BERKELEY'S NEWS • OCTOBER 01, 2022

A tribute to underappreciated endurance athletes

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WIKIMEDIA | CREATIVE COMMONS

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APRIL 14, 2020

When you’re asked to think of the world’s greatest athlete, what name comes to mind? Maybe it’s LeBron James, the 6’8”, 250-pound superhuman with a 40-inch vertical leap. Or maybe it’s Serena Williams, who could pass for a bodybuilder but has unmatched finesse on the tennis court. If you live in a country that actually watches men’s soccer, it’s possible that you thought of Cristiano Ronaldo.

The point is, most sports fans think of the same few names — a reflection of which athletes have the most lucrative endorsement deals and play the most frequently televised sports. Several endurance athletes who deserve to be in the conversation are often overlooked because the sports they dominate aren’t particularly marketable or famous, and that’s a shame.

 

Eliud Kipchoge

Arguably the most underappreciated athlete on planet Earth today is Eliud Kipchoge. He’s a marathon runner — the greatest of all time, in fact — and hails from Kenya, as many of the world’s prominent distance runners do. At 5’6” and 115 pounds, he doesn’t exactly have the imposing stature of a LeBron James, but his résumé is astonishing.

In 2019, Kipchoge became the first person in history to run a marathon distance in under two hours, turning in a time of 1:59:40. This means he held a pace faster than four minutes and 34 seconds per mile for 26.2 miles. Kipchoge pounding his chest in triumph on the final straightaway as his pacers looked on in admiration was arguably the most inspiring sports moment of the past year.

The 1:59:40 run was not recognized by the IAAF as an official world record, however. Kipchoge used several teams of pacers who would drop in and out over the course of his race, but the IAAF requires that no new pacers join a runner once his or her race has started.

The marathon legend knew it would be that way going in, however, so the race was seen as a test of the human will rather than a world record attempt. Besides, Kipchoge already has the official marathon world record of 2:01:39, so it’s no skin off his nose. Oh, and he won gold in the marathon at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Like I said, astonishing résumé.

“No human is limited,” Kipchoge has said, and nobody is more demonstrative of that truth than Kipchoge himself.

Alex Honnold

Next on the list is climber Alex Honnold, an endurance athlete in a different domain. Honnold climbed the El Capitan rock formation in Yosemite National Park alone and without a rope, or free solo, hence the name of the documentary which follows his ascent.

It’s a gargantuan feat of focus, power and coordination. To scale a 3,000 foot rock face takes the grip strength of a crab and the poise of the world’s savviest businessman.

But above all his other attributes, it may be Honnold’s endurance that is most outstanding. For hours on end he hoists his weight up sheer rock walls, often clutching holds that are barely visible to untrained — or perhaps even the most experienced — eyes.

Honnold’s free solo ascent of El Capitan took just under four hours, the thought of which is enough to numb one’s fingers and biceps. And how did he celebrate this unprecedented achievement? By hangboarding in his van, of course.

 

David Goggins

Finally, there’s an endurance athlete who has both preposterous upper-body strength and the grit necessary to run hundreds of miles at a time: former Navy SEAL David Goggins.

With his bald head and bulky physique, Goggins certainly looks the part of an ex-military macho man. But it’s his intangibles — namely his mental toughness — that make Goggins an inspiration.

In 2013, the former SEAL set a world record for pullups in a day when he did 4,030 in 17 hours. Despite the fatigue and nasty blisters manifesting on his hands, Goggins pushed through.

He placed fifth at the Badwater 135 in 2006, then third in 2007. What’s the Badwater 135? Just a 135 mile jaunt through Death Valley in the summertime. When he ran the race in 2006, it was just his third ultramarathon, but he performed like a seasoned veteran.

Goggins may seem intense from his motivational speeches on Instagram. But, when you’ve served as a Navy SEAL, done literally thousands of pull-ups in a day and run a longer distance than most people would want to drive before taking a break, intensity is natural.

Endurance sports aren’t sexy. Only a niche audience would be willing to watch running or climbing for hours on end, so names like Eliud Kipchoge, Alex Honnold and David Goggins rarely come up in discussions about the world’s top athletes. With that being said, there’s a case to be made for each of them.

Some of the world’s most mind-boggling feats take place outside the spotlight. Don’t take these athletes for granted.

Contact Ethan Moutes at 

LAST UPDATED

APRIL 14, 2020


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