Previews22 Sep 2017

Thrilling showdowns in prospect in Berlin


Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele and Wilson Kipsang ahead of the Berlin Marathon (© Victah Sailer / organisers)

Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, defending BMW Berlin Marathon champion Kenenisa Bekele and former world record-holder Wilson Kipsang are ready for a world record chase at the 44th edition of the IAAF Gold Label road race on Sunday (24).

The three strongest marathon runners in the world want to break the world record of 2:02:57 which Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto set three years ago in Berlin. It will be just the second time this trio has raced one another in a marathon, but the first time they have done so on a course that has played host to the past six world records.

Bekele triumphed beside the Brandenburg Gate last year in 2:03:03, the second-fastest performance of all time, with Kipsang finishing second in a PB of 2:03:13. Kipchoge, meanwhile, ran his best of 2:03:05 to win in London last year before going on to take the Olympic title in Rio.

Another feature they have in common is that they all know what it feels like to stand on top of the podium in Berlin.

Given what are likely to be excellent weather conditions, an extremely fast race is in prospect.

“We haven’t finished working out what times the pacemakers are going to aiming for, but it will definitely not be slower than last year,” said race director Mark Milde. In 2016 the leading group went through halfway in 1:01:11.

Kipchoge ran 2:00:25 on Monza’s Formula One circuit in early May, but this was in an event which didn’t confirm to international rules.

“For me this marathon was a big success and I have drawn a lot of motivation from it,” Kipchoge said at the Berlin Marathon press conference on Friday. “I want to run the first half in 1:00:45 on Sunday.”

Kipchoge moved to the marathon four years ago. A year before winning the Olympic title in Rio, he won the Berlin Marathon in 2:04:00, despite having to cope with problems from flapping insoles in his shoes.

“Victory on its own is no success – it is simply a necessity,” said Kipchoge. “There are three of us and there will be only one winner.”

If Bekele were to break the world record on Sunday, the Ethiopian would complete a historic achievement. No athlete in history has concurrently held the world records for 5000m, 10,000m and the marathon. But he won’t be adopting the same strategy as Kipchoge this weekend.

“I think I can run faster than last year,” said Bekele. “1:00:45 has no place in my plans. I shall follow the lead if I can. That way I won’t put myself under stress and listen to my body. I am well prepared.”

Kipsang also wants to run faster than he did last year. “This time it’s a different situation,” said the Kenyan. “There are three of us. The pacemakers are stronger this time. I believe we shall have more support. A halfway split of between 1:01:00 and 1:01:10 would be good for me.”

In 2013 Kipsang set a world record of 2:03:23 in Berlin, while his winning time of 2:03:58 in Tokyo leads this year’s world list.

Kipsang arrived in Berlin with his wife and their young daughter. Last year he had his son with him. “The fact that they are in Berlin is extra motivation for me.”

A knee injury has forced Kenya’s Patrick Makau to withdraw from Sunday’s race. Makau won the 2011 Berlin Marathon in what was then a world record of 2:03:38.

Cherono ready for another sub 2:20

Gladys Cherono will start as the favourite for the women’s race, having won in Berlin two years ago in a lifetime best of 2:19:25 and coming within 13 seconds of the course record set in 2005 by Japan’s Mizuki Noguchi.

Although Cherono is the only runner in the field with a PB faster than 2:20, four of her rivals have run faster than 2:25: Ethiopia’s Amane Beriso (2:20:48), Gulume Tollesa (2:23:12) and Ruti Aga (2:24:41) as well as Kenya’s Valary Aiyabei (2:21:57).

“It’s the norm that leading women runners come to Berlin in order to run fast and have the best chance of setting personal bests, so we can reckon with a pace on schedule for breaking 2:20 on Sunday,” said Milde. “It could even be the kind of pace to threaten the course record.”

Cherono, however, simply wants to show she is back to her best.

“I’ve come to Berlin to attack my personal best,” said the 34-year-old Kenyan, whose winning time in 2015 was the fastest marathon performance in the world for more than three years.

Cherono made her international breakthrough when winning the 5000m and 10,000m double at the 2012 African Championships. She earned the silver medal in the 10,000m at the 2013 World Championships, then one year later she won the world half-marathon title in Copenhagen.

She made her marathon debut at the start of 2015, clocking 2:20:03 in Dubai, before going on to win in Berlin later that year. But a lengthy period of injury in the spring of 2016 ended her hopes of going to the Olympics.

“I couldn’t run a marathon in 2016 because I had a stress fracture and feared I might never regain top form,” said Cherono, who finished fifth at this year’s Boston Marathon in 2:27:20. “But now everything is ok.”

Compatriot Aiyabei also plans for a fast race. The 26-year-old made a big breakthrough in Prague earlier this year, winning in 2:21:57 after covering the first half in 1:08:24. It was Ayabei’s third marathon win in a row, following victories in Barcelona and Valencia in 2016.

“My aim is to equal the time I ran in Prague, but I hope for a personal best,” said Aiyabei. “My husband, who is also my coach, will pace me on Sunday. He is my everything.”

Beriso finished second to Aiyabei in Prague in 2:22:15. The 25-year-old Ethiopian finished second in Dubai last year in a PB of 2:20:48, a time which she hopes to improve on Sunday.

Germany’s Anna Hahner admits that she is not yet at her best after a long injury break and will not be able to challenge her personal best of 2:26:44. “But the qualification time of 2:32:00 for the European Championships next year in Berlin is a goal,” she said.

Swiss record-holder Maja Neuenschwander hopes to produce at least a similar performance to that of two years ago when she set a national record of 2:26:49 in Berlin. “Conditions are always superb in Berlin,” she said. “If you come here, you simply have to make use of these conditions and run as fast as possible. I am looking forward to Sunday and maybe I can run a PB.”

Organisers for the IAAF