Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge’s world marathon record of 2:01:39 in Berlin in 2018 was seen as an unapproachable standard that will last for years.
Someone forgot to tell Ethiopian star Kenenisa Bekele.
The triple Olympic gold medalist of 2004-08 had failed to finish in two of his prior four marathons, including Berlin last year, but surged over the final 12 km of the race to finish in a stunning 2:01:41, just two seconds behind Kipchoge’s world mark.
“I felt something in my hamstring early on and of course I am coming back from injury. I was still in rehab two or three months ago. My preparation wasn’t 100 percent. I feel sorry to have missed the world record, it is painful.
“I’m not lucky, but I know my potential and I know I can do this.”
The race was hot from the start, with a group of five through the half in 1:01:05, about the same as Kipchoge’s split during his world-record 2:01:39 race last year. Soon after, Kenya’s Jonathan Korir fell back and then Leul Gebrselassie (ETH).
At 28 km, Bekele fell back and countrymen Birhanu Legese and Sisay Lemma moved ahead, and then Legese broke away and had a 13-second lead at 35 km.
But then Bekele felt better, upped the pace and broke the race open, catching and running away from Legese. By the 40 km mark, he had a 30-second lead and the only question was whether he could challenge Kipchoge’s mark. He was just a second back of Kipchoge’s pace at the 40 km mark and moved swiftly to the finish, ending up with the no. 2 performance ever. He shattered his lifetime best of 2:03:03 and now has two of the top eight times in history.
Legese ended at 2:02:48, making him the no. 3 performer ever with the fourth-fastest marathon ever, with Lemma third at 2:03:36, making him no. 12 on the all-time list.
The women’s race narrowed to a group of four by the 20 km mark, with Ethiopians Helen Tola, Mare Dibaba (the 2015 World Champion), Ashete Bekere and Kenya’s Sally Chepyego running together. They were still together through 35 km, but Bekere and Dibaba pushed ahead by 40 km and then Bekere took over, winning in 2:20:14 – a lifetime best – with Dibaba at 2:20:41.
American Sara Hall was fifth in a lifetime best 2:22:16, now no. 6 on the all-time U.S. list. Former Kenyan (and Texas Tech star) but now American Sally Kipyego finished seventh in 2:25:10; she’s now no. 9 on the all-time U.S. list and a definite contender for the Olympic Team in 2020. Summaries:
World Marathon Majors/Berlin Marathon
Berlin (GER) ~ 29 September 2019
(Full results here)
Men: 1. Kenenisa Bekele (ETH), 2:01:41; 2. Birhanu Legese (ETH), 2:02:48; 3. Sisay Lemma (ETH), 2:03:36; 4. Jonathan Korir (KEN), 2:06:45; 5. Felix Kandie (KEN), 2:08:07; 6. Yohanes Gebregergish (ERI), 2:08:26; 7. Guojian Dong (CHN), 2:08:28; 8. Bethwel Yegon (KEN), 2:08:35; 9. Kenta Murayama (JPN), 2:08:56; 10. Abel Kipchumba (KEN), 2:09:39.
Women: 1. Ashete Bekere (ETH), 2:20:14; 2. Mare Dibaba (ETH), 2:20:41; 3. Sally Chepyego (KEN), 2:21:06; 4. Helen Tola (ETH), 2:21:36; 5. Sara Hall (USA), 2:22:16; 6. Melat Kejeta (GER), 2:23:57; 7. Sally Kipyego (USA), 2:25:10; 8. Haftamnesh Tesfay (ETH), 2:26:50; 9. Martina Strahl (SUI), 2:31:24; 10. Nina Lauwaert (BEL), 2:31:25.