When the fastest man in the Marathon world meets the fastest course in the Marathon world, the odds are in favour of something special. In Berlin that usually means a World record, of which there have been no fewer than seven in the past 15 years. The most recent was last year, by Patrick Makau of Kenya, 2:03:38 in a race during which he destroyed former record holder, the legendary Haile Gebrselassie.
It would hard for Sunday’s 39th BMW Berlin Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, to reproduce such an incident-packed race as last year, but Makau himself is in little doubt that compatriot Geoffrey Mutai will break his record, saying in an email this morning (Friday), ""I know that they are capable of setting the fastest time over the flat Berlin course (which would be a WR). We have been training together in Eldoret and they are geared up for the event."
The 'they’ includes Mutai’s training partner and marathon debutant, Dennis Kimetto, whose 59:14 Half Marathon and World record 25k (1:11:18), both here in Berlin this year, promise much.
Mutai finished second here to Makau two years ago, in 2:05:10, in a rain-sodden race. But he had an 'annus mirabilis’ the following year, running an extraordinary 2:03:02 to win Boston (on a course not accepted for World Record purposes), then winning New York in another course record, 2:05:05.
In contrast, 2012 has been disastrous for Mutai. He had to drop out of this year’s Boston, suffering from the hot conditions, a reversal which prompted the Kenyan selectors to ignore him (and Makau) for London 2012. "I was disappointed not to finish Boston, and the selection was Athletics Kenya’s decision," said Mutai at Friday morning’s press conference in central Berlin, "but it’s given me motivation to run well here."
Proof of that is that Mutai and company have requested a pace of 1:01:40 for the first half. Whereby hangs a tale, of Boston. When you’ve run the fastest time in history, World record or not, the suggestion that it wasn’t all your own work evidently rankles. Someone asked what time Mutai thought he might have run, had there not been a gale force breeze behind the pack in Boston 2011.
"The race started at a very fast pace," related Mutai. "I only realised how fast at halfway, and I asked myself if we could even finish running at that pace. I didn’t feel the wind when I was running. But there were 12 of us, running fast, there isn’t a pacemaker in Boston. People afterwards said it was the wind, but they didn’t give credit to the runners."
There is of course the little matter of the drop between start and finish, which prevents Boston being accepted for record purposes; but since there is a lot of up and down between, runners maintain Boston is just as hard as elsewhere.
The contrast, and advantage of Berlin from Mutai’s perspective is, "because of the hills in Boston you can’t go with the same speed, but the Berlin course is flat, so you can maintain the same speed." Mutai had a bad cough and cold two weeks ago, but maintains he is fully fit and raring to go. He hesitated when asked what percentage chance he gave himself of breaking Makau’s record, but retreated behind a circumspect, "I’ll do my best."
Not only will he have Kimetto for company, but race director Mark Milde is trying to make Mutai feel as comfortable as could be possible by enlisting other members of his training group as pacemakers.
Should Mutai and Kimetto falter, another colleague Jonathan Maiyo (2:04:56 in Dubai in January) should be thereabouts to pick up the pieces. But despite his marvellous 2011, Mutai emphasised that he still has much to do.
"I’ve not reached where I want to be in my career," he said finally, "I’m still looking for that."
Whether Mutai finds it here on the streets of Berlin, and whether or not he breaks Makau’s World record on Sunday, there will be a nice irony in the finishers’ medal he will be handed after crossing the line. It bears the likeness of…. Patrick Makau.