute and 39 seconds to break the marathon world record in Berlin.
“These kinds of partnerships are not possible unless organisations and corporates come together to support our talent, just like INEOS have done with Eliud,” added Muhindi.