The men’s marathon world record has fallen at the Berlin Marathon six times in the past 12 years and it could be in danger again in Sunday’s race.
Last year, Dennis Kimetto of Kenya pulled away from compatriot Emmanuel Mutai at the 37th kilometer, following a 14:10 5K split from 30K to 35K, and crossed the finish line in 2:02:57. That time sliced 26 seconds from the world record set in the 2013 Berlin Marathon by Wilson Kipsang, also of Kenya.
Favorite: Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya (Personal best – 2:04:05, 2013 Berlin Marathon)
The two-time 5,000-meter Olympic medalist enters having won four of his five marathons. His only loss was a second-place finish behind Kipsang’s record in 2013. Kipchoge won last year’s Chicago Marathon in 2:04:11 before prevailing in a rematch against Kipsang at the 2015 London Marathon.
Kipchoge has flip-flopped on whether he intends to chase the world record on Sunday. Kipchoge, 30, will be the same age as Kimetto when he set the world record in 2014. If Kipchoge does not set the world record, but lowers his personal best he could move ahead of all-time great Haile Gebrselassie’s 2:03:59 previous world record and crack the top 10 all-time performances.
Kipchoge told reporters that he hopes to cross the half-marathon mark at 61:30, which would put him at 2:03 pace.
Kipchoge was selected by Track and Field News as the top marathoner of 2014. A victory in Berlin could give him the nod for a second consecutive year. He could also contend for the Abbot World Marathon Majors $500,000 first prize.
The Contender: Emmanuel Mutai, Kenya (Personal Best – 2:03:13, 2014 Berlin Marathon)
Last year in Berlin, Mutai ran faster than Kipsang’s world record from 2013 but lost to Kimetto’s new world record of 2:02:57. Mutai’s time makes him the fourth-fastest marathoner of all-time behind Kimetto and 2011 Boston Marathon one-two finishers Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02) and Moses Mosop (2:03:06).
Mutai has an unlucky track record with second-place finishes at the World Marathon Majors: second at the 2010 London Marathon, second at the 2010 New York City Marathon, second at the 2011 London Marathon, second at the 2011 New York City Marathon, second at the 2013 London Marathon, second at the 2013 Chicago Marathon and second at the 2014 Berlin Marathon.
Most recently, Mutai struggled in April’s London Marathon with a 2:10:54 run for 11th place. Kipchoge and Mutai train together, which could make for some interesting drama in the final kilometers.
A fading star: Geoffrey Mutai, Kenya (Personal Best – 2:03:02, 2011 Boston Marathon)
Once the fastest marathoner of all-time and a two-time New York City Marathon winner, Mutai has failed to assert his dominance over the last two years. In 2014, Mutai finished sixth at London and New York. Since winning the 2012 Berlin Marathon in 2:04:15, his fastest time on a course that is not point-to-point or downhill like Boston, is just 2:08:18. His brilliance on tactical courses like New York City’s may not serve him as well against clock chasers such as Kipchoge and Mutai.
Mutai will turn 34 on Oct. 7. His days as a headliner on the World Marathon Majors stage are numbered as he also failed to finish the 2015 London Marathon.
Top American: Matt Llano (Personal best – 2:16:13, 2015 Los Angeles Marathon)
Many of the top contenders for next year’s U.S. Olympic team have chosen to bypass the fall marathon season this year to prep for the Olympic Trials on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles. Berlin’s fast course could result in Llano entering the contender conversation at the trials with a fresh personal best.
Llano comes into Berlin one year after making his marathon debut in Chicago and running 2:17:43. He returned to the 26.2-mile distance in March in L.A. and shaved off a minute and a half for a 2:16:13 personal best in warm conditions.
Llano has been quick to say that he would like to run in the 2:10 range. Coach Ben Rosario told SI that Llano is in “the best shape of his life” heading into Sunday’s race. Taking a look at Llano’s training log on Training Peaks, it appears that his volume of training has been higher than ever, with tougher long runs compared to his training before Chicago and Los Angeles. Last month, Llano logged a 136-mile week from Aug. 10 to Aug. 16. One of his most impressive workouts was a 2x6-mile workout with miles at sub-4:50 pace.
There will be a pace group targeting a 2:09:45 finish.
Last year’s women’s race in Berlin was won by Tirfi Tsegaye of Ethiopia in 2:20:18, with compatriot Feyse Tadese coming through nine seconds later. American Shalane Flanagan finished third in 2:21:14, just short of the U.S. record held by Deena Kastor. This year’s race should also feature a close finish between East Africans, but there is no major American contender in the race.
Favorite: Gladys Cherono, Kenya (Personal best – 2:20:03, 2015 Dubai Marathon)
Cherono clocked the 28th-fastest women’s marathon with a runner-up finish in January’s Dubai Marathon. Three months later, she ran a half-marathon personal best of 1:06:38 to win in Istanbul. Berlin will be just her second career marathon. She spent most of her summer competing on the track but did not represent Kenya at the world championships, after having taken silver in the 10,000 in 2013.
Contender: Aberu Kebede, Ethiopia (Personal best – 2:20:30, 2012 Berlin Marathon)
The year 2012 was a very strong one for Kebede, as she clocked two 2:20 marathons and won in Berlin that fall. Since then she has won the 2013 Tokyo Marathon, 2013 Shanghai Marathon and 2014 Frankfurt Marathon. Her fastest time in those three victories was her 2:22:21 in Frankfurt.
Berlin will be Kebede’s third marathon of 2015, as she finished four places behind Cherono in Dubai and then took seventh at Boston with a time of 2:26:52.
Challenger: Meseret Hailu, Ethiopia (Personal best – 2:21:09, 2012 Amsterdam Marathon)
Hailu is the only other woman in the field who has run under 2:22 in her career. Her fastest time since setting a personal best in 2012 is the 2:25:41 she ran to win this year’s Hamburg Marathon in April. Hailu’s best performance on the World Marathon Majors stage was a second-place finish at the 2013 Boston Marathon, behind convicted doper Rita Jeptoo.
No American women: Amy Hastings, a 2012 Olympian at 10,000 meters, had originally targeted running Berlin as a tune-up for the Olympic Trials and was listed in the marathon’s media guide. However, Hastings will not be racing in Berlin, putting her in the company of top U.S. marathoners Shalane Flanagan, Desi Linden and others will also train through the fall.