An eagerly anticipated face-off between Wilson Kipsang, Kenenisa Bekele and Emmanuel Mutai will command the spotlight at the 43rd edition of the BMW Berlin Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (25).
Kipsang is the former world record holder who clocked 2:03:23 on this same Berlin course in 2013. Mutai, his Kenyan compatriot, ran even faster here the following year, finishing second behind Dennis Kimetto's world record in 2:03:13, the third fastest performance of all time. Bekele meanwhile, the world record holder in the 5000 and 10,000m, is widely regarded as one of the best distance runners of all time.
Together, they form the core of a showdown in the German capital that includes six other men who have run 2:06 or faster.
“I’ve trained well and, three years down the line from my world record here, I feel good and believe I have the potential to attempt the world record once more," said the 34-year-old, who has dipped under 2:05 on six occasions. "Running at the top level, there is a lot of wear and tear on the body, especially when you are running for a time, but I am very focused on the world record."
Kipsang went on to have an outstanding 2014, winning first in London and then New York, but hasn't notched a marathon victory since. His most recent outing over the distance was in London last April where he was fifth in 2:07:52.
That same London race was a turning point for Bekele as well, a welcome one after suffering lengthy periods of persistent achilles tendon problems since breaking the course record in Paris in his 2:05:04 marathon debut in 2014.
"Since finishing third in London in April after being injured for so long, I have been training well, better than before," said the three-time Olympic champion on the track, who clocked 2:06:36 in the British capital.
"I consider my personal best of 2:05 to be slow compared to the best runners. I want to run as fast as I can on Sunday and beat my best.”
Meanwhile Mutai, 30, is also hoping his return to familiar stomping grounds will bring with it a return to a performance similar to his run in 2014.
"My training has remained the same as in previous years and I know that very fast times are possible in Berlin." He's run just one marathon this year, clocking 2:10:23 in Tokyo in February to finish seventh.
Others expected to give chance include 21-year-old Tsegaye Mekonnen of Ethiopia who impressed in his debut two years ago when he clocked 2:04:32 in Dubai, a world junior best.
Kenyans Vincent Kipruto (2:05:13), Eliud Kiptanui (2:05:21) and Sisay Lemma (2:05:16) are other entrants with sub-2:06 credentials.
Kebede aiming for entry to sub-2:20 club
In the women's race, much of the spotlight will fall on Aberu Kebede, a two-time winner who will be contesting the race for the fourth time. A third victory on Sunday in the German capital will elevate her into a tie with German Uta Pippig Renata Kokowska of Poland as a three-time winner.
"I have trained well and hope that this time I will finally break the 2:20 barrier," said Kebede, who won with 2:23:58 in 2010. Two years later she returned to take the title a second time while improving to 2:20:30, still her personal best.
While fellow-Ethiopian Amane Beriso had to cancel her start due to injury it appears likely that another compatriot, Birhane Dibaba, will be Kebede's main rival.
"I know about the fast course and the great support from the spectators," said Dibaba, who'll be making her Berlin debut. Dibaba won the Tokyo Marathon in 2015 and brings a 2:22:30 personal best to the line.
Ethiopian women have dominated in Berlin over the past decade, winning on six occasions. Kenyan women have won on three occasions, most recently last year when Gladys Cherono took the title with a world leading 2:19:25 run, beating Kebede, who finished second in 2:20:48.
Incidentally, the women's course record is 2:19:12 set by Mizuki Noguchi of Japan back in 2005.
Others to watch include 21-year-old Reina Iwade of Japan, who clocked her 2:24:38 personal best in Nagoya in Arpil; Ruti Aga of Ethiopia, who finished second in Vienna this year in 2:25:27; and Kenyan Janet Ronoh, whose 2:26:03 personal best dates back to 2014.
German interest will fall on Katharina Heinig who will be making her Berlin debut 22 years after her mother, Katrin Dörre-Heinig, won the race, running a then course record of 2:25:15. The younger Heinig, 27, has a 2:33:56 career best and will be gunning for her first sub-2:30 performance.
Organisers for the IAAF