Saturday 12 October: the day man broke the two hour barrier for the full marathon for the first time. Eliud Kipchoge conquered what was considered the last standing challenge of modern athletics at a special time trial in Vienna. Despite making history however, his efforts will not be considered official by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
Kipchoge ran his marathon with pacers around him in a V – formation, accompanied by a series of cars to reduce the effects of wind resistance on his time. It is for this reason that the IAAF are not considering his achievement as a record. The footwear worn by Kipchoge has also been a subject of much interest. Nike’s ‘Vaporfly’ trainers are thought to improve running economy by as much as six per cent, and to wear them at a time trial is considered as, what some athletes call, ‘technical doping’.
While the use of pacers and state of the art trainers may seem inconsequential, it is important to note that an ever so slightly better running economy, over a distance as far as the marathon, can lead to significant cumulative race time improvement. Many athletes and scientists argue that developments in sport technology delegitimises athlete performance in modern day sport.
Kipchoge’s success raises the question of what sport means today, and what its purpose is. Is an athlete’s performance an individual feat or a team effort to push the boundaries of mankind’s abilities, whatever it takes? Should sport be about competition with each other or competition against ourselves? Should sport and scientific developments be kept separate?
Humans have been bettering themselves since the beginning of time, with the use of tools to aid them in their activities. Better equipment meant farming and hunting for a larger variety of food and a more nutritious diet, which meant stronger and faster individuals. Better knowledge of medicine and nutrition has meant that each generation is better and stronger than the one which came before. Does improving our biology come under the same scope as running with the aid of sports tech? What does this mean for the future of athletics?
At the heart of the Kipchoge debate is whether we should be using science to make running easier or to make us physically better equipped. Fancy trainers and shielding mean little, and Kipchoge’s performance is still something to be celebrated, as it is a testament to what can be achieved through team effort. It is not something he could have done alone. If sport is not about pushing the boundaries of our capabilities, the thrill of record breaking would not be something everyone could share in. The world was watching Kipchoge, and his success was seen and celebrated across the globe.
Image: Dennis Barthel via Wikimedia Commons