Emmanuel Mutai, Eliud Kipchoge and Geoffrey Mutai ahead of the Berlin Marathon (© Victah Sailer / organisers)
The 42nd edition of the BMW Berlin Marathon promises to be a hunt for superfast times and Olympic qualifying performances when the starting gun is fired for the IAAF Gold Label Road Race at 9am on Sunday morning (27).
The Kenyan trio of Eliud Kipchoge, Emmanuel Mutai and Geoffrey Mutai have the kind of split times in their sights which could bring them in range of the men’s world record of 2:02:57 set last year by their compatriot Dennis Kimetto.
In the women’s race, Ethiopia’s two-time winner Aberu Kebede will line up in search of a hat-trick while Kenya’s Gladys Cherono takes aim not only at victory but breaking the 2:20 barrier in only her second race at the distance, having made an outstanding debut with 2:20:03 for second place in Dubai in January.
All three of the leading men’s contenders have solid experience of the Berlin course, which adds credibility to their confidence at Friday’s press conference.
Two years ago in Berlin, Kipchoge ran his second marathon and finished runner-up in 2:04:05, which remains his personal best and his sole loss over the distance. The only man ahead of him was his compatriot Wilson Kipsang who broke the world record with 2:03:23.
Although Kipchoge was overshadowed that day by Kipsang’s performance, he was delighted with his performance and feels that now’s the time to improve on that personal best.
The current world leader with his 2:04:42 clocking in London, Kipchoge plans to go through halfway in 1:01:30 on Sunday which would be world record schedule.
“I’m not saying I’ll break the world record on Sunday, but I’m ready for a very fast time,” said the 30-year-old, who has won his three marathons since the 2013 Berlin race, winning in Rotterdam and Chicago in 2014 and then in London this spring.
One of his main rivals is likely to be his training partner Emmanuel Mutai. His fellow Kenyan finished second in Berlin last year in 2:03:13, the second-fastest time ever on a record-eligible course.
“I’m looking forward to the race on Sunday and have prepared very well,” said the 30-year-old. “It’s always my aim to run faster than before. Everyone wants to win and I accept whatever happens – whether it’s myself, Eliud or Geoffrey who finishes first.”
Geoffrey Mutai is another fine Kenyan runner who is making a return to Berlin. The 33-year-old won the race in 2012 after finishing second two years previously. Mutai is the second-fastest marathon runner in history with his time of 2:03:02 on Boston’s point-to-point course in 2011. He is also the New York course record-holder with 2:05:06, which he ran later in the same year.
For the past two years Geoffrey Mutai has suffered a variety of injuries which have prevented him producing his best performances. “This wasn’t an easy time for me but now I am delighted to be in Berlin and have a good feeling about the race,” said Mutai, who now says the injuries are behind him.
While the leading men will be chasing the top prize and world-class times on Sunday, a trio of German runners are aiming for the qualifying standard for next year’s Olympics in Rio. Julian Flugel, Philipp Pflieger and Falk Cierpinski will be setting their sights on running faster than 2:12:15. Andre Pollmacher, who was eighth in the European Championship marathon last year, had to withdraw because of muscle problems.
Newcomer takes on two-time winner
The quality of the women’s field suggests that intense competition will put the world-leading time of 2:19:52 under pressure, rather than a calculated attack on the clock.
“This is my first time in Berlin and I’m so looking forward to the race,” said Gladys Cherono, the world half-marathon champion and 2013 world 10,000m silver medallist.
The 32-year-old was prevented by injury last year from making her debut at the distance in Berlin. The manner of her performance in Dubai when she finished runner-up and with the third-fastest female debut of all time suggests that Cherono has potential to make headlines in the marathon.
“The other runners have more experience of the marathon but I’ve been learning,” said Cherono. Her preparation has been excellent, highlighted by a half-marathon PB of 1:06:38 to win in Istanbul in April. Perhaps even more impressive was that she left Helah Kiprop, the world marathon silver medallist, almost two minutes behind.
Responding to whether victory was more important than a fast time, Cherono’s reply was practical and to the point: “If you run fast, the chances are you’ll win as well.”
If a comparison proves useful, the last time a woman ran faster than 2:20 in Berlin was four years ago when fellow Kenyan Florence Kiplagat ran 2:19:44. For Kiplagat – like Cherono, a past winner of the world half-marathon title – it was also the second marathon of her career, as it will be for Cherono on Sunday.
But the competitive fires of Aberu Kebede burn just as brightly. The Ethiopian has already won in Berlin twice, in 2010 and 2012, setting what remains her personal best of 2:20:30 on the latter occasion.
“If I could win for a third time, it would be a crowning moment in my career – and a record,” said the 26-year-old. “I want to break 2:20 once and for all.”
Achieving the hat-trick on Sunday would rank her alongside Germany’s Uta Pippig, the 1990 winner of the first Berlin Marathon through what had hitherto been a divided city, and Poland’s Renata Kokowska.
Kebede won’t be the only Ethiopian vying for a place on the podium with 2012 world half-marathon champion Meseret Hailu (2:21:09) and Tadelech Bekele (2:22:51) likely to have a say in the outcome.
The leading German hope is Anna Hahner, who has been comparing notes with Pippig on the atmosphere for the Berlin race. Hahner will pursue the Olympic qualifying standard of 2:28:30, having given the Rio course a trial run last month when she cruised round in 2:39:15.
Hahner ran her personal best of 2:26:44 for seventh place here last year. She returned from Brazil and her comment hardly needs translation: “Rio rockt!”
The BMW Berlin Marathon is the first autumn race in the Abbott World Marathon Majors (WMM) series which also comprises Tokyo, Boston, London, Chicago and New York. 41,224 runners from 131 countries are set to compete in the German capital on Sunday.
Andy Edwards (organisers) for the IAAF
Geoffrey Mutai (KEN) 2:03:02
Emmanuel Mutai (KEN) 2:03:13
Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) 2:04:05
Feyisa Lilesa (ETH) 2:04:52
Eliud Kiptanui (KEN) 2:05:39
Tamirat Tola (ETH) 2:06:17
Lusapho April (RSA) 2:08:32
Masanori Sakai (JPN) 2:09:10
Tomoyuki Morita (JPN) 2:09:12
Koji Gokaya (JPN) 2:09:21
Falk Cierpinski (GER) 2:13:30
Julian Flügel (GER) 2:14:20
Philipp Pflieger (GER)
Gladys Cherono (KEN) 2:20:03
Aberu Kebede (ETH) 2:20:30
Meseret Hailu (ETH) 2:21:09
Tadelech Bekele (ETH) 2:22:51
Fate Tola (ETH) 2:25:14
Eri Hayakawa (JPN) 2:25:31
Lisa Nemec (CRO) 2:25:44
Tomomi Tanaka (JPN) 2:26:05
Anna Hahner (GER) 2:26:44
Deborah Toniolo (ITA) 2:28:31
Maja Neuenschwander (SUI) 2:29:42