Kipchoge Or Kosgei: Which Marathon Performance Is More Impressive?

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In the span of a little over 30 hours this weekend, professional marathoning radically changed forever. 

That would be true even if just one of Eliud Kipchoge’s 1:59:40 in Vienna-- the first-ever sub-two, albeit in a hyper-controlled environment-- or Brigid Kosgei’s 2:14:04 women’s world record in Chicago had occurred. But these performances happening on consecutive days have put the highly-funded scientific plot to defeat the distance on full display for a mainstream audience. 

The casual fan who would otherwise not even be able to pick out Kipchoge or Kosgei from a crowd is suddenly being bombarded with expert takes that their Nike contracts give them an unfair footwear advantage. For a sport that traffics in controversy, the distance running catnip was in extra supply on Saturday and Sunday.

But aside from inquiries about the shoes on their feet-- both Kipchoge and Kosgei wore Nike Vaporfly Next%, although Kipchoge’s kicks appeared to be a slightly different prototype-- the historic results begged the question of which performance was more impressive, Kipchoge’s rule-ignoring 1:59 or Kosgei’s 81-second improvement on a previously untouchable women’s record?

My own knee-jerk reaction is that the world’s first-ever sub-two hour marathon, despite being done outside the normal parameters of the sport, is superior to Kosgei’s drastic lowering of Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25. The mythical component of running a marathon under two hours has transcended the sport to become an achievement symbolic of stretching the human mind, body and spirit to an unimaginable limit. The fact that only one man has displayed the ability and willingness to eclipse the barrier in such a competitive event is surely beyond anything done within the constraints of the rules.

And yet, Kosgei has put herself in Kipchoge’s orbit with a time that similarly defied all else before it. In the 16 years after Radcliffe ran 2:15:25 in 2003, her mark had gone unchallenged leading up to Sunday; the next-fastest clocking before the 2019 Chicago Marathon was 2:17:01. Then Kosgei buried the old record under 81 seconds of carnage, a larger margin than Kipchoge himself improved the men’s world record in 2018 with his 2:01:39 in Berlin.

Of course, Kosgei also notched her record within the boundaries of “normal” marathoning, with no interchangeable pacers and hydration from an aid station as opposed to it being handed to her on the go. The exact quantifiable benefits to Kipchoge relying on these methods can be debated, but Kosgei’s run can be justifiably measured against other performances where Kipchoge’s cannot. There’s little doubt that no other human could run 1:59:40 regardless of circumstances right now, but Kosgei at least has an equal playing field to gauge her supremacy.

There’s also this: Using the Mercier Scoring Tables, a tool developed to compare performances across different distances and genders, Kosgei’s 2:14:04 equates to a 1:58:56 marathon by a man. This is an imperfect science to be sure, but it certainly helps to put Kosgei’s huge outlier in perspective relative to a more-easily digestible barrier.

So who comes out on top after a sport-altering weekend for distance running? My take is still Kipchoge when factoring in his undeniable legacy as the greatest of all time and the cultural significance of breaking a barrier once thought to be decades away. But Kosgei has given him a run for his money with a marathon that, like Kipchoge’s, wasn’t thought to be realistic before her arrival.

Weekend Watch Guide: Bowerman Invades Boston

While distance fans across the country gear up for Saturday's U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta, indoor tracks will have plenty of elite competition to whet our collective appetites. From Bowerman TC/Paul Chelimo/Edward Cheserek and more in Boston at the BU Last Chance Meet, plus the Big 10 and MPSF Championships, there's a ton of track to take in from Thursday to Saturday on FloTrack.

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The ascent of the American women’s marathoning that started with almost 20 years ago with Deena Kastor continues on Saturday at the US Olympic Marathon Trials. Whoever makes the team is capable of getting a medal at the Olympics, and medal-worthy athletes will be left off the team. Here’s a breakdown of the top contenders. 

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U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials Men's Preview: Can Rupp Overcome To Win Again?

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The men’s race at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials is top-heavy on paper. Defending champion Galen Rupp exists in a league of his own with an Olympic bronze medal from Rio and a 2:06 personal best buoying his position. Injury struggles and Alberto Salazar’s ban have made a potential victory in Atlanta much less certain, but Rupp seems to have steadied the ship after tuning up with a 61-minute half earlier this month. If he makes it through 26.2 miles on Saturday, there’s a strong chance he will break the tape.

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2020 BU Last Chance Preview: Houlihan, Chelimo, Lomong, Centro & More

The championship portion of the 2020 indoor season has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean the pros are ready to head outdoors just yet. On Thursday and Friday in Boston, the best of Bowerman Track Club and several other top U.S. pros will take to the BU track in pursuit of records and standards at the BU Last Chance Meet. Multiple American records could fall in the final hurrah on the famed Boston surface in 2020.

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With just one weekend left to qualify for the 2020 DI NCAA Indoor Championships a staggering 61 track and field All-Americans from last year have yet to achieve a top-16 mark in 2020.

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Yulimar Rojas Sets Indoor Triple Jump World Record In Madrid

Venezuelan Yulimar Rojas set the women’s indoor triple jump world record on Friday in Madrid with a 15.43m leap. With it, the 24-year-old eclipsed Tatyana Lebedeva’s 15.36m mark that had stood since 2004.

Ababel Yeshaneh, Not Brigid Kosgei, Sets Half Marathon World Record

What was expected to be a coronation of marathon world record holder Brigid Kosgei as the half marathon queen instead turned into an introduction of a worthy counterpart as Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh stunned the Kenyan on Friday morning (Thursday night in the U.S.) at the Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) Half Marathon by setting a 64:31 world record.

The 10 Best Performances From The Weekend

Between more Mondo Duplantis' theatrics in Glasgow, a ridiculous road 5k world record in Monaco and plenty of excitement stateside, there was a lot to get excited about this past weekend in track and field.

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Don't Look Now... The NAU Lumberjacks Could Win NCAA Indoors

With just two weeks left to qualify for NCAAs a majority of the top-16 fields are coming into form on the distance side. The NAU men are currently slated to qualify ten entries across three distance events.

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Joshua Cheptegei Smashes Road 5k World Record In 12:51

A little over a month after Rhonex Kipruto took down Joshua Cheptegei’s road 10k world record, the Ugandan has answered back in a big way by running 12:51 on Sunday in Monaco to smash Kipruto’s 5k world record. Cheptegei cut a whopping 27 seconds off the 13:18 that the Kenyan ran on Jan. 12, a run that came en route to Kipruto’s 26:24 10k record.