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Kelvin Kiptum beats Lyles, Duplantis and Crouser in Men’s Athlete of the Year poll

Picking a men’s athlete of the year has been controversial in 2023. So controversial in fact, that World Athletics didn’t do it — they split the award into three and handed out a best track, best field, and best out-of-stadia athlete.

For the record, if one was going to wimp out and split the award, handing it to both Ryan Crouser and Mondo Duplantis wouldn’t be terrible. Both of them broke the world record in their event, and both of them only lost once. Crouser’s loss came in a more significant event  (the DL final) than Mondo’s (Monaco Diamond League), but Crouser’s WR shot put of 23.56 was 2.7% better than the #2 performer on the year (22.93), whereas Mondo’s WR vault of 6.23 was 2.6% better than the #2 mark on the year (6.07). Their years were eerily, similarly fantastic, but they weren’t perfect.

Our 2023 World Athlete of the Year isn’t a field eventer, though. It’s marathoner Kelvin Kiptum, who basically enjoyed a perfect 2023 campaign.

Kelvin Kiptum ran two races in 2023 and they were two of the greatest marathons ever run. First up was London. On a rainy day where everyone else was slowing down during the second half in both the men’s and women’s races, Kelvin Kiptum was redefining what was possible in the marathon. After a 61:40 first half, Kiptum recorded the fastest half-marathon split ever in a marathon — 59:45 — and during the final 12k of that he was running all alone. This wasn’t a choreographed sub-2 event with pacers in perfect conditions. This was a 23-year-old making himself an instant distance legend on the rainy streets of London.

Kiptum’s winning time of 2:01:25 took more than a minute off Eliud Kipchoge‘s 2:02:37 course record and was #2 time in history (now #3). We know that in era of super shoes, times don’t necessarily mean as much as they used to. But please appreciate how DOMINANT Kiptum was in London — the race that annually attracts the best fields in the sport (although neither Kipchoge nor Evans Chebet was in London this year).

Prior to Kiptum, a man hadn’t won London by more than a minute since 2012. Eliud Kipchoge has won the London Marathon four times in his life. His margins of victory were as follows: 5 seconds, 46 seconds, 32 seconds, and 18 seconds. So Kipchoge’s total margin of victory is 1:51 seconds over four races. Kiptum won London by 2:58 this year, the largest in the race’s history.

In Kiptum’s only other race of the year, it was more of the same. After a 60:48 first half, Kiptum blitzed the second half in 59:47 in Chicago (the second-fastest second half ever, behind only Kiptum’s 59:45 in London). Add those two together and you have a new world record of 2:00:35.

And if a world record doesn’t impress you, we ask you once again to please appreciate Kiptum’s dominance. No man had even won Chicago by more than 30 seconds since 2011. In the professional era (prize money started in 1982), no man had ever won Chicago by even two minutes. The largest margin of victory in the pro era was 1:57. How much did Kiputm win by? 3:27.

The marathon is one of the marquee events in our sport and Kiptum ran two nearly perfect marathons in 2023. It’s basically impossible for a marathoner to have a better year without running three races. Okay, he didn’t set a world record in both races, but his win in London was the equivalent of Mondo clearing 6.20 with 10 cm to spare. World record or not, we’d never seen a marathon like the one Kiptum ran in London this spring, which featured a 30k warm-up and then a 27:50 10k between 30k and 40k. Clearly that performance was worthy of the world record and he proved that to be the case six months later in Chicago, where he covered 30k to 40k in 27:52.

Of the last 25 men’s Abbott World Marathon Majors, dating back to the start of 2019, just three of them have featured a winning margin of more than two minutes and two of those were run by Kiptum this year.

Of the 17 Platinum marathons that he’s run in his career, Eliud Kipchoge has won 6 of 17 by more than a minute, with his average Platinum margin of victory being 1:20.5. Kiptum is 3 for 3 in terms of victories by more than a minute, with an average margin of victory of 2:30.6.

The LetsRun.com visitors also agreed with our pick of Kiptum as the AOY as he won our fan poll.

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