by Kimathi Kamau
NAIROBI, March 11 (Xinhua) -- Should the Tokyo 2020 Olympics go as planned, Kenyan long-distance great, Eliud Kipchoge, is one of the headline acts of the Summer Games keen on making personal history at the biggest sporting carnival on earth.
Widely regarded as the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T) in marathon running, the Rio 2016 champion was handed a ticket to defend his crown at an event that has remained close to his heart since he took up running as a career in the late 1990s.
Kipchoge is set to compete at his fourth Olympic Games when he takes to the start line for the marathon on the streets of Sapporo in August, a statement of his longevity, determination and continued excellence.
Speaking to his management team, NN Running, Kipchoge reflected on his Olympics journey that started in Athens 2004 when he was still a teenager and has spanned many triumphs and a few disappointments for the 34-year-old Kenyan.
"I was in very good form that year having set a personnel best (PB) of 12:46.53 in Rome but two of my main rivals Kenenisa Bekele and Hicham El Guerrouj, whom I'd beaten to the World 5,000m title in Paris the previous year, were also in outstanding form.
"That season Kenenisa took more than two seconds from Haile Gebrselassie's world 5,000m record outdoors, posting 12:37.35 and also set a world 10,000m record in Ostrava in June in 26:20.31," Kipchoge recalled his bronze medal performance in Greece over 5,000m at his first-ever Olympics.
Coming in as the surprise world champion from Paris 2003, the young Kipchoge was forced to accept the third medal by the illustrious Moroccan, El Guerrouj as Bekele came home for the silver.
"I stepped on the pace and still led down the back straight but with 200m to go Kenenisa swept by me. I tried to respond but then just as we entered the home straight El Guerrouj edged clear. I had dropped to third. Down the final 100m I gave it my all but on this occasion, Kenenisa and Hicham were too strong and I had to settle for bronze," Kipchoge admitted.
His second Olympics was in China where he once again lined-up for the 5,000m final, with Guerrouj now retired after winning the double in Athens, Bekele and Kenyan-born American, Bernard Lagat, came in as his biggest rivals for the gold medal.
According to Kipchoge, Bekele accelerated and he tried to follow but by the middle of the back straight the gap had widened to eight meters.
Entering the home straight, he realized the race was gone. Kenenisa completed the formality of winning gold - and the long-distance double - in an Olympic record 12:57.82.
"I was clear in silver in 13:02.80 with (Edwin) Soi, my fellow Kenyan, in bronze (13.06.22). I let out a big smile as I crossed the line. I wanted a medal and I also improved on the bronze I won four years earlier in Athens. I simply had to concede defeat to the better man on the day," he added.
Kipchoge's Olympic run was brought to an end at the brutal Kenyan trials for London 2012 where he finished seventh in the men 5,000m final, denying him a third successive appearance.
This was the defeat that inspired him to turn to the marathon - the ultimate distance he has dominated like no other athlete before - winning 11 of the 13 races he has started including the Olympic crown at Rio 2016 in Brazil.
"I had missed out on making the Kenyan Olympic team for the London 2012 Olympics, which was the biggest disappointment of my career. Out of that I had a meeting with Patrick Sang and decided to step up to the marathon, which was to prove a great decision," he disclosed.
Aiming to become only the second Kenyan marathon gold medallist, after the late Beijing 2008 champion Samuel Wanjiru, Kipchoge awoke to a wet day in Rio with muggy temperatures in the low 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Together with his Kenyan teammates - Stanley Biwott and Wesley Korir - Kipchoge faced the usual strong Ethiopian challenge fronted by Feyisa Lilesa, the 2016 Tokyo Marathon winner.
World champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie of Eritrea was another threat as well as Kipchoge's training partner, the defending champion Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda.
"Yet my goal was to focus on myself. My tactics were to stay with the pace up until 30km. My winning move was made a little later down the road. At around 27km, Wesley, Stanley and I slowly worked together to increase the pace," said Kipchoge.
"At the 30km split, passed in 1:33:15, I was part of a pack of nine. I lifted the pace. Two kilometers further the lead group was reduced to four; American (Galen) Rupp, Lilesa and his compatriot Lemi Berhanu," he added.
At 35km with his ultimate goal of winning Olympic gold in sight, Kipchoge had Rupp and Lilesa for company, but the American's challenge for glory soon faded as he dropped off the pace.
Leading at 36km with Lilesa running behind, Kipchoge then motioned to the Ethiopian to pick up the pace but he declined, with the Kenyan deciding later to surge forward and open a gap.
"That lead had grown but I was unaware of where Lilesa was. In the final 400m, I looked behind several times to check on the Ethiopian but he was nowhere to be seen. I was about to become an Olympic champion," said Kipchoge.
"It was the most emotional I'd ever felt after a race (up until that point in my career). I had completed the race in 2:08:44, the slowest marathon of my career, but time was irrelevant. It was important to finally win an Olympic gold medal," he underscored.
"Few get to ever compete at an Olympic Games let alone win gold. I am still hugely proud of the accomplishment," he added.
As he prepares to bid for a record fifth marathon title in London in April before defending his Olympic crown in the summer, Kipchoge is one of the global icons waiting in bated breath to see whether the Coronavirus outbreak that has wreaked havoc on events worldwide will slow his bid for sporting immortality.