Berlin Men’s Preview: Will the World Record Go Down Again?

September 25, 2014

The BMW Berlin Marathon has become well-known for producing fast times: the men’s world record has been broken in Berlin four times in the past seven years and six of the nine fastest record-eligible times have been run in the German capital. This year, Berlin has attracted a lightning-fast men’s field to run on its lightning-fast course.

2013 Chicago Marathon champion and course record holder Dennis Kimetto (2:03:45 PB, #3 all-time) and 2011 London Marathon champion and former London course record holder Emmanuel Mutai (2:03:52 PB, #4 all-time) are both entered, and Kimetto has stated that he is pursuing the world record of 2:03:23 that Wilson Kipsang set here last year. They’ll be challenged by two-time London champ Tsegaye Kebede, the current leader in the 2013-14 World Marathon Majors standings, and 21-year-old Geoffrey Kamworor (also known as Geoffrey Kipsang), who won the World Half-Marathon Championships in March and is one of just 12 men to have broken 59 minutes in the half marathon (his PB is 58:54).

It should be a super-exciting race. There’s only one downside for U.S. fans: the race starts at 8:45 a.m. local time on Sunday (2:45 a.m. ET), which is very inconvenient for anyone who wants to watch it live. The race will be streamed live on for those die-hards on the East Coast and any West Coasters who want to stay up late on a Saturday night.

What’s on the line

Even if you don’t watch the race live, we believe that it’s important fans know what’s at stake in every race as it really enhances the experience of following the sport. Apart from the obvious (the title of Berlin Marathon champion and a possible world record), there’s also obviously mney on the line in Berlin. The winner is guaranteed €40,000 ($51,000), but there’s also a €30,000 bonus if the winner breaks 2:04 and a €50,000 bonus for a world record. So if someone breaks the world record, he will officially get a total of €120,000 ($154,000) but a ton more in shoe sponsorship bonus.

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That actual prize money pales in comparison to the big prize in marathoning, which is the World Marathon Majors title. There are three races left in the current series, and of the five men who can still mathematically win the $500,000 grand prize, three are racing in Berlin.

2013-14 World Marathon Majors men’s standings (fall 2014 marathon in parentheses)

1. Tsegaye Kebede, 55 points (Berlin)
2. Wilson Kipsang, 51 points (New York)
3. Dennis Kimetto, 50 points (Berlin)
4. Lelisa Desisa, 40 points (???)
5. Emmanuel Mutai, 30 points (Berlin)

Scoring system: 1st, 25 points; 2nd, 15 points; 3rd, 10 points; 4th, 5 points; 5th, 1 point

Even though Kebede (who won the 2012-13 series) is leading the standings, it is Kipsang who controls his destiny and can clinch the title with a win in New York on November 2. That’s because runners can only count four marathons toward their point total and Kebede has already run four in 2013-14 (Kipsang has run three; Kimetto, Desisa and Mutai have each run two). If Kebede does well in Berlin, he will have to subtract five points from whatever points he earns as his 4th place showing (5 points) from last year’s Worlds will drop off his point total.

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Still, a win by Kebede or Kimetto in Berlin would guarantee them the title as long as Kipsang doesn’t win NYC. Desisa hasn’t been announced as part of the elite field in Berlin, Chicago or New York (the three remaining WMM races in 2014), which is odd since he still has a shot at the $500,000 prize. Either he’s hurt or he figured he wouldn’t be able to leapfrog three people in the standings.

The Big Four — One of these men will win it (unless they all blow up)

Kimetto set the course record in Chicago last year Kimetto set the course record in Chicago last year

Dennis Kimetto – Kenya, 30 years old, 2:03:45 pb (2013 Chicago), 59:14 half

Last two marathons: DNF, 2014 Boston); 1st, 2013 Chicago (course record, #3 all-time)

Prep races: 61:42 for 3rd at Olomouc (Czech Republic) Half Marathon on June 21

Kimetto, the world record holder at 25k, is almost impossible to beat when he finishes a marathon. He was second in his debut in Berlin in 2012 (and might have been able to win had he not let training partner Geoffrey Mutai take the win at the line), running 2:04:16, the fastest debut marathon ever (record-eligible courses). He then set a course record (since broken) in marathon #2 in Tokyo last year and set another in Chicago, running 2:03:45 to become the third-fastest marathoner of all time (again, record-eligible courses). Kimetto was a DNF in Boston in April with a hamstring injury, but he’s confident heading into Berlin, telling the BMW Berlin Marathon Magazine: “If the weather is good, I trust myself to run a world record.”

