Since the advent of the NN Running Team in 2017 we have witnessed a glut of magical moments but what should we expect in 2020? Here are five things to pay close attention to across the next 12 months.
Eliud in London
Every time Eliud Kipchoge takes to the road it is always a truly momentous occasion and April’s London Marathon will be no different. His ground-breaking and historic first sub-two-hour marathon in Vienna last October has elevated the Kenyan running maestro to global superstar status, so expect the running world to be a fever pitch as he attempts to extend his record-breaking number of wins in the British capital to five. Unbeaten in his four previous appearances, should the 35-year-old Kenyan claim victory once more it will be his 12th win from 13 career marathons and 11th straight success.
Ethiopia’s NNRT athletes enjoyed a supremely successful 2019 – highlighted by the return of distance running legend Kenenisa Bekele’s to the big time following his jaw-dropping victory in Berlin in a stunning 2:01:41 – within two seconds of Eliud’s world record. Also impressing was compatriot Birhanu Legese, the Tokyo Marathon winner, who ran a huge new personal best of 2:02:48 to finish one place behind Bekele in Berlin. The women also impressed with Degitu Azimeraw producing the second quickest marathon debut time in history (2:19:26) to win the Amsterdam Marathon. However, the progress of a special trio of women in Getamesay Molla’s training group will be keenly anticipated. Ashete Bekere enjoyed a perfect two from two marathon record with wins in Rotterdam (2:22:55) and Berlin (2:20:14) while her training partner Azmera Abreha ran even quicker with a scintillating 2:18:33 for second in Valencia. Tadelech Bekele was the prominent member of the group in 2018 after victory in Amsterdam and although health issues marred her progress in 2019 the return of a fully fit Tadelech will be keenly anticipated in 2020.
The Rise of Uganda
Traditionally Kenya and Ethiopia have been the two powerhouse nations of global endurance running but the recent accomplishments of Uganda suggest a third East African giant is on the move and the NNRT have played a huge part of that. Led by the talismanic Joshua Cheptegei, who in 2019 swept to the world cross country and world 10,000m titles as well as setting a world 10km road record, Ugandan athletes featured strongly on the global road running scene. Others to make their mark included Filex Chemonges, who erased Stephen Kiprotich’s Ugandan marathon record from the books with a time of 2:05:12 for third in the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Meanwhile, Stephen Kissa is another Ugandan athlete on the rise following victory in the prestigious Seven Hills race over 15km in Nijmegen. The continued development of the group based out of Kapchorwa will make for fascinating viewing in 2020.
The NNRT may boast a rich seam of African distance running talent but its rising strength in Europe is also to be admired. Switzerland’s Julien Wanders, Bashir Abdi of Belgium and Dutch marathon record-holder Abdi Nageeye all enjoyed memorable years in 2019 with the promise of much more to come in 2020. Kenyan-based Julien, still aged just 23, set a world 5km road record of 13:29 in Monaco and also posted the European half-marathon record of 59:13. Abdi dismantled his Dutch record over the classic distance by almost two minutes with a 2:06:17 clocking in Rotterdam while Bashir set not one but two Belgian marathon records – climaxing with a 2:06:14 run in Chicago. The development of the trio will be watched with interest in coming year with Ireland’s Paul Pollock, who set a massive PB of 2:10:25 In Valencia, another European NNRT talent in the form of his life.
The highlight of the sporting year will be the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and for a clutch of NNRT athletes, the event will provide the pinnacle of their season. Teams will not be selected until later in the year, but should Eliud Kipchoge, the 2016 men’s marathon champion from Rio be on the start line to defend his title, he will once again be the athlete to beat. Ethiopia boasts a strong heritage in the Olympic marathon dating back to Abebe Bikila – the 1960 and 1964 champion – and the country will once again look to mount a strong threat. The NNRT will also hope to have a presence in the women’s race and, if so, they would hope to be able to challenge for a podium spot. The relocation of the road races to Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido – some 800km north of Tokyo – should at least make conditions cooler for the competing athletes.