Berlin Marathon — Bekele A Mere 2 Seconds Off World Record

Birhanu Legesse & Sisay Lemma gave Kenenisa Bekele good company has he cranked out a 2:01:41. (SEAN HARTNETT)

BERLIN, GERMANY, September 29—With a field diminished by defending champ Eliud Kipchoge’s opting-out for his next sub-2:00 challenge and by the simultaneous staging of the World Championships it looked to be an off-year for the Berlin Marathon. That is, until the Ethiopian trio of Kenenisa Bekele, Birhanu Legesse and Sisay Lemma sped through the opening half in 61:05 and went on to produce an historically fast and compelling competition with the 37-year-old Bekele stopping the clock a scant 2 seconds short of Kipchoge’s seemingly untouchable 2:01:39 WR set here last year.

“I am feeling happy and of course disappointed a little bit,” Bekele admitted, adding, “In marathon losing the record by 2 or 3 seconds is a failure.” Whatever the time, track’s 5K/10K WR holder was not disappointed in his dramatic return to form and his ability to fight back from a 13-second deficit at 35K and close exceedingly fast. For his efforts, he reclaimed his Ethiopian Record with history’s second fastest clocking of 2:01:41. With the fastest runner-up effort ever, 2:02:48, Legesse moved to No 3 all-time and Lemma’s 2:03:36 moved him to No. 10. Did we say off-year? With a podium average of a staggering 2:02:42 it is pretty clear Berlin never has an-off year.

Amidst a 4-day stretch of persistent rain, race director Mark Milde caught a break in the weather and the race was hyper-fast from the gun. Bekele & Co. blitzed the opening 5K in 14:24 and continued to hustle through 10K in 28:52—2:01:47 pace. Heading into a 6-8mph wind, the tempo slowed a bit reaching 15K in 43:29—a 2:02:18 clip. When Bekele beckoned the pacers to maintain the high speed, only William Wanjiru was up to the task, and he led the Ethiopian trio and unheralded Kenyan Jonathan Korir through 20K in 57:57, before retiring at 25K in 1:12:30—sustaining the steady 2:02:18 tempo.

As the real racing began to unfold it was the 25-year-old Legesse who made sure the opportunity for a fast time would not be lost: “My plan was to run 2:02 so when the pacemaker stopped before 30K I had to do something.” After successfully maintaining the pace through 29K, he did something much more as he lit out in a strong surge approaching 30K (1:26:53) and his 2:48 kilo dropped the pace to 2:02:12, while also dropping Bekele.

Legesse delivered a similar knockout punch in his dominating 2:04:48 win in March in Tokyo, and he kept up the attack with subsequent 2:49 and 2:51 kilos. Lemma, 28, held on and pulled alongside his compatriot through a recovery 2:56 kilo No. 33, only to be dispatched as Legesse hit full speed clocking 2:43 over the always fast downhill kilo 34. Alone at the front, Legesse pressed on through a 2:50 to close out a 14:09 segment that sent him across the 35K mats in 1:41:02—and into Kipchoge territory at 2:01:48 pace.

Bekele followed 13 seconds later after enduring a soul-searching 14:20 interval. “My preparation was not perfect,” he admitted, “so I had some doubts and I also had some hamstring cramping. I had to slow down and listen to my body and take in my drinks.” While discouraged, he was not broken, and the great one who amassed a boatload of championship titles over his 20-year career once again proved he was tougher than the rest.

Three years ago, Bekele rallied for a marvelous 2:03:03 win in Berlin after twice being dropped by Wilson Kipsang. Seeing that Legesse slowed to 2:59 for kilo 36, Bekele began a similar unfathomable rally, fighting his way back to the front with a 2:49 to pull within 4 seconds of his fading rival. “I made a mistake,” Legesse admitted. “I moved too fast and ran out of energy.” Bekele has always proven to be a merciless tactician, he pulled wide as he zipped past Legesse, and with a 2:46 began to close in on Kipchoge’s record.

