They sat, socially distanced, two metres apart, at Wednesday’s press conference in their London bubble.
Perhaps to also signify that only two seconds split their marathon best times, with Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge the fastest of the two with a legal personal best time of two hours, one minute and 39 seconds.
Both Kipchoge and Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele are handled by the same management team – Global Sports Communications (GSC) - led by Dutchman Jos Hermens, and they will both be running in GSC’s NN Running Team colours at Sunday’s elite-only London Marathon.
Operating in the same ecosystem, they of course share a lot, but “sibling rivalry” will come to the fore on Sunday when they clash over 19 loops of 2.15 kilometres each, crafted in a secure biosphere around St James’ Park, triggered by concerns over Covid-19.
Their body language at Wednesday’s virtual (Zoom) press conference didn’t give away much, with Kipchoge relaxed and his philosophical self, while Bekele also seemed to be at peace with himself, though a tad edgy.
Especially when accosted by the question of the splits expected on Sunday.
Word has it that the Virgin London Marathon organisers have settled for a halfway split of 61 minutes, targeting a 2:02 finish, or faster, but while Kipchoge seemed unruffled by the fast time target, Bekele opted to keep cards close to his chest.
“In the next two days we will know whether it will be 61 minutes, which will be OK, but we will know the details in due course,” Kipchoge said. Bekele’s response: “I’m not planning to set the pace. The organisation (London Marathon) will set the pace and I will wait…”
To which Kipchoge then turned to Bekele and told him, jokingly: “But you can guess the time…”
Bekele’s response: “Whenever Kipchoge is running in London, the pace is really fast until halfway, and then things cool in the second half but that’s normal…”
Anyone who watched Bekele’s 2:01:41 in Berlin last September will get a hint of the Ethiopian’s drift. That he probably plans to bid his time, watch Kipchoge orchestrate the show, and aim for negative splits (fast times) in the second half of the race with a burst of typical Oromia energy.
In Berlin, at the 35-kilometre mark, Bekele trailed fellow Ethiopian Berhanu Legesse by 13 second and looked dead and buried.
But a late burst of energy carried the indefatigable legend from kilometre 35 to 40 in 14 minutes and 15 seconds, and he was cruising two seconds faster than Kipchoge’s time at this point the previous year when the Kenyan shattered the world record.
But the agony of crossing the Brandenburg Gate onto the picturesque finish line just two seconds shy of Kipchoge’s time is something the Ethiopian hopes to make amends for on Sunday.
Meanwhile, while Kipchoge has worked with Nike to develop a new shoe for Sunday’s big race, in honour of Kenya (Alphafly Next% Kenya), Bekele said he will maintain the older Nike version (Vaporfly Next%) which he used to conjure up the 2:01:41 in Berlin last year.
“I had some problems when I tried the Alphafly, and I need more time to adapt. I’m using the second version of the old one (Vaporfly) on Sunday,” he said.
Kipchoge’s latest Alphafly shoe has Kenyan colours with the inscription (1:59:40) in the insole and on the heel on the left shoe, and his initials “EK” on the heel of the right shoe. Kipchoge ran 1:59:40 at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge in Vienna last October , the first man to run a sub-two hour marathon.
“Nike is a running company, Kenya is a running country and I’m a running person, and that’s the weight of expectation around this shoe,” Kipchoge told the virtual press conference attended by 35 global journalists on the Zoom platform.
Kipchoge hinted at something special when asked what he thought about the loop course around St James’ Park. “Running laps is OK and I will compete in a good way and come up with the best results ever,” he said.
“I’ll also be accessing more drinks than in the normal marathon.”
Bekele was wary of the fact that multiple corners on the loop course would eat up precious seconds.
“It’s not easy running (around) corners,” the Ethiopian legend said. “At some point, you lose some seconds because of the curves, but we will see on Sunday."
Kipchoge noted that running under the NN Running Team instilled in both him and Bekele the winning mentality.
“The NN Running Team is the way to go in this world. One is good, two is much better,” he said, with his usual touch of philosophy, alluding to the fact that the Nijmegen (Netherlands) based NN Running team has the fastest two marathoners in their stable.
“We are performing highly and always doing well… we want to bring value to the team and to sponsors.”