BERLIN – The world’s fastest marathoners head to Germany for this weekend’s Berlin Marathon to try and break Dennis Kimetto’s marathon world record of 2:02:57, which was set on the same course just three years ago.
Berlin has been the home to the last six men’s marathon world records and in an attempt to add a seventh record, organizers managed to successfully recruit the past three champions for what may be the biggest 26.2-mile showdown in history.
Last year’s race was won by Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele in 2:03:03, which ranks as the third-fastest time ever in history for the marathon distance. Bekele was a late addition to the field after he initially expressed interest in racing at this summer’s world championships in London before backing out. There’s been a few questions regarding his health but when he’s at 100%, he’s one of the best. Bekele’s marathoning career has been hit-or-miss, which makes him a wild card heading into the biggest race of his career.
Bekele finished second in April’s London Marathon in 2:05:57 but looked like he was laboring at times before respawning in the closing miles of the race. Just three months before that, he dropped out of the Dubai Marathon. He’s been working with a team of sports scientists to make marginal gains toward an eventual sub-two marathon. It’s been a mixed bag of results since—sometimes you’ll get the near-world records and other times, he won’t make it to 35K.
The elite men’s field also includes 2016 Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, who most recently received worldwide attention for covering the marathon distance in two hours and 25 seconds during Nike’s Breaking2 attempt at a Formula 1 track in Monza, Italy, back in May. Because of the use of alternating pacers that hopped in and out of the race at certain points, it was not eligible for a world record.
In making his transition to the roads, Kipchoge has made his case for the greatest marathoner of all-time. People may forget that Kipchoge’s first run in Berlin was not a victory. In 2013, he ran his second career marathon in Berlin and clocked a very impressive personal best of 2:04:05 for second place, but it was overshadowed by Wilson Kipsang’s world record of 2:03:23. Since that loss, he’s won six consecutive races, including Chicago, London and the 2016 Rio Olympics. One of his most impressive runs came at the 2015 Berlin Marathon, when he won in 2:04:00 while running a majority of the race with the insoles of his shoes hanging out on back of his heels. With the Breaking2 attempt, Kipchoge showed that he’s fully capable of running under the world record under optimal conditions and would arguably be the favorite for Sunday’s race.
Kipsang returns to Berlin for the third time in his career. In his first run on the course, he ran a world record that only stood for a year but he’s actually run faster than that time and NOT won. Last year, he ran 2:03:13 to finish behind Bekele. Kipsang is the oldest of the three stars but has been a consistent force in the marathon since debuting in 2010. His most recent marathon was a 2:03:58 on a new course at the Tokyo Marathon, which is the fastest time of the year. He’s mentioned chasing the world record in the lead-up to the race, which would make history because no one has ever run two marathons under 2:04 in the same year. Kimetto did clock his 2:03:45 at the 2013 Chicago Marathon and his world record within 12 months so it’s not impossible to run super fast in that span of time.
The women’s elite race isn’t as intriguing, but it should still be fast. Kenya’s Gladys Cherono won the 2015 Berlin Marathon in 2:19:25 and returns looking to take back her title. Ethiopia’s Aberu Kebede, who has won the 2010, 2012 and last year’s Berlin Marathon, was slated to run but scratched due to injury. The women’s marathon world records appear to be safe. Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 world record has been untouchable since 2003 but her women’s-only record recently fell to Mary Keitany in April, when the Kenyan ran a blistering 2:17:01.
In the U.S., the marathon will begin at 3:15 a.m. ET and will be streamed on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold, with coverage beginning at 2:30 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. on respective channels. If the weather holds up and it’s cloudy and in the mid to low 50s, the weather should be suited for another record-setting run. Organizers have also recruited 2:04 marathoner Sammy Kitwara and 2:05 marathoner Gideon Kipketer to serve as pacers for the men’s race, which is just another indication of how serious the world record attempt will be.
It’s not very bold because he’s so dominant, but I’m picking Kipchoge to break the world record ahead of Kipsang. There’s a little bit of pressure on Kipchoge to pull it off and we still don’t know exactly what the toll of the Breaking2 Project was on his legs. In the experiment, he showed an impressive control of his body through 30K at sub-two hour pace. In this race, he’ll be in control again but so will Kipsang and it comes down to knowing when he’s hurting less to make his big move.