The @Breaking2 event on May 6, 2017 was more popular than many imagined. It went from some interest around the world, to, no matter where I went, people were asking me about it and talking about it. Here’s Jeff Benjamin’s review of the Breaking2 event and what it meant to those who observed the two hours and twenty-five seconds.
The NIKE Breaking2 Livestream Review
By Jeff Benjamin
“If a person is better than the last World Record Holder or the last Olympic Champion then his times will automatically progress….We set the target for the next person or the next generation and so, in that sense, we don’t really achieve perfection. We just keep climbing up the ladder, I suppose”
-Former Mile Record Holder Steve Ovett from the film “The Supermilers”
Lets just get this right out of the way.
Yes, it doesn’t technically or officially count. Yes, NIKE’s shoes, the race course, pacesetting arrangements and quite possibly the racing shoes were not in conformity with official IAAF rules. If one says these things (and I’m sure there’s a chorus out there) they might be correct.
BUT one cannot say that many were not glued to their livestream and were not rooting for Eliud Kipchoge to break the hallowed 2-hour barrier. Nor that fans around the world didn’t finish off heir Saturday feeling inspired and intrigued despite Kipchoge finishing 25 seconds off the mark. After all that’s part of the human dynamic.
And, boy, did the Swoosh Boys & Girls hit upon that dynamic, creating anticipation, arguments, and in the end motivation, inspiration and wonderment for all viewers to see. And perhaps that is what it’s all about.
Say what you want, but the ladder’s steps Steve Ovett was talking about just climbed way up!
With a race car course measurement led by the best measurer in the Sport, David Katz. Then, to the scientific design of the Vapor Fly shoe. Next,to pacesetters, the likes of Lopez Lomong, Bernard Lagat and a host of fast others. Then,there was the announcing crew of Sam Masekela, Craig Masback, and Women’s Marathon Record Holder Paula Radcliffe (who later in handed off the baton so to speak to Shalene Flanagan) along with actor/comedian Kevin Hart giving on the ground commentar. It was obvious that, NIKE pulled out all the stops to bring this event to a higher and yes, faster level and it was all accomplished with all to see via livestream.
And the promotion was not hollow in its message. “This fits into the history of breaking barriers,” said Masback, who recited previous barrier breakers such as Roger Bannister and Jim Hines, to have a few. “It’s like putting a man in the moon,” echoed Radcliffe.
The broadcast then went into the 3 athletes who were derived from 60 candidates to attempt this endeavor. Eliud Kipchoge, Zersenay Tadese and Lelisa Desisa were all “anointed” to participate in this endeavor. The announcers then discussed how 32 pacers would be utilized along with showing the design ic the Formula 1 racetrack in Monza, Italy. A quick profile introduced viewers to Sandy Bodecker, the VP of NIKE Special Projects who would start the race, replete with a ratio on his wrist which reads “1:59:59“. Masback then emphasized that the whole attempt was not just the athletes attempting to break the 2 hour barrier, but that it was an “ultimate team effort, from the coaches, athletes, scientist and others involved.”
As the race commenced the viewer was able to observe how the runners seemed totally in sync with the 4:34 per mile pace. One thing which this viewer found really intriguing was the presence of light green-line lights around the perimeter of the pack, which seemed to show the pacers focusing on the lines so as to keep the pace steady and consistent.
Throughout the broadcast, NIKE tried to echo Masback’s message of a team effort. Along with short bio features of these 3 amazing athletes, other 3-5 minute profiles included NIKE’s coaching, lab, shoe design and clothing design crews, who all share the same goal as the runners.
Meseleka led the broadcast and Hart threw in his mainstream comedy and variety by also rubbing elbows with spectators and Olympic Legend Carl Lewis. It was Masback and Radcliffe, whose running experiences (Masback ran the mile in 3:52!) showed and who were able to share with viewers some of the more subtle factors which create great racing times. Masback discussed the importance of the cool weather, particularly early in the morning, especially if it’s damp at sunrise. Radcliffe reinforced that concept by also emphasizing Masback’s description of the greenery and foliage of the area around the race track. “The trees around here release fresh oxygen around here,” echoed Radcliffe. Another topic discussed by the duo was the importance of rest as well as the athletes not overdoing it in practice.
As the runners flew past halfway Masback’s admiration and wonderment seemed to be shared by the viewer. As Tadese and Desisa began to fall off the pace, Kipchoge held consistent. “He should be applauded for trying this,” said Masback who, with almost 90 minutes of the attempt completed, also told the viewers of the fact that Kipcoge’s 1-Mile PR is 3:50! Also joining the live crew was author Ed Caesar, whose book “2 Hours” sparked the idea which was now approaching possible fruition within 30 minutes. Caesar sounded astounded, as he spoke about Kipchoge as being the guy who he wrote about a few years ago. Caesar then gave way to Runners World writer Alex Hutchinson who said that, regardless if Kipchoge does or doesn’t break the 2 hour barrier, “People will be processing this for a long time…major marathons might try and do pacers and change the times of their races.”
Around this time, Radcliffe (who had to “run” down to the finish to do the post-race interviews) was replaced by Flanagan, who seemed astounded by what was transpiring. “I can’t believe I’m here!,” exclaimed Flanagan. Flanagan seemed to echo the viewers feelings, even as Kipchoge slowed over the last few miles and it became apparent that 2016 Rio Olympic Champion would not shatter the barrier. But, said Masback as Kipchoge almost completed his last circuit, “In a way it’s a victory lap because what he had achieved is extraordinary.”
And it was. As the pacers and crowd cheered Kipchoge on, and he breasted the tape (held by Joan Benoit and Allyson Felix) finishing only 25 seconds off the 2-hour barrier in the fastest marathon ever run, Kipchoge showed the world, according to Masekela that “Today we found out what was possible.” Echoed Flanagan, “Well I’m inspired to run today, I don’t know about you guys!”
Flanagan had nothing to worry about. Judging from the crowd reaction, to the pacers reactions, to the press camera and video mountain slide on Kipchoge (including the tall figure of NIKE leader Mark Parker, who was taking phone pics of an equally jubilant Bodecker with both looking like kids left alone in a candy store!), inspiration seemed to be spread around not only on the Monza Track, but in shockwaves around the world.
What does the future of attempts like this hold? Can the purism of the Sport be balanced with the spectacle of this kind of production, which could bring in new followers to the Sport? Will some Marathon race directors consider the possibility of changing their own races to conform with what happened in Italy. Will runners, both fast and slow, flick to the stores to buy these shoes? Could a major network make a decision to broadcast live the next time a Sub 2 attempt is attempted, and you ALL know there will be another one!
Perhaps one should take note of Shalene Flanagan, who this viewer believes echoed many who followed this quest. “This shows me how I have to break my own mental barriers.”
As Kipchoge said in his profile piece, “No human is limited…That’s my message.”
The message has been sent. Stay tuned.