He’s only raced once since Boston, running 61:42 in a half marathon in the Czech Repbulic on June 21. That’s not a blazing time (winner Geoffrey Ronoh ran 60:17), but Kimetto has shown he doesn’t need to run fast prior to a marathon to have success. Two months before setting the course record at Chicago last year, Kimetto ran 47:32 for 10 miles (4:45 pace) in a race in Germany. He then ran 4:43 pace for 26.2 miles in Chicago. 61:42 is 4:42/mile pace, so comparatively it’s a much better performance than his pre-Chicago race (though it did come three months ago).

Plus for all we know, Kimetto could have just been practicing world record pace in that race. 61:42 x 2 = 2:03:24 nad the world record is 2:03:34. Regardless, 61:23 3 months out before a marathon is plenty fast.

Emmanuel Mutai after winning London in 2011 *More 2011 London Marathon Photos Emmanuel Mutai after winning London in 2011
*More 2011 London Marathon Photos

Emmanuel Mutai – Kenya, 29 years old, 2:03:52 pb (2013 Chicago), 59:52 half

Last two marathons: 7th, 2014 London (2:08:19); 2nd, 2013 Chicago (#4 all-time)

Prep races: none

Mutai has only one major victory (2011 London), but he’s finished second in a major five times in the last five years, most recently his spectacular 2:03:52 clocking in Chicago last October behind Kimetto. He hasn’t been particularly impressive in 2014, taking 14th in a half marathon in Kenya on February 2 in 63:57 and then finishing seventh in London in April in 2:08:19 in his only two races on the year. But his solid 2013 (seconds in London and Chicago) and history of success mean that he cannot be discounted in Berlin. Mutai was with Kimetto through 25 miles in Chicago last fall, and he said to the BMW Berlin Marathon Magazine that his plan is to run in the lead group, “whatever the pace.”

Tsegaye Kebede – Ethiopia, 27 years old, 2:04:38 pb (2012 Chicago), 59:35 half

Last two marathons: 3rd, 2014 London (2:06:30); 2nd, 2013 New York (2:09:16)

Prep races: none

The 5’2″ Kebede might be the most consistent marathoner in history. He’s run 18 marathons in his career (13 majors) and has finished in the top three in 15 of them, with three wins and no DNFs. Kebede was third in London in April of this year and had a huge 2013, winning London in April, placing fourth at the World Championships in August and coming back three months later to finish second in New York. He’s only broken 2:05 once in his career (Kimetto has done it twice despite finishing just three marathons) but he’s also never run on Berlin’s fast layout. Kebede always comes ready to race in a marathon, so even if he doesn’t get the win, he’s got a great shot at lowering his pb on Sunday.

Geoffrey Kipsang wins the World Half *More Photos Geoffrey Kamworor wins the World Half Marathon Championships in March

Geoffrey Kamworor (aka Geoffrey Kipsang) – Kenya, 21 years old, 2:06:12 pb (2012 Berlin), 58:54 half

Last two marathons: 6th, 2014 Tokyo (2:07:37); 3rd, 2013 Berlin (2:06:26)

Prep races: Won Ceske Budejovice Half Marathon in Czech Republic on June 7 (60:09); won Bogota Half Marathon in Colombia on July 27 in 63:18

Kamworor is a perfect example of the changing nature of the sport. Still only 21 years old, he has already run 11 half marathons and four full marathons, with just one track race since he turned 20. Kamworor ran some great track times at age 18 (13:12 and