When Eliud Kipchoge smashed the world marathon record on 25th September, 2022, the whole world bowed to honour the greatest marathoner of our generation. He clocked 2:01:09 in the streets of Berlin.
Just Before he reached the finish line tape, it was obvious that Kipchoge was yet again entering into history books. One of the commentators of the events described Kipchoge as superhuman, saying: “It’s history unfolding on the streets of Berlin in the sunshine. The double Olympic champion is the greatest marathon runner we have ever seen in the history of the event.”
Kipchoge put intensive training and obstinate determination before the race. One of the men he was grateful for is his friend and bottle handler Claus Henning Schulke. The duo have built a camaraderie since they first met in the 2018 Berlin Marathon in which Kipchoge also set a world record.
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And four years later, they met at Berlin Brandenburg Airport when Kipchoge landed from Paris. Claus arrived with a bouquet of flowers for Kipchoge. As soon as he caught sight of the marathoner, he couldn’t hide his elation as he shouted Kipchoge’s name before they embraced.
“This is the champion,” he applauded.
Together with Kipchoge’s coach, Patrick Sang the trio had a brief conversation before leaving the airport. One of the things that Claus and Kipchoge had to work on was the precision of handling water across the entire stretch of the marathon.
In a recent video done by the event’s organisers, Claus revealed that there were 13 stations and he hypothesized each to take a maximum of 2 seconds. He had to ensure that he rode faster than Kipchoge’s pace in order for things to go as planned. The 56 year old’s act was synonymous to dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.
“All 13 stations worked according to my calculation; that’s two seconds per station, so 26 seconds he profited from it. It’s a hypothesis but let me believe it. That was a great performance,” said Claus.
At one point, one of the pacesetters who was ahead of Kipchoge attempted to grab the bottle off the stretched arm of Claus, prompting a reflex reaction as he retracted and handed the water to Kipchoge who was a metre behind.
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Claus ensures he shouts the name Eliud just before his arrival and always dons a ‘Kipchoge’ name plate on his extended arm. This enables the iconic athlete to know where his water is and thus doesn’t break stride.
Claus then hops onto his bicycle as heads for the next station. His passion and enthusiasm in cheering Kipchoge has earned him the moniker “Bottle Claus.” He equally gets an applause from the spectators, and waves back as he rides.
“I rode through the crowd, all the spectators and they shout: Bottle Claus! Bottle Claus! The focus is on Eliud of course but if you also hail ‘Bottle Claus’ then I say happy, thank you for your support,” details Claus.
The bottle handler recalls that he felt Kipchoge was not at his very best towards the tail end of the race but his doubts were dispelled when he received a text message that Kipchoge had broken the world record. Claus, who is a project manager and has been volunteering in the Berlin Marathon since 1998 details he is from Northern Germany, an area with people who are inherently stoic and rarely show emotions. However, his role has always left him overcome with joy especially after a successful handover which he occasionally clenches his fist and flexes the elbow in elation.
And Eliud Kipchoge had kind words for him: “My biggest remembrance of the Berlin marathon is the guy who was handing me water. He is still my hero up to now, the way he was handling, reacting and talking was unbelievable.”