In athletics, the two-hour marathon is all the rage.
The race to be the first to achieve the feat – seen to be a milestone similar to that of the four-minute mile – is attracting millions and millions of dollars from the likes of Nike and Adidas.
Eliud Kipchoge fell just 25 seconds short in April at the Formula One race track in Monza, slicing two-and-a-half minutes off Dennis Kimetto’s world record.
His time won’t be recognised by athletics’ world governing body, the IAAF, because he ran in an artificially constructed environment which, unlike race conditions, was solely designed to break the two-hour mark.
But even though Kipchoge fell short, his attempt signalled a major shift in athletics.
The Kenyan, and Eritrean Zersenay Tadese and Ethiopian Lelisa Desisran, have signed with Nike for 2017 in a bid to crack the mark.
They are being paid handsomely for their efforts and Adidas is also in the race, with Kimetto and Wilson Kipsang to run in their gear and shoes in a bid to crack two hours.
With many of the world’s best marathon runners focusing on work for their companies, it spells danger for athletics.
Who is to say this won’t be common place in other disciplines as the years go by, as companies set their sights on other sporting benchmarks?
The athleisure market is worth $US270 billion and that leaves the sportswear giants with plenty of cash to throw around.
Given the perilous state of athletics, it should now surprise no one if a Usain Bolt equivalent in 10 years time is running for Puma or another globally recognisable brand for massive money and skipping major events.
What do the major companies get out of it?
Apart from the exposure, it is all about the gear.
Kipchoge, Tadese and Desisran ran in Nike ‘Zoom Vaporfly Elite’ shoes back in April – runners that claim to give users an energy saving of four per cent.
Those same shoes hit the stores this week, at $US250 a pop, and are hot property.
Adidas launched its Sub2 shoe in February, which Kimetto and Kipsang will wear in their attempts.
The major companies can sense blood in the water because international athletics is sport’s basket-case.
Systemic doping has trashed the IAAF’s trophy cabinet, and last year Adidas withdrew its $US33 million sponsorship.
In an attempt to reinvent international athletics, the IAAF Council will meet on July 31 to decide whether to wipe all world records before 2005 because of systemic doping.
Half of the world indoor and outdoor records could be binned.
Once sports rip-up their record books they lose relevancy, leaving the door ajar for private promoters to step in and asset-strip the show.
Nike has moved into sports science through its Oregon-based research facility, and its intellectual property powered Kipchoge’s run.
Kimetto may hold the ‘official’ world record, but Kipchoge is now the planet’s fastest marathoner and that is how Nike will market him and his apparel.
These brands have too much money invested in running to let it wilt.
Increasingly, they will buy the Kipchoge’s and Kimetto’s for their events and give them mega-rich wages, hiving-off the most marketable ends of the sport, while leaving the rest to fend for themselves.
Monza proved there’s a market for elite running events with 5.2 million watching Kipchoge’s attempt on Facebook.
Nike controlled the whole process from its production to dissemination.
Nike has hinted it is looking at other ‘moonshots’, particularly in women’s athletics.
Welcome to the new era.