Discovered by a scout from the University of Texas, he landed a running scholarship and eventually won a silver medal in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 1992 Olympics in Spain. As a child, Kipchoge would gather with friends around a black-and-white TV to watch Sang compete. By 2002, Sang had transitioned to coaching; Kipchoge, who was scraping out a living delivering milk on the back of a bicycle, decided to seek him out for running advice.
Ever since, Sang has been the architect and Kipchoge the contractor who follows his designs: the grueling early-morning track workouts; the long runs at the edge of the Rift Valley escarpment; the six days a week in a Spartan camp away from his wife and children. (The camp, part of the Dutch athletics management group Global Sports Communication, closed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, though Kipchoge and his teammates have continued to train in groups under Sang’s guidance.)
Kipchoge was among the world’s best on the track for a decade before finding his true calling in the marathon. In 2016, he won the Olympic marathon in Brazil. The following year, he just missed breaking the two-hour barrier at a special event organized by Nike at a Formula 1 racetrack in Italy.
After back-to-back victories at the London Marathon and his 2:01:39 official world record in Berlin, Kipchoge accepted an offer from Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire chairman of the British chemical firm Ineos, to take another stab at what some called running’s last great barrier. The image of him, in white shoes and singlet, floating through Vienna’s streets en route to his 1:59:40, is now etched in the sport’s pantheon.
Kipchoge has the requisite raw physical talent for racing, but the qualities that set him above the rest, Sang and several teammates said in interviews, involve his unmatched combination of discipline, self-belief, and psychological mettle. Sang spoke of Kipchoge’s ability to “focus a notch higher” — during training, at key moments in races, and in avoiding the distractions brought by fame and wealth.
Many of Kenya’s stars have veered off track because of alcohol or bad investments. Kipchoge shuns nightlife for the quiet of the camp, where he pitches in with daily chores and spends his free time reading books.