Kenenisa Bekele scorched to a stunning 2:01:41 victory at the BMW Berlin Marathon today, the second fastest performance of the all-time.
The victory capped a sensational comeback for the 37-year-old star, who had been struggling with knee and hamstring injuries in recent years. Bekele missed the world record by six seconds when winning at the IAAF Gold Label road race in 2016, and this time came up just two seconds short of the 2:01:39 record set by Eliud Kipchoge last year. But the Ethiopian, who has held the world records over 5000 and 10,000 m since 2004 and 2005, respectively, hadn’t finished a marathon since April of last year, suggesting his best days over the distance were already behind him.
Bekele lost ground on compatriots Birhanu Legese and Sisay Lemma after the half, at one stage falling 13 seconds behind. But propelled by a long sustained surge, he began to work on the deficit by the 35th kilometre. He passed Legese in the 38th kilometre as he fought his way back on world record pace, reaching kilometre 40 in 1:55:30, two seconds better than Kipchoge last year. Their furious sprints towards the German capital’s iconic Brandenburg Gate proved to be the difference.
Coming so close, Bekele said, is more encouraging that frustrating. “I know I can still run a very good marathon and I won’t give up.” That was amply illustrated by a 1:00:36 second half.
Legesse was second in 2:02:48 to become the third fastest of all-time. Lemma finished third in 2:03:36 to end the day at No. 10 on the all-time list.
The women’s contest was much closer, which came down to a sprint over the final few hundred metres. That was when Ashete Bekere unleashed her sprint to pull away from fellow Ethiopian Mare Dibaba to win 2:20:14 to 2:20:21.
Kenya’s Sally Chepyego was third, clocking 2:21:06.
Further back, German fans were pleased with Melat Kejeta, who finished sixth in her debut over the distance in 2:23:57.
Three-time winner Gladys Cherono was never a factor, and dropped out at around the 30th kilometre.
1. Kenensia 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 Gebregergisch 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
1. Ashete Bekere ETH 2:20:14
2. Mare Dibaba ETH 2:20:21
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 (Melat is an Ethiopian-born athlete)
7. Sally Kipyego USA 2:25:10
8. Haftamnesh Tesfay ETH 2:26:50
9. Martina Strähl SUI 2:31:24
10. Nina Lauwaert BEL 2:31:25