Patrick Makau of Kenya underlined his ascendancy over compatriot Geoffrey Mutai, when he won a rainswept 37th edition of the real_Berlin Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday, in 2:05:08, two seconds ahead of Mutai, with 20-year-old Ethiopian Bazu Worku third, in 2:05:25.
The two Kenyans are also the world's fastest marathoners this year, having finished in the same order at Rotterdam in April, in 2:04:48 and 2:04:55 respectively. As for Worku, just ten days past his 20th birthday, he adds a personal best, in adverse conditions, to being the fastest 18-year-old in history, when he finished second in Paris 2009, in 2:06:15.
Despite the conditions, the top trio returned the fifth, sixth and seventh fastest times ever, on what is generally considered the world's fastest course.
The one opponent that all fast marathoners fear is extreme weather. And though the leading contenders made a brave attempt to stay on pace, the chances of a seventh World record in 13 years in the German capital evaporated as the rain which had been falling steadily throughout the previous 12 hours increased as the race progressed on Sunday morning.
Nonetheless, with a temperature of 11C (52F), which endured throughout, with little or no wind, and only a gentle rain at the start, hopes were still high that a new record might materialise. But after 15k in 44:10, which was right on pace for Haile Gebrselassie's 2:03:39 World record here two years ago, the tempo dropped, and a group of eight, including all the pre-race favourites, went through the 'half' in 62:37.
Makau had said at Friday's press conference that the race begins at 30k. His opponents must have been paying attention, because as if on cue, at that point Worku and Mutai eased away from the pack and pacers, with Makau in close attendance. And so it remained for the next eight kilometres, with first Worku, then the Kenyan tandem leading the way.
At 39k Makau looked as if he was starting to flag. But it was a ploy, whose success became apparent a half kilometre later, when he steamed past Worku, who had re-assumed the lead, and took his colleague Mutai away from the young Ethiopian.
Mutai had dropped away in the final kilometre in Rotterdam, but not here. The pair ran abreast through the Brandenburg Gate, with a final 400 metres to contest. Yet any thoughts that Mutai's 27:27.59 10,000m at altitude two months ago might have sharpened his finishing speed were dissipated when Makau went away so comfortably in the final 200 metres that he was able to raise an arm in victory while still 20 metres from the line.
Both men said later that the wet conditions gave them muscsle cramps, making it much harder than Rotterdam. "The big difference," said Makau, "was that there was some wind in Rotterdam, but it was only on one part of the course. Here, it was raining all through the race. My clothes were wet, my shoes were wet. This was much harder than Rotterdam".
On his ploy at 39k, he admitted it was done on purpose. "To win a race, you need many things. To drop back some metres, and catch up again is usually very difficult, but it was one of my tactics".
Waiting past the finish line to greet the top two was Kenyan Prime Minster, Raila Odinga, whose big bear hug for Makau and Mutai can only increase his own popularity, following a recent opinion poll which already puts him ahead in the race for the Kenyan presidency in two years time.
Makau said that his Nairobi house is only two kilometres from the PM's residence, but Mutai was overjoyed to meet Odinga. "I can't meet him face-to-face in Kenya, it's difficult to meet people like him, but it was a dream to run well, and then meet the Prime Minister".
Comfortable victory for Aberu - women's race
The Ethiopian pair of Aberu Kebede and Bezunesh Bekele needed no such incentive to dominate their opponents. With another colleague, Genet Getaneh, they brooked no argument right from the start, taking off together, and building up a minute lead by halfway.
Kebede eased away after 25k, and built up a 30sec lead in the next five kilometres. She had doubled that by the finish, and when Getaneh dropped out at 35k, she left pre-race favourite Bezunesh in, well, no-woman's land, a minute back of the eventual winner, and a minute ahead of her pursuers.
And so it stayed until the end, with Kebede having run a negative split, a second half almost a minute faster than the first, and winning in 2:23:58, exactly a minute ahead of Bezunesh. Tomo Morimoto of Japan won the race for third, in 2:26:10, with Sabrina Mockenhaupt of Germany taking one second off her personal best with fourth place in 2:26:21.
The top three men won 40,000, 20,000 and 17,500 euros respectively, with a 30,000 euro bonus each for running sub-2.06. The top three women won 40,000, 20,000 and 15,000 respectively, with time bonuses of 15,000 for Kebede, 7,500 for Bekele, and 2500 each for Morimoto and Mockenhaupt.
The race also marked the resumption of the World Marathon Majors, a series also including Boston and London in Spring, with Chicago and New York to come.
There were an estimated 40,000 starters.
Pat Butcher for the IAAF
Leading Results -
MEN 1. Patrick MAKAU KEN 2.05.08 2. Geoffrey MUTAI KEN 2.05.10 3. Bazu WORKU ETH 2.05.25 4. Yemane TSEGAY ETH 2.07.52 5. Eliud KIPTANUI KEN 2.08.05 6. Bernard KIPYEGO KEN 2.08.50 7. Tadese ABRAHAM ETH 2.09.24 8. Gilbert YEGON KEN 2.10.34 9. Masakazu FUJIWARA/JAP/2.12.00 10. Ser-Od BAT-OCHIR MGL 2.12.42
WOMEN 1. Aberu KEBEDE ETH 2.23.58 2. Bezunesh BEKELE ETH 2.24.58 3. Tomo MORIMOTO JAP 2.26.10 4. Sabrina MOCKENHAUPT/GER/2.26.21 5. Olena BURKOWSKA UKR 2.28.31 6. Adriana PERTEA ROM 2.30.15 7. Adriana DA SILVA/BRA 2.32.30 8. Tanith MAXWELL SAF 2.32.33 9. Lisa STUBLIC CRO 2.33.42 10. Agnieszka GORTEL/POL 2.34.47