James Rhodes hears from Eliud Kipchoge and Sifan Hassan on the day it was announced that they would race at next year’s Tokyo Marathon. 

It was announced today that, ahead of next summer’s Olympic Games in Paris, Eliud Kipchoge and Sifan Hassan will be racing at the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday 3 March. Despite their different career trajectories and distinctly unique personalities, the pair have more in common than one might initially think. Successful careers on the track that have transitioned (or are transitioning) to the roads? Check. Good memories from the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics? Check. Looking to add to those good memories at the Paris Olympics next August? Check.

Neither need an introduction. Their careers are as unique as they come. No one else has (yet) run sub-two hours for 26.2 miles, regardless of its format. No one else has stopped for a mid-race stretch and gone on to win the London Marathon.

Photo: NN Running Team

Preparation for Paris

Kipchoge is one of, if not the, greatest marathon runners of all-time. He has won 18 of his 21 marathons, setting the World Record twice. If he wins on the streets Paris on August 10th, he will become to first to win back-to-back-to-back Olympic marathons. He knows the streets of the Japanese capital well, having raced the Tokyo Marathon in 2022. He won that day and holds the course record of 2:02:40. Of course, he also won at the Olympics in 2021 in Sapporo.

The country’s culture of running is what draws him to Tokyo and Japan. It is why he wants to explore the country further once he has hung up his professional racing shoes. He calls is a special location, one where everybody is into running. He talks of translating the culture of running that’s present in Japan across the whole world; “I can sell my idea about making this world a running world”.

Kipchoge says that, alongside the good memories, the five-month gap between Tokyo and Paris provides sufficient “time to train my mind and train my muscles to operate at my best in Paris next year”. The importance of “respecting the responsibility of running at the Olympic Games” is one he does not take lightly.

Breaking Barriers

It will be Kipchoge’s first race in five years where he won’t be introduced as the World Record holder. Kelvin Kiptum took the mark to new levels with 2:00:35 at the Chicago Marathon in October. Understandably, talk turns to when, rather than if, the first sub-two marathon in normal race conditions will occur, and who will do it. Kipchoge, speaking as eloquently as ever, is not one to be drawn into the speculation, but points that – akin to the first sub-four minute mile – his run in Vienna in 2019 showed the way, that it was possible.

For Kipchoge training is underway, with Kaptagat providing sunny weather that is conducive to training. He will continue to “respect the training” throughout the Christmas and New Year festivities; but would one expect anything different?

Photo: Vienna City Marathon / Michael Gruber

What’s Next?

If Eliud’s pathway for the next twelve months is clear, Sifan Hassan’s is anything but. The question has long been asked; what will she focus on in Paris? The answer remains as unclear now as ever.

Her short marathon career has been almost as chaotic as it has been successful. Who else can deliver a marathon debut quite like hers, yet go on to win one of the most prestigious races on the calendar (against formidable opposition)? Perhaps it should come as no surprise. After all, she is the athlete who won both the 1500m and 10,000m at the 2019 World Championships and nearly completed the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m treble at the Tokyo Olympics.

She proved it was no fluke and won the Chicago Marathon in October. Her time of 2:13:44 is the second fastest in history. The World Record would be hers but for Tigist Assefa running in Berlin a fortnight earlier. Is that a real-life example of the Vienna-effect Kipchoge speaks of?

Photo: Global Sports Communication

Why Tokyo

Similar to Kipchoge, Sifan notes the gap between Tokyo and Paris as being a big motivator for travelling to Japan, alongside her fond memories from 2021. It also allows her to race on the track, an important factor when deciding what distances she will contest in Paris.

She insists that this remains unconfirmed, and that she will decide alongside coach Tim Rowberry between two and three months before the Olympics. The mixture of events run this year, including winning a 10,000m and 1500m at the FBK Games on consecutive days a matter of weeks after the London Marathon, suggest anything is possible.

Indeed, the programme in theory allows for a quadruple attempt:

Friday AM: 5000m heats.

Monday PM: 5000m final.

Tuesday AM: 1500m heats.

Thursday PM: 1500m semi-finals.

Friday PM: 10,000m final.

Saturday PM: 1500m final.

Sunday AM: Marathon,

You’d say surely not, but this is is Sifan Hassan. Anything could be possible.

Photo: James Rhodes

Sifan started training a week ago, saying she might have “celebrated too much after Chicago”, and will be based in Ethiopia over winter. She is not willing to entertain any time-based expectations for Tokyo. Rather, continuing to learn the distance, gaining more experience and simply having fun are her main objectives.

Intriguingly, whatever happens in Tokyo, it will not impact her decisions for Paris. Breaking the World Record is not a focus “right now”, but it is likely that Brigid Kosgei’s 2:16:02 Course Record will be on her mind come race day.

During the call, Eliud told Sifan “I think you’re ready for Tokyo”. It will be exciting to see what happens come Sunday 3 March.