Clash of the champions

In some sports, the best of the best can often circle each other for some time before coming face to face in the arena, if ever.

Boxing fans can attest to the number of bouts that have never come to pass down the years to find out who is the true No.1 and, sometimes, when matches are finally made, one or both protagonists can often be past their best.

In marathon running, the same can be said to a degree. Even in the Olympics, the tough selection processes in the world’s foremost marathon-running nations means someone is often left at home who spectators would love to have seen go up against the chosen few.

Injury and scheduling can also play their parts in often preventing the biggest names from standing on the same start line. We lost the chance to see Eliud Kipchoge battle Kenenisa Bekele in London in 2020 – their personal bests separated by just two seconds – when Bekele withdrew with a niggling injury. We haven’t had another chance yet.

Bekele was not selected for the Olympics last year as Kipchoge strode to a second gold medal in as many games. We were left to wonder whether the great Ethiopian could have mounted a challenge as the only other man on the planet with a sub 2:02 time to his name.

By way of reparation, perhaps, the running gods have seen fit to give us a showdown that can arguably be touted as equally, if not more, mouth-watering in 2022.

Joyciline Jepkosgei and Peres Jepchirchir will contest the Boston Marathon on April 18 with both athletes at what should be the peak of their powers.

Their careers have followed similar trajectories, with record-breaking performances in the half marathon paving the way into the full distance, where both have conquered the New York City Marathon at the first time of asking.

Jepkosgei added the London title to her CV in 2021 and Jepchirchir took down world record holder Brigid Kosgei to become Olympic champion last summer.

Their PBs are separated by just 27 seconds and, tellingly, their times on the New York course are just one second apart. The evidence points to a battle that should be too close to call.

The six race directors couldn’t separate them at the end of the last series. Locked on 50 points per athlete for their two race wins each, it was down to the figureheads of the AbbottWMM races to declare a champion.

They simply couldn’t choose, and decided that they would be crowned joint champions of Series XIII in a historic first for the Majors.

Bringing the pair together to take on Boston’s famous old point-to-point route will test them in new and exciting ways, its early downslopes a test of nerve before the Newton Hills will examine their steel.

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that we could see them go stride for stride down the home straight if both come through those late miles unscathed, and they will be kept honest by the ageless Edna Kiplagat, who knows how to pour it on at the business end of the Boston Marathon.

The 2017 champion has chased down the last two winners of the race, cutting the gap but falling short of a full catch on both occasions.

What price a dead heat, and an extension to the wait to find out who really is No. 1?

It’s going to be fun finding out.