BERLIN (24-Sep) — Kenyans Eliud Kipchoge and Gladys Cherono scored convincing victories at the 44th BMW Berlin Marathon here today, despite soggy conditions which made fast running difficult. Kipchoge, the reigning Olympic Marathon champion, clocked 2:03:32, the fastest time in the world this year, while Cherono crossed the finish line in a solid 2:20:23. It was the second time winning in Berlin for both athletes.
The results might have been disappointing for some fans, however, who had been hoping to see a world record. Race director Mark Milde had assembled the most powerful trio of marathon men since Khalid Khannouchi, Paul Tergat and Haile Gebrselassie clashed at the London Marathon back in 2002 which produced a world record by Khannouchi. Here, Kipchoge, former marathon world record holder Wilson Kipsang, and three-time Olympic gold medalist Kenenisa Bekele were all excited to break Dennis Kimetto’s world mark of 2:02:57 set on this course in 2014. The hype had been building for weeks.
“I think we prepared everything in a way that is the best possible situation for them, and then it’s up to them,” Milde told Race Results Weekly in a brief interview two days ago.
But Milde couldn’t control the weather, and heavy rain last night combined with more rain, sometimes heavy, this morning made the streets wet and full of puddles and the air heavy with humidity, even if the temperatures were cool. Nonetheless, the Big Three gave it a go. With the help of three pacemakers –Sammy Kitwara, Gideon Kipketer and Geoffrey Ronoh– the leading men shot out at about two minutes and fifty seconds for the first kilometer, a sub-two hour pace. Kipchoge, Bekele and Kipsang were joined by two other contenders, Kenya’s Vincent Kipruto and Ethiopia’s Guye Adola, a marathon debutante who had won the bronze medal at the 2014 IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships.
The pacers, helped by a digital timing display on one of the lead cars, adjusted their pace and took the leaders through five kilometers in 14:28, a time which was well below world record pace, and even faster than Kimetto’s actual split here in 2014: 14:42. Kipchoge and Bekele, both dressed in white Nike racing tops (Kipchoge also wore arm warmers), drafted the pacers while Kipsang, in his adidas red, ran a bit off to the side.
From there, the race settled down. The next three 5-kilometer segments went down in 14:36, 14:40 and 14:34, respectively, with the three pacers ably doing their jobs. Halfway went by in 1:01:29, well off of the 1:00:45 that Kipchoge had requested, but the leaders remained right on world record pace and well under Kimetto’s actual split of 1:01:45. Interestingly, Kipchoge already knew that it would not be a record day.
“After five kilometers I knew it was not possible,” Kipchoge later told the media. “I could see how the road was (with so many puddles)… That’s when I realized that the world record was not possible.”
Before the 25-K mark (1:12:50), Ronoh retired, leaving Kitwara and Kipketer leading Kipchoge, Adola, Kipsang and Kipruto. Bekele had fallen back suddenly in the 23rd kilometer –plagued by muscle problems due to the cold and slippery road, according to his manger– was 20 seconds back. Bekele, who won here last year in a spirited battle against Kipsang, would never regain contact with the leaders. He recorded his last split at 30 km, then dropped out. The leaders remained right at world record pace.
Kipsang was the next casualty. After picking up his drink at the official fluid station before the 30-K mark, he ran ran over the timing mat, then abruptly stopped with the last pacemaker, his friend Sammy Kitwara. He was seen later on the television broadcast throwing up at the side of the road after speaking with his manager, Arien Verkade, who said that the cold and wet conditions were the problem.
Kipruto kept running, but was now out of contention, leaving Kipchoge and the upstart Adola to fight it out for the win. Adola, who has a half-marathon best of 59:06, was proving to be a formidable opponent for the mighty Kipchoge, a man who had only lost one marathon in eight starts. At 35-K (1:42:04) the world record was improbably still within reach.
Just before the 37-K mark, Adola surged in the first big move of the race, opening up a 10 to 20 meter on Kipchoge. The Kenyan did not react immediately, but instead held his pace and waited patiently for Adola to come back.
By the 38-K mark, Kipchoge had nearly caught up, and Adola surged again. Kipchoge waited again to react. At the 40-K fluid station, the Kenyan deliberately picked up his bottle on the left side of the roadway, took a sip, threw the bottle away, then left Adola behind. The Ethiopian’s body seemed to slump, and he could not respond to Kipchoge’s move.
Unfortunately, the cat and mouse game the two leaders played in the final 5 km segment cost them valuable time. They “only” split 15:04 through 40-K, and the world record chance was gone.
Kipchoge, who ran the final two kilometers alone, most of it smiling, was pleased with his win.
“This was my hardest marathon ever,” he told organizers. “I still felt confident when Adola went ahead of me. The conditions were not easy and I still think I am capable of breaking the world record.”
Adola ran a world debut record of 2:03:46 in second place, well ahead of third place Mosinet Geremew (2:06:09), another Ethiopian, who later said that he didn’t realize that Kipsang and Bekele had dropped out ahead of him. Kenyans Felix Kandie (2:06:13) and Vincent Kipruto (2:06:14) rounded out the top-5. The top German hope, Philipp Pflieger, was forced to drop out (he later told the local media that he didn’t know what had gone wrong). The top non-African finisher was Japan’s Yuta Shitara in sixth place in 2:09:03.
Cherono had to overcome a strong challenge from Kenyan compatriot Valary Aiyabei and Ethiopians Ruti Aga and Amane Beriso. The quartet were all together at halfway (1:09:40), and only Beriso had fallen off by 30-K (1:38:58). Cherono pushed ahead of the 35-K mark, ran 17:07 for the final 5 km segment of the race, and sealed her victory. She sailed through the Brandenburg Gate alone on her way to here 2:20:23 finish.
“I am so happy to win because last year I was injured and thought I would never run at this level again,” Cherono told race organizers. “The atmosphere along the course was wonderful for me and the other runners.”
Aga got second in 2:20:41, a huge personal best, and Aiyabei ended up third in 2:20:53, shaving about a minute from her best time. Ethiopia’s Helen Tola got fourth (2:22:51), Germany’s Ana Hahner fifth (2:28:32), and Italy’s 45 year-old Olympian Catherine Bertone got sixth (2:28:34). Bertone’s mark was a world record for 45 to 49 year-olds.
Both Kipchoge and Cherono won 40,000 in prize money, and Kipchoge picked up a 30,000 time bonus for running sub-2:04:00. Cherono earned a 15,000 time bonus for breaking 2:20:30.