2019 – Brigid Kosgei

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13-Oct-2019 – Chicago Marathon – 2:14:04 – Nike Zoom VaporFly Next%
Date of birth: 20-Feb-1994
Nationality: Kenyan
World Record duration: 3 years, 11 months, 11 days

The athlete:                
After over sixteen years spent unbroken, it was Brigid Kosgei of Kenya who set the new women’s marathon world record. Kosgei had been one to watch coming into the 2019 Chicago Marathon. Having made her marathon debut in 2015, she had continued making massive improvements with each next year of competition.

She won the Chicago Marathon the previous year, and achieved victory at the 2019 London Marathon several months earlier. More ominously, at the 2019 Great North Run, she had set the unofficial record for the women’s half-marathon. Unfortunately that course is not official by World Athletics standards.

It was therefore with some sense of inevitability that Kosgei would deliver something special on the day of the race. One of her inspirations was countryman Eliud Kipchoge. Days earlier Kipchgoge had broken the two hour mark for the marathon world record, albeit in unofficial conditions. Kosgei even changed her shoes from the older version of the Nike VaporFly she planned to use to the same type worn by pacers at the event.

Kosgei made her intentions clear in the first five kilometres, smashed out in 15:28 and well under world record pace. Apart from her pacers, Kosgei was without competition. With cooler temperatures than expected, Kosgei slowed only slightly as she powered through the following miles. By the halfway point she was one minute ahead of the previous world record set by Paula Radcliffe.

Such was Kosgei’s composure that she happily waved to the crowd as she approached the finish. She would win by nearly seven minutes, and in the process set the new world record by 81 seconds. Many had thought Radcliffe’s time would never be beaten, with many trying and failing over the years.
When asked about her shoes, she was dismissive, saying that she could have run the same time barefoot. For the sake of comparison I sincerely hope Kosgei decides to, as it would make for a fascinating benchmark. Kosgei remains bullish about her future, saying she plans to go even faster. With many years of competition ahead of her, she has every chance to make good on that promise.

There was some commentary afterwards relating to Kosgei’s agent, Frederico Rosa, who has worked with several athletes who have been banned for doping violations. There have been no formal allegations or evidence provided against either Rosa or Kosgei, who pointed out that she trained in a different camp to the banned athletes referred to. It should be further noted that Kosgei has never failed a drug test.

The shoes:                   

Kosgei wore the unmistakable silhouette that is the Nike Zoom VaporFly Next%, in an equally unmistakable bright ‘Pink Blast’ colourway. The shoe was the evolution of the Zoom VaporFly 4% she had worn at the 2019 London Marathon. The name of that model came from the improvements in running efficiency found in testing, four percent. The VaporFly itself has been written about extensively, but it is one of the most significant running shoes ever released.

The Pebax foam used was remarkable enough by itself, dubbed ZoomX by Nike for its version, offering even greater cushioning than anything the company had created before. What made the VaporFly so significant was the curved carbon-fibre plate nestled within the foam midsole. The stiff plate was designed to help propel runners forward with each step by using the energy from bending at the toes to move the foot through each stride. The ZoomX midsole, highly soft and responsive, is consequently made more stable due to the plate.

As for the upper, Nike moved away from the Flyknit technology used for previous versions, and introduced Vaporweave. The material is made from mixing two types of plastic, the result being transparently thin and also being 93 percent less absorbent than Flyknit. It also resulted in more weight savings, the Vaporweave version coming in at 187 grams. Pairs of the same colourway Kosgei wore are available for below retail through consignment stores, although the same technology is available in many other colourways as well.