After his world record-shattering marathon run in Berlin on Sunday, Eliud Kipchoge tweeted four pictures initially, with a small message, in the following order: him crossing the finish line, hugging his coach, running along with his pacemakers and finally receiving a bottle from a volunteer. Those weren’t randomly chosen images. Kipchoge, who shaved off 30 seconds from his 2018 world mark to clock 2:01:09s, wanted to express his gratitude and put forward the people who contributed to his achievement.
Among them was a 56-year-old construction engineer who has been volunteering at the Berlin marathon for the last 25 years. Claus Henning-Schulke was the man assigned to hand over Eliud his drinks at the 13 designated stations in the 42-kilometre course. This is not the first time he is assisting the two-time Olympic champion runner. He was the man-in-charge in 2018 as well when Eliud first broke the world record.
For most, it may seem like a routine task but there is much more than what the eye glimpses. And Eliud, the greatest long-distance runner of this generation, not only acknowledges it, but appreciates it.
“After the 2018 record, I met him at the hotel the next day and waiting for me. He signed his race bib and wrote ‘My world record wouldn’t have happened without you.” I am not sure if it is true but it was an extremely kind gesture,” Claus or better known as Bottle Claus told The Indian Express over a call.
Claus, an engineer for over 30 years now, was a marathoner himself during his teens He later switched to triathlons and now trots around the globe taking part in ultra bike races. Although he has been volunteering in Berlin for over two decades it wasn’t until 2018 when the cameras focussed on him that he came into the limelight.
“There’s never been more buzz around one man passing a drink to another,” he jokes. “I am overwhelmed with the attention I got. I did not expect it at all. When I was cycling this year a lot of spectators were shouting that “here comes Bottle Cause. My friends and family are stunned by this,” says Claus, who will be in Morocco for the next 10 days for a cycling event.
Claus hasn’t let the attention and admiration from the big man himself go to his head at all. Neither is he planning to quit his day job than involves huge projects worth hundreds of millions of Euros any time soon. His last major project was the restoration of the Berlin Palace.
“I like my day job very much but also my sports. Eliud’s record came because of his hard, hard training, tens and thousands of miles of running. If you compare it with a puzzle of 1000 pieces, 970 is his effort, and the rest is his coach and his environment. While Bottle Claus is just perhaps half a piece,” he says.
The vase training
Claus was first spotted by Eliud’s team at the 2017 edition of Berlin and asked if he would like to come onboard next year. A meeting was arranged in the hotel lobby where Eliud explained how he would like Claus to hold the bottle and at what height and other minute details. “We were joking around a bit. There was a vase on the table so I removed the tulip and held it from the bottom. Eliud showed me how he would like his bottle passed. We practised it with a vase a few times,” recalls Claus.
Claus takes his job very seriously. On Sunday he was there in his cycling gear biking along the course to make sure he was available at all the designated stations. He had a name tag and the backlight from his cycle strapped on his arm so that Kipchoge could spot him among the sea of runners, officials and tv crew. Once he handed the bottle over to Kipchoge he had to cycle to the next station 2.5 kms away – his years in triathlon coming in handy.
The bottle handling is a meticulous process in elite marathon running. The athlete or their team prepares the drink a day in advance and hands it over to the race officials to be safely stored. “No one can even get close to that room and that is why I call it Fort Knox (one of the most heavily guarded military installations in the world),” says bottle Claus. These bottles are then placed in secured boxes at the allotted station areas.
“There are 13 such stations and once you reach there you get only 30 seconds to pull out the bottle from the box and take your position. I start shouting out the name of the athlete when they are about to approach. Even If I save two seconds for Eliud at each station you can do the calculation,” says Claus.
Keeping up with the best athletes on the planet even on a cycle is not an easy task. The job demands a high level of endurance apart from focus and the ability to make quick calls. At the 22.5km station, Claus was informed by Kipchoge’s team that he wouldn’t take the bottle.
“I just turned around to cycle to the next station but I saw Kipchoge. I like to maintain eye contact with the athlete. I realised he was approaching me and I quickly handed him the bottle. There was a little confusion but glad it worked out well in the end,” he says underlining the fact that it is a job that requires complete focus.