Running a marathon in two hours without drugs can be achieved in the next five years, UCT scientist Prof Andrew Bosch said at the Africa launch of the Sub2-hour marathon project on Tuesday night.
Kenyan Dennis Kimetto holds the world marathon record of 02:02:57, set in Berlin in 2014.
"Running sub-two hours is to the marathon what sub-four minutes was to the mile some 60 years ago‚" Bosch said at the Sports Science Institute of SA in Cape Town. "It’s no longer if, but when."
Sports Science Institute co-founder Prof Tim Noakes threw his weight behind the project‚ suggesting they talk to track star Wayde van Niekerk about his mental training.
"You have to convince the brain it is possible‚" he said.
Noakes said the mind would be the greatest hurdle to breaking the two-hour barrier.
Only 46 days after Roger Bannister broke the "impossible" four-minute-mile barrier‚ it was done again by Canadian runner John Landy.
To break two hours would be like running eight-and-a-half consecutive 5km Park Runs at 14min 13sec each‚ said Dr Dave Maralack‚ head of UCT’s sports management course.
In May this year Olympic marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge ran a 2:00:25 marathon in a Nike-sponsored challenge.
The International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF), the world athletics governing body, did not recognise his record because of noncompliant pacemaking and rehydration on the course.
Bosch said: "The Nike project took a big chunk off the time. This has shown (sub2) is certainly possible."
Nike ran with the sub2 quest dreamed up by Prof Yannis Pitsiladis‚ a sports scientist from the University of Brighton in the UK‚ launched in 2014.
Speaking about the "original" sub2 project‚ Pitsiladis said Kenenisa Bekele was the man to watch at the Berlin marathon in September.
Ethiopian Bekele is the world record holder for the 5‚000m and 10‚000m.
The sub2 team is bringing multidisciplinary expertise — in fields like sports medicine‚ biomechanics and nutrition — to the athletes to improve their performance.
But Bosch, who is from the UCT Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine‚ said: "You mustn’t ever think that the world’s best athletes are surrounded by all these experts. They aren’t."
He said‚ for example‚ they do not routinely work with sports psychologists.
Noakes said coaches had to believe the sub2 goal was possible, in order to get the runners up to speed‚ as Bannister’s coach did with him.
Legendary runner Haile Gebrselassie believes it is achievable. He asked the Sub2 team why they had not launched the project earlier so he could have attempted it.