The former athlete turned sports manager on how elite-only or time trial races could allow athletes an autumn season

Jos Hermens remains hopeful that athletics will be back on track in time to allow an autumn road racing season but believes creativity could be necessary if that is to become a reality.

The former athlete turned sports manager, whose Global Sports Communication agency represents the likes of Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele, says everything is relative as the world currently battles the coronavirus pandemic, but the Dutch Olympian has voiced some ideas that he feels might help speed up a racing return.

“Of course, we all hope that there will be fall marathons and that from September on we can have competitions in one way or another, so that is going to be very interesting and intriguing,” he tells AW.

“In one way, I can see 40,000 people in a marathon, being close to each other, what will that do? What will be happening with international travel?

“Can you have a marathon but maybe only with local runners? You could also think about a marathon only for elites or people in certain groups. You could think about maybe for the top athletes, to make a kind of time trial – every athlete starting half a minute or a minute behind each other and they can only pass each other, they cannot stay together. If somebody passes you, you have to let them pass.

“We have to be creative. If it comes down that not everybody can run, we have to be creative.

“If they cannot close off the whole city for the top athletes, maybe find a circuit where we can do it – there are many possibilities,” he adds.

“Of course, I am not totally objective in a way, because we would like to have the top athletes competing but on the other hand, there are other things in the world going on.

“Everything is open and we have to see what the scientists and professionals think about it. I think we can find some alternatives, if necessary.”

This Sunday, April 26, had originally been a key date in the diary for Hermens and some of his athletes. The Virgin Money London Marathon had been set to stage a mouthwatering clash between two of the greatest distance runners in history as Kenya’s world record-holder Kipchoge was to be joined on the start line by fellow NN Running Team athlete Bekele, Ethiopia’s world 5000m and 10,000m record-holder.

Jos Hermens with Kenenisa Bekele at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

It was even more highly anticipated given their achievements in 2019, with Kipchoge having broken the two-hour barrier for the marathon in the non-record eligible INEOS 1:59 Challenge and Bekele missing the Kenyan’s official world record mark by just two seconds with his winning time of 2:01:41 in Berlin.

Now the London event has been rescheduled for October 4.

“It is sad (that the event cannot take place this weekend), but there is something more in the world going on now so that makes everything relative,” says Hermens, who himself is a former world record-holder, having twice improved the world hour mark in Papendal, first with 20,907m in 1975 and then with 20,944m one year later.

“Of course, we were really looking forward to this big clash. It was time – to see the development in their career, look at their age – everything would have been perfect so I am going to miss that.

“One thing you have to say about the African athletes, they are very flexible,” he adds. “They are brought up in circumstances that they have to be flexible. So they are probably more adjusted than we are in our society.”

Giving insight into how some of his athletes are currently living in lockdown, he says: “The athletes are all in a position of training but not super, super hard. It is, I’m sure, the same as in England.

“In Africa there is still a bit more freedom. Some people are trying to find alternatives, doing a lot indoors, keeping basic conditioning and then hopefully when there is a bit more freedom they can start training hard again.

“The most important thing is to motivate them,” he adds. “A few athletes, especially from Spain, are sitting in their homes and they can’t do any training so they feel like ‘what are we doing it for?’ One or two have actually skipped the season, they just want to come back next year.

“But many of our athletes are from Africa, where they are taking it very seriously. They have a good lockdown, they have learned quickly from places like China and Europe, how to adapt. I am really impressed by the way the governments are doing it and also the athletes – I think most people are in good spirits but of course everybody is waiting.

“If there will not be a fall season then it is going to be much more difficult.”

» Click here for an interview with Kipchoge and Bekele as they share their thoughts on what might have been had the London Marathon taken place as planned, their training and the sub-two-hour marathon

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