What you need to know:
- Race initially planned as Hamburg Marathon will now be run as ‘NN Mission Marathon’ on airport roads
- ‘I want to run a beautiful race to show the world that we are in transition to a great future,’ says Kenyan legend ahead of final pre-Olympics race
Dutch distance running veteran Michel Butter had given up his Olympic dream after falling painfully outside the qualification time for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Running at the 2015 Amsterdam Marathon, Butter watched agonisingly as the clock — seemingly quickly — ticked one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight seconds outside the required qualification mark of two hours and 11 minutes.
The Dutchman’s 2:11:08 handed him an 11th place finish in that race which was won by Bernard Kipyego (2:06:19) who led a Kenyan sweep with Ezekiel Chebii (2:07:17) and Mike Kigen (2:07:45) completing the podium.
The Amsterdam race was Butter’s final chance at qualifying for Rio, and the eight-second miss eventually led him to announcing his retirement from elite running, but after finishing sixth at the New York Marathon in 2017.
Butter, with a personal best time of 2:09:58 clocked at the Amsterdam Marathon in 2012, then took up cycling and, voila! He unwittingly regained marathon shape and has now decided to have another stab at qualifying for the Olympic Games!
On Sunday, he will feature in one of the interesting sub-plots at the specially organised NN Mission Marathon race which will be run on a special course at Enschede city’s Twente Airport, chasing this year’s Olympic qualification time of 2:11:30.
The race was originally scheduled for Hamburg last Sunday but was relocated due to concerns in the German city over the spread of the coronavirus.
The main plot today will feature Kenya’s Olympic champion and world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge with several other European nations also using the race as an Olympic qualifier.
Butter will be up against already-qualified fellow Dutchmen Abdi Nageeye, Bart van Nunen, Björn Koreman and Frank Futselaar, but still has a chance at selection with only three making the team.
“That’s really cool and that’s why it itches. I’m just there again, so they have an extra competitor,” Butter told Dutch media in the build-up to today’s special race.
Special because an eight-lap course has been designed on the Twente Airport runways and roads where the public won’t be allowed due the Covid-19 restrictions, with the race starting at 9.30am, Kenyan time.
There’s a stellar field too on offer with 13 men boasting sub 2:10 PBs and eight women having dipped under 2:30.
In a pre-race interview on Thursday, Kipchoge said he wants to run “a beautiful race” today to enourage mankind in the fight against the coronavirus-inflicted misery.
“It is wonderful to be back on the start line and I’m competing at a time when the world is undergoing a lot of challenges concerning the coronavirus pandemic. I want to run a beautiful race to show the world that we are in transition to a great future,” he said.
Last year, Kipchoge suffered a rare blot in an otherwise flawless marathon career when he finished eighth in the London Marathon, only his second defeat since he started competing in the marathon at the 2013 Hamburg Marathon.
“I have done good training back in Kaptagat where I was residing with the other athletes at the camp and I will be competing with them today.
“It is a tight race but I believe many of the athletes seeking qualifications will manage to get the mark,” said Kipchoge.
Kipchoge has been selected to represent Kenya in the Olympics Games along with World Championships bronze medalist champion Amos Kipruto, 2020 London Marathon runner-up Vincent Kipchumba and Boston Marathon champion Lawrence Cherono.
Stiff competition is expected from his former training mate and 2012 Olympics Marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich (2:06:36) of Uganda who has been training in Kapchorua. He will be featuring in a Ugandan sub-plot on Sunday.
Kiprotich told Nation Sport that it has been a tough journey during this period where races have been cancelled across the world.
“I will be competing today to seek qualification mark for the Olympic Games but I must say it has been tough for us as athletes staying at home, training individually with no race. One of our athletes, Fred Musobo, has already qualified and we are looking forward to a good race so that we can join him in representing our country,” said Kiprotich, Olympic champion in London in 2012 and world champion in Moscow the following year.
Others on Sunday’s start list include Kenya’s Augustine Choge, Jonathan Korir (2:06:45), Laban Korir (2:05:54), Uganda’s Filex Chemonges (2:05:12) among others.
Gladys Chesir (2:24:51), fresh from maternity leave, will be also on the line up as she seeks to gauge how her body reacts after a long break. She said that when she wanted to get back into active competitions, coronavirus struck forcing her to wait for another one year.
“I’ve waited for a long time... I want to thank my management for including me in the race. I have prepared well and the race will help me gauge my performance for future races,” said Chesir.
Besides the elite field, Kenya will also be on prominent display in Enschede with the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) leveraging the marathon to promote the destination brand to the world.
KTB CEO Betty Radier says the NN Marathon presents Kenya with an opportunity to leverage on the global coverage of the marathon to enhance top of mind awareness of the destination among travellers whose travel plans have been hampered by travel restriction as a result of covid-19 pandemic.