Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele won a grueling battle with Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang en route to winning the BMW Berlin Marathon on Sunday in 2:03:03, the second fastest time in history on a record-eligible course.
Bekele took command of the race entering the final kilometer, surging away from former world-record holder Kipsang to take his first victory in Berlin, averaging 4:41.48 per mile and smashing Haile Gebrselassie’s Ethiopian record of 2:03:59 in the process. The world record of 2:02:57 was set by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto a year ago in Berlin.
The women’s race saw Ethiopia’s Aberu Kebede take victory in commanding fashion, running 2:20:45 to come home more than three minutes clear of compatriot Birhane Dibaba.
American Mike Wardian, who is on a quest to run all five Marathon Majors (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York) in 2016 faster than anyone in history, finished in 2:28:19 to stay on pace with only the Oct. 9 Chicago Marathon and Nov. 6 New York City Marathon remaining.
In mild, calm conditions in the German capital, the pace was blistering from the outset, with a group of eight going through halfway in 1:01:11. At the 30K mark, reached in 1:26:26, Kipsang was the one pushing things along at the front, joined by compatriot Alfers Lagat. However, Bekele always remained in touch, and despite dropping back on several occasions, he trailed Kipsang by just five seconds as they reached 35K, more than enough contact for a man with a track pedigree like Bekele, who still holds the world records in the 5,000m (12:37.35) and 10,000m (26:17.35).
Bekele slowly reeled in his target over the kilometres that followed, clocking off consistent splits and running alongside Kipsang at the 40K mark before making his decisive move. Bekele changed gears impressively with just over a kilometer to run, a move Kipsang simply couldn’t match.
With nothing but the clock left to race, the 34-year-old Ethiopian powered up the home straight in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate, but fell just short in his bid to break Dennis Kimetto’s world record of 2:02:57, set in Berlin in 2014.
“I wanted to run my personal best here,” Bekele said. “The time was fantastic but I was disappointed I missed the world record.”
Kipsang came home second in 2:03:13, and had every reason to beam with pride after taking 10 seconds off his personal best.
“It was a very nice race and my feeling was good,” he said. “I was hoping we could run a world record but to run a personal best is good. We ran a good race together. Even though [Bekele] just missed it, he will run it another day.”
Kebede, Dibaba and fellow Ethiopian Ruti Aga ran together through 15km in 49:40, but Kebede began to press on alone before halfway, which she reached in 1:09:27. From there, she extended her advantage all the way to the finish, coming up just 15 seconds shy of her personal best of 2:20:30.
With her third Berlin win after 2010 and 2012 Kebede joins Berlin’s record winners Uta Pippig (Germany) and Renata Kokowska (Poland). Birhane Dibaba (2:23:58) and Ruti Aga (2:24:41) made it an all Ethiopian podium in Berlin in ideal weather conditions.
41,283 runners from 122 countries entered the 43rd edition of the race, which is part of the Abbott World Marathon Majors.