Kenya’s Olympic marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge flew out of Eldoret to Vienna in style Monday night, ahead of his attempt to become the first man to run the 42-kilometre distance in under two hours this weekend.
Kipchoge, 34, is now in a class of his own in global distance running, having shattered the world marathon record last year, running the distance in two hours, one minute and 39 seconds in Berlin.
Just over a week ago, his Ethiopian nemesis, multiple world distance running record holder Kenenisa Bekele, 37, came within two seconds of his record by running 2:01:41 in the German city.
But on Saturday on the streets of Vienna, Austria, Kipchoge will be chasing another iconic target, with his attempt, dubbed “INEOS 1:59 Challenge”, drawing global interest as the day nears.
The challenge is bankrolled by British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who runs chemical firm INEOS.
NTV will broadcast the challenge live on Saturday from 8.45am, although organisers are yet to confirm the exact time of the race as they are yet to consider the weather conditions.
“It’s now down to the INEOS 1:59 meteorology and performance experts to provide weather data to Kipchoge’s coaching team and collectively make the decision as to what date and time the INEOS 1:59 Challenge will take place, to give Kipchoge the best possible chance of success,” the organisers said in a statement on Monday.
“One of the reasons Vienna was picked for the venue of the INEOS 1:59 Challenge was its favourable weather conditions in October,” the statement added. The first window for Kipchoge to run has now been narrowed to October 12 and 14, with a target date of Saturday, October 12.
The conditions are, for now, within an acceptable range for the first weekend of the window. To ensure Kipchoge’s preparations for the challenge are flawless, Sir Jim dispatched his private jet, a Gulfstream 280, valued at $24.5 million (Sh2.4 billion) to pick him.
The British-registered jet landed at the Eldoret International Airport at 6.45pm Monday, with two pilots and one flight attendant on board. Kipchoge arrived at Eldoret Airport at 7.30pm and boarded at 7.55pm.
He told the Nation Sport at the airport he will do all it takes to break the two-hour barrier.
“I’m hoping for the best. I will try my best to get 1:59,” he said before boarding the plane that took off shortly after 8pm.
Kipchoge has been training in Kaptagat, Elgeyo-Marakwet County and in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County. He travelled in the company of seven teammates, including his coach Patrick Sang, physiotherapist Peter Nduhiu and pacemakers Augustine Choge and Gideon Kipketer.
Also in the chartered plane were two journalists, Dan Vernon and Julian Wakefield, from Kipchoge’s Dutch management company, Global Sports Communications.
“It’s been a long period of preparations, and the time has now come. We hope for the best,” Nduhiu, one of Kenya’s top physiotherapists, said at the Eldoret International Airport.
In total, 41 pacemakers have been enlisted to support Kipchoge in his quest, among them Erick Kiptanui.
"We will be there to support Kipchoge and after travelling to Vienna to feel the course, I must say it's a good one and he achieve his dream," said Kiptanui at Eldoret airport Monday night.
"He has focused to achieve the 1:59 mark and we are ready to help on Saturday. He is a great man and we know history will be made," said Victor Chumo, another pacemaker who trains with Kipchoge in Kaptagat.