Running with rejuvenated confidence he continued at high speed reaching 40K in 1:55:27—2:01:47 pace. Pressing hard through 2:51 and 2:50 segments, he then sped through the Brandenburg Gate and passed 42K in 2:01:08—the same exact time as Kipchoge, but expended by his long drive he could not match Eliud’s 31-second sprint to the finish.

Trailing Kipchoge’s pace at 32K by 5 seconds, Bekele had charged through the next 10K in a ridiculous 28:25, only to fall short in the final 195 meters. “With 2km left I didn’t expect I’m going to break it,” he offered, “but when I reached 41 and a half I knew I’m very close but it was too late at that time.” Shaking his head, he lamented “I should have started my sprint earlier.”

On the women’s side, another Bekele, 31-year-old veteran Ashete, chopped exactly a minute off her PR to win at 2:20:14, 7 seconds up on fellow Ethiopian Mare Dibaba. Americans acquitted themselves well, Sara Hall’s PR 2:22:16 in 6th moving her to No. 6 on the all-time U.S. list. Two places later, Sally Kipyego, newly eligible for Team USA, moved to No. 9 with her PR 2:25:10.


World Marathon Major; Berlin, Germany, September 29—

1. Kenenisa Bekele (Eth) 2:01:41 NR (WL) (2, 2 W) (14:24, 14:29 [28:53], 14:36 [43:29], 14:29 [57:58], 14:32 [1:12:30], 14:25 [1:26:55], 14:20 [1:41:15], 14:12 [1:55:27], 6:14) (1:01:05/1:00:36);

2. Berhanu Legesse (Eth) 2:02:48 PR (3, 4 W); 3. Sisay Lemma (Eth) 2:03:36 PR (10, x W);

4. Jonathan Kipleting (Ken) 2:06:45 PR; 5. Felix Kandie (Ken) 2:08:07; 6. Yohanes Gebregergish (Eri) 2:08:26; 7. Guojian Dong (Chn) 2:08:28 PR; 8. Bethwel Yegon (Ken) 2:08:35 PR; 9. Kenta Murayama (Jpn) 2:08:56 PR; 10. Abel Kipchumba (Ken) 2:09:39 PR;

11. Yuichi Yasui (Jpn) 2:10:26 PR; 12. Peter Herzog (Aut) 2:10:57 PR; 13. Yassine El Fathaoui (Mor) 2:11:08 PR; 14. Matt Llano (US) 2:11:14 PR; 15. David Nilsson (Swe) 2:11:50 PR; 16. Jonathan Mellor (GB) 2:12:29 PR; 17. Ercan Arslan (Tur) 2:12:41 PR; 18. Getafe Gelaw (Eth) 2:13:19 PR; 19. Haron Lagat (US) 2:13:22 PR; 20. Edwin de Vries (Hol) 2:13:38 PR;

21. Kevin Seaward (Ire) 2:13:39 PR; 22. Stefano La Rosa (Ita) 2:13:48; 23. Felfele Tesfay (Eri) 2:13:51 PR; 24. Yimer Getahun (Isr) 2:13:53 PR; 25. Matthew Clowes (GB) 2:13:57 PR; 26. Mustapha El Ouartassy (Mor) 2:14:02 PR; 27. Yousheng Guan (Chn) 2:14:09 PR; 28. Valentin Pfeil (Aut) 2:14:17; 29. Keisuke Kusaka (Jpn) 2:14:27; 30. Emmanuel Roudolff Lévisse (Fra) 2:14:32 PR;

31. Jiří Homoláč (CzR) 2:14:35 PR; 32. Jia Erenjia (Chn) 2:14:38 PR; 33. Nick Van Peborgh (Bel) 2:14:39 PR; 34. Scott Overall (GB) 2:14:40; 35. Justin Mahieu (Bel) 2:14:43 PR; 36. Greg Leak (US) 2:14:44 PR; 37. Jens Nerkamp (Ger) 2:14:54 PR; 38. Melkam Jamber (Isr) 2:14:58 PR; 39. Rene Ortiz (Mex) 2:14:59 PR; 40. Kennedy Naibei (Ken) 2:15:00;

