Berlin Marathon Women — Gebreslase’s Great Debut

A sparkling first-ever 26-miler found Gotytom Gebreslase winning at 2:20:09. (VICTOR SAILER/PHOTO RUN)

BERLIN, GERMANY, September 26 — The women’s race in the Berlin Marathon featured a stirring battle between a pair of 26-year old Ethiopians, veteran Hiwot Gebrekidan and debutante Gotytom Gebreslase. When Gebrekidan hit the gas at 15K the contenders fell away and shortly after halfway it was down to a 2-women race. Gebreslase (spelled by some sources as Gebreselassie) first clung to the surges then managed the better finish when both hit the humidity wall at 35K. Despite slowing considerably over the final 7K, Gebreslase closed out her debut with a 2:20:09–2:21:23 win.

The race had started somewhat conservatively, running low 2:19 pace through 15K. Eight covered the opening 5K in 16:30. A subsequent 16:34 left 6 at 10K (33:04), and a 16:28 increment trimmed the lead pack to 4 at 15K, with Helen Tola and Fancy Chemutai joining the Ethiopian duo.

Then Gebrekidan ramped up the pace, splitting 16:14 through 20K (65:46) and driving the pace down to 2:18:45. The quartet crossed halfway in 69:19. “We went through in the first half according to the plan for a 2:18/2:19 finishing time,” said Gebrekidan.

Within a minute she had another, faster plan and this time only Gebreslase could cling to surging pace.

The two would race on but it was the veteran Gebrekidan, who was running her career marathon No. 9 — including 3 wins and a world-leading 2:19:35 win in Milan — dictating a hard pace. A pair of 16:20 and 16:21 segments dropped the pace to 2:18:28 at 30K (1:38:27). Gebreslase didn’t falter and heading into the 30K aid station moved to the front and slowly extended her lead.

The rookie kept the pressure on with a 16:28, extending her lead to 13 seconds at 35K (1:54:54) — 2:18:31 pace — before hitting the wall.

After a steady dose of 3:15/3:20 kilometers, 3:30–40 became the norm as Gebreslase labored through a 17:40, crossing 40K in 2:12:34. Gebrekidan could only manage a 17:58 and despite falling apart Gebreslase extended her lead with little concern about the pace, noting, “I was out in front so I was just concentrating on staying in front and winning.”

That she did, getting home in 2:20:09, and not only winning her debut, but claiming her first significant victory of any kind since she ran 8:56.36 to win the ’11 World Youth Champs 3000 as a 16-year-old.

“My win was kind of a surprise so I’m kind of getting over that,” Gebreslase offered, adding, “I had a plan but if the weather had been a little kinder and not so warm I could have run faster. I’ve run 2:20 in my first marathon, so the next time I do a marathon I’m definitely setting a target to run under 2:20.”

Gebrekidan, who at 30K still had solid hopes of bettering her list-leading time, admitted, “by the end of the race with the temperature, it wasn’t so easy.”

Tola and Edith Chelimo waged a back-and-forth battle for the final podium place. Chelimo was dropped from the lead group at 10K only to catch Tola at 30K, and by 35K had built a 20-second advantage. Again, it was a case of who slowed the least and Tola — who has plenty of Berlin experience — managed a 17:40 through 40K while Chelimo could only muster 18:50.

After twice falling just short, Tola stepped up to the podium, finishing in 2:23:05, 2 minutes off her PR 2:21:01 which had been good for 2nd in the ’19 Tokyo race.

1. Gotytom Gebreslase (Eth) 2:20:09 PR; 2. Hiwot Gebrekidan (Eth) 2:21:23; 3. Helen Tola (Eth) 2:23:05; 4. Edith Chelimo (Ken) 2:24:33 PR; 5. Shure Demise (Eth) 2:24:43; 6. Fancy Chemutai (Ken) 2:24:58; 7. Izabela Paszkiewicz (Pol) 2:27:41 PR; 8. Ruth Chebitok (Ken) 2:28:18; 9. Rabea Schöneborn (Ger) 2:28:49; 10. Martina Strähl (Swi) 2:30:37; 11. Nora Szabó (Hun) 2:31:08 PR; 12. Hanna Lindholm (Swe) 2:33:23; 13. Hanna Vandenbussche (Bel) 2:34:44 PR; 14. Maria Sagnes Wågan (Nor) 2:35:34 PR; 15. Martha Akeno (Ken) 2:37:41; 16. Elissa Legault (Can) 2:38:13 PR; 17. Shalane Flanagan (US) 2:38:32; 18. Alison Lavender (GB) 2:38:41 PR; 19. Sandra Mochner (Ger) 2:39:36 PR; 20. Grace Lynch (Ire) 2:40:26 PR.