2:04:26! Haile Gebrselassie at the line in Berlin (Victah Sailer) © Copyright
Preview 26 September 2008 – Berlin, Germany

Gebrselassie, Mikitenko in the Berlin spotlight on Sunday – Berlin Marathon preview

Berlin, GermanyHaile Gebrselassie and Irina Mikitenko will be very much in the focus on Sunday’s real,-Berlin Marathon. While the Ethiopian chases his own world record the German could become the first national winner of the race for 13 years. The real,-Berlin Marathon is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.

Recent jubilee races have always been great success stories for the Berlin Marathon. When ten years ago the 25th edition of Germany’s biggest and most spectacular Marathon race was staged Ronaldo da Costa crowned the event. The Brazilian stormed to a sensational World record, clocking 2:06:05. He became the first athlete to run the distance in sub 3:00 minutes for each kilometre on average. Five years later the winner once again wrote athletics history: Paul Tergat took the 30th edition of the race with 2:04:55. The Kenyan became the first in history to clock a sub-2:05 time, which will be remembered forever. It was at this edition when the finish was at the Brandenburg Gate for the first time.

Now it is Gebrselassie who intends to crown the 35th edition with another World record. Having improved Tergat’s World record last year to 2:04:26 in Berlin the Ethiopian now aims at a time of sub-2:04:00.

The women’s race could also live up to jubilee expectations with Mikitenko starting as the favourite. Germany’s new Marathon world-class runner had sensationally taken the high-class Flora London Marathon this spring. Now she could become the first German winner in Berlin since Uta Pippig in 1995. Aditionally she has the potential to further improve her German Marathon record, which she had established in London this year with 2:24:14.

A sub 2:04 on Haile’s horizon?

In spring Gebrselassie surprisingly had decided against running the Olympic Marathon. Instead he ran the 10,000m in Beijing, finishing in a fine sixth position. He had fears that possible smog in China could harm his health. This was the reason why he went for Berlin instead of the Marathon in Beijing. So Gebrselassie could become the first athlete to win Germany’s biggest and most spectacular Marathon for a third time in a row. But what is far more important for him is to achieve a sub-2:04 time, because Gebrselassie fears that one of the strong Kenyans might beat his existing record in the near future.

“After Beijing I went back to Addis and trained for Berlin. The focus was on endurance training in those weeks,” Gebrselassie said. “My training went very well although I had a very slight muscle problem two weeks ago. But know I am fine and looking forward to the race. Berlin is the fastest course so there is always something possible.”

Leading challenger Kamathi – ‘I will not follow’s Haile’s world record pace’

The strongest opponent for the Ethiopian will probably come from Kenya: Charles Kamathi is a runner who knows how to beat the Ethiopians. It was in Edmonton at the World championships in 2001, when he surprisingly took the gold in the 10,000m final. Gebrselassie had won the title three times in a row before, but this time, coming back from an injury, had to settle for third behind Kamathi. The Kenyan’s switch to the Marathon has been fairly recent. Nonetheless he has already achieved a world class time of 2:07:33 in Rotterdam in April this year.

“Of course this is some motivation if you know you have beaten Haile Gebrselassie already,” said Kamathi, who trained in Japan until July and then went to Kenya for the last two months of his preparations. “But the 10,000m and the Marathon are really two different races. So you can’t compare. Additionally Berlin will be just my third Marathon. But I am in good form.”

“On Sunday I hope to run a personal best. But I will not follow Haile’s World record pace. I hope that the second group will go at a 2:06 to 2:07 pace. However if I should realize that Haile gets any problems then I will challenge him.”

Three more runners with personal bests sub 2:08 will run in Berlin: Gudisa Shentema (Ethiopia/2:07:34), Toshinari Suwa (Japan/2:07:55) and the Berlin winner from 2001, Joseph Ngolepus (Kenya/2:07:57). James Kwambai (Kenya/2:10:20) is another one in with a chance. He had placed second in Boston in 2007. In fact Suwa indicated that he might follow Haile’s pace. “I have never run against Haile so this is the chance to run with the World record holder and follow him,” the Japanese said.

Mikitenko seeking home course success

Compared with Gebrselassie there were different reasons for Mikitenko not to compete in the Olympic Marathon. The 36-year-old suffered from back problems in the build-up to Beijing and could not train sufficiently, and finally had to withdraw from the race. Six weeks later the Berlin contest provides her with a good chance of continuing her success story.

A year ago Mikitenko ran her debut in Berlin, placing second. Then in April she sensationally took the Flora London Marathon with an official German record time of 2.24:14. Her recent 10Km time at the national championships of 30:57, which is a world lead, showed that Mikitenko is in great shape again.

In 2007 the Kazakhstan-born German ran a great Marathon debut in Berlin with 2:24:51 – in fact no other German woman runner had produced such a fast debut before. The only woman who was faster than Mikitenko in Berlin was Gete Wami. On Sunday the toughest opposition might well again come from Ethiopia: Askale Tafa Magarsa has a personal best of 2:23:23 from Dubai this year. But such times should be possible for Mikitenko as well.

“I have fully focused on the Berlin Marathon and did not run any other races in the past months,” said Magarsa, who ran the Boston Marathon (2:29:48 for fifth place) as well this year after Dubai. Concentrating on Marathon races Berlin will already be her seventh Marathon within 24 months.

“I want to win on Sunday,” said the Ethiopian, who turns 24 this Saturday and had been third in Berlin in 2005 (2:28:27).

Kenyans Rose Cheruiyot (2:25:48) and Helena Kiprop (2.26:27), who was third in Berlin in 2007, will also be in with a chance.

Jörg Wenig for the IAAF