Martin Keino: The man who paced others to seven world records

By Jonathan Komen: Friday, March 27th 2020 at 11:00 GMT +3 | Athletics
Martin Keino, the son of 1968 Olympic 1,500m champion Kipchoge Keino [COURTESY]

Martin Keino, the son of 1968 Olympic 1,500m champion Kipchoge Keino, could not match his father’s athletic performance.

But, as a career pacesetter, he paced seven world records.

He was the pace-setter for Daniel Komen when he set two all-time marks and Ethiopians Haile Gebresellasie and Kenenisa Bekele, who broke world records in 5,000m and 10,000m.

He led Komen to set world records in two miles twice posting 8:03.54 and slapping the current record of 7:58.61 in Hechtel, Belgium, on July, 19, 1997.

Komen stands out as the only man alive to have run the two miles race under eight minutes.

Keino said his manager, the late Kim McDonald, introduced him to pacemaking.

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“My first pacing assignment was in Lappeenranta, Finland in 1996. The late Kim McDonald asked me to pace for Daniel Komen in the two-mile race.

“He broke the world record in 8.03. Komen liked my rhythm and asked me to pace again,” he said.

Keino believes he was a talented pace-setter. “I had a skill that many runners did not possess. I had a unique ability of pace judgment that several athletes later came to appreciate. I was able to run each lap as even as possible.  In fact, even great Ethiopian long-distance runners Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie requested me to pace for them.

“I paced for over ten years and helped three athletes set seven world records. I became one of the best pacesetters in middle distance races.

“I usually would receive my pace-setting instructions and the task by the race director or the athlete requesting it. I would get the pacing instructions the day before the race after the technical meeting. And it was usually a decision reached between the athletes’ managers and race director,” he said.

Keino said the hardest pace making duty was when Bekele was attempting the world record in Paris in 2005.

“To run a sub-four minutes in the first 1,600m for Bekele’s record attempt in the 5,000m was so hard. That was the fastest I’ve ever paced through in 5,000m,” he said.

Pacing for Komen in two miles race, he said, was another memorable race.

“It was the first time under 8:00 and it was a fantastic feeling to be a part of that history, knowing I played an important role.

“A ballpark figure for what a pace-maker earned back then would be usually the equivalent of a third-place finish. It was worth it.

“But it depended on the calibre of the race. Golden League races (now Diamond League), especially when there was a world record attempt, paid more. It was lucrative,” he said.

Keino said a pacesetter needs strong mental preparation in order to do his job. “Having to lead from the front requires a great deal of confidence and mental strength because they really decide how the race unfolds... They determine the goal time, despite all the external challenges and difficulties  battling with the wind and rain,” said Keino

He said the physical preparation is important to training and preparing for any race like a champion would.

“What makes it a bit easier is that I was usually coming from a shorter distance so was used to running faster per lap than the longer distances I was pacing for, “ said Keino

On the difference between pacing for a track race and the Ineos 1:59 attempt: Keino said: “There were five teams of seven pacers, who were interchanging every five kilometres. Not the same runners but a fresh team for every leg.... Something not ever seen before.

“In brief, the idea is that the front V shape of five runners created a wash of air that will flow around Eliud Kipchoge and therefore reduce the drag on him. Two runners behind Kipchoge provided “static pressure,” to push Kipchoge along; they also helped created the “optimal flow” around him. 

“The pace car, which will drive 15m in front of the lead pacesetters provided a laser line on the road to keep the runners on schedule, The formation relies on precision. If Kipchoge moved 12 metres to his right or left, he was much less protected.

“It was estimated that this formation, if everyone did their jobs perfectly, would save Kipchoge a minute and fifty-two seconds, compared with Kipchoge running alone,” said Keino.


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