… 42. Will Nation (US) 2:15:12 PR;… 56. Joe Stilin (US) 2:17:15 PR;… 61. Jameson Mora (US) 2:18:27;… 66. Kyle Wyatt (US) 2:19:35;… 85. Tyler Andrews (US) 2:22:03;… 87. Steve Hallman (US) 2:22:10 PR;… 93. Kevin Pool (US) 2:22:34;… 98. Jeremy Arthur (US) 2:24:32 PR; 99. Tyler Lyon (US) 2:24:36 PR.

(best-ever mark-for-place: 2)


1. Ashete Bekele (Eth) 2:20:14 PR; 2. Mare Dibaba (Eth) 2:20:21; 3. Sally Chepyego (Ken) 2:21:06 PR; 4. Helen Tola (Eth) 2:21:36;

5. Sara Hall (US) 2:22:16 PR (6, 8 A);

6. Melat Kejeta (Ger) 2:23:57 PR;

7. Sally Kipyego (US) 2:25:10 PR (9, x A);

8. Haftamnesh Tesfay (Eth) 2:26:50; 9. Martina Strähl (Swi) 2:31:24; 10. Nina Lauwaert (Bel) 2:31:25;

11. Andrea Deelstra (Hol) 2:31:29; 12. Krista Duchene (Can) 2:32:27; 13. Dawn Grunnagle (US) 2:33:14 PR; 14. Milda Eimontė (Lit) 2:33:20 PR; 15. Chun-Yu Tsao (Tai) 2:34:18 NR; 16. Caity Phillips (US) 2:34:43 PR; 17. Keira D’Amato (US) 2:34:55 PR; 18. Marisa Casanueva (Spa) 2:35:03; 19. Stefanie Doll (Ger) 2:35:33 PR; 20. Adriana Nelson (US) 2:35:45;

21. Jessica Harper (US) 2:35:56 PR; 22. Meghan Peyton (US) 2:36:13 PR; 23. Anna Hahner (Ger) 2:36:34; 24. Kelly Harriott (US) 2:37:27 PR; 25. Natividad Buacier Morillo (DR) 2:38:30 PR; 26. Nora Szabó (Hun) 2:39:27 PR; 27. Jila Dawa (Chn) 2:39:46; 28. Katalin Garami (Hun) 2:40:01 PR; 29. Zhiling Zheng (Chn) 2:40:45; 30. Maria Spitsyna (Rus) 2:41:26 PR;

31. Victoria Brandt (Ger) 2:41:32 PR; 32. Wong Tsz Yan (HK) 2:41:54 PR; 33. Shinetsetseg Chuluunkhuu (Mgl) 2:42:03; 34. Zhanna Mamazhanova (Kaz) 2:42:04; 35. Carly Gill (US) 2:42:25 PR; 36. Ilona Marhele (Lat) 2:42:30; 37. Tania Chavez Moser (Bol) 2:42:33 NR; 38. Marije Geurtsen (Hol) 2:42:45 PR; 39. Alison Lavender (GB) 2:42:48 PR; 40. Fiona Brian (GB) 2:43:16 PR;

…42. Zach Pollock (US) 2:44:08 PR;… 45. Amelia Landberg (US) 2:44:48 PR; 46. Bonnie Averbuch (US) 2:44:50 PR;… 49. Stephanie Andre (US) 2:46:06;… 52. Leigh Sharek (US) 2:46:25 PR;… 60. Danika Simonson (US) 2:48:05 PR; 61. Ashley Busa (US) 2:49:09 PR;… 65. Monica Prelle (US) 2:49:54 PR.

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