The English millionaire who made history with a marathoner

“This feat of going below 2 hours in a marathon seemed impossible. I can say that I am the happiest man in the world. The final stretch of Eliud (Kipchoge) was a glorious moment. It was one of the many expressions around what happened days ago at the Prater circuit, in the heart of Vienna, when the famous Kenyan athlete produced the “unique moment” for athletic history, although for regulatory reasons it is not valid as a record. But that phrase, signed by Kipchoge himself, came from the man who financed the project, the British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, owner of the petrochemical multinational Ineos.

For Ratcliffe, the US$15 million invested in that “1h59m40s” does not represent much. Ineos, founded two decades ago, today has a presence in 24 countries and an annual turnover of 53 billion euros. It manufactures petrochemicals and exploits oil and gas. The global publicity that represented Kipchoge’s challenge or, months earlier, the consecration of his cycling team Ineos in the Tour de France is unprecedented for them.

Ratcliffe, who was proclaimed Knight of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II, is now considered the largest personal fortune in the Kingdom, with 24 billion euros according to the British press, although Forbes indicates a slightly lower figure. With his extended fortune, his constant negotiations and some political incursions, Ratcliffe is not at all concerned about the discussion around the “Ineos 1.59” that brought Kipchoge back to the forefront of world sport until he became a celebrity. They feel “we’re here to make history,” period.

The regulatory controversies are left aside: the use of “hares”, the self-guide with its laser pointer marking route and times, hydration at will. And the already famous “flying shoes” (the Nike Zoom X Vaporfly) in its new Next model, which would allow to reduce the total time of the race between 1 and 2 minutes. “For me -replica Ratcliffe- one of the most significant issues is that the hares were some of the best athletes in the world, used to rival each other and not help. You only see that in cycling.

Specifically: Ratcliffe gave Dutchman Jos Hermens, Kipchoge’s manager, all the necessary resources. And he asked him to organize everything for his racer to run below 2 hours: “hares”, slippers, the ideal climate, the right circuit. The right moment. “El Momento Bannister”, as it was called in homage to the legendary middle-distance runner, also British, who was the first to break the 4-minute barrier in the 4 miles, far away in the 50’s. “Two things in life amuse me: sport and extraordinary challenges”, was Ratcliffe’s synthesis.

And that’s why his investments in sport have accelerated in recent times: soccer, cycling, motor racing, sailing. It is said that he was behind the purchase of the powerful Chelsea, but his offer of 2,300 million euros did not conform for now to another tycoon, the Russian Roman Abramovich. In football, then, Ratcliffe devotes himself to minor investments: first he bought Lausanne, from the second Swiss division (in “gratitude” to a country that received him when he had tax problems in his own). And recently Nice, from the first French division, with the dream of facing PSG later. But the biggest advertising hit was her entry into cycling.

From this year on, Ineos finances the main team of the world circuit, based in Great Britain. This is a project that emerged a decade ago to turn his country into the power of cycling. And they have done it, winning 7 of the last editions of the Tour with names like Chris Froome (4 titles), Wiggins, Gerant Thomas and, a few months ago, the Colombian Egan Bernal. That project was sponsored by Sky, owned by Rupert Murdoch. But since 2019, Ineos has taken over with an annual investment of US$40 million and the upcoming incorporation of another Latin American phenomenon, Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz, winner of the Giro d’Italia.

“Cycling is popular, one of the most considered sports in society. It associates exercise and people’s health, and fights pollution in cities,” Ratcliffe said, justifying his heavy investment. Born Oct. 18, 1952 in Failsworth, Ratcliffe often mentions that he spent a humble childhood in a state-subsidized home, with his father working as a carpenter during the post-war period and his mother, a simple accountant.

But Jim graduated as a chemical engineer from the University of Birmingham and completed it with an MBA in finance from the London Business School. His first job was in Esso, although he considers his time in the financial Advent in the United States to be fundamental: there he learned how to handle negotiations; it would be his transformation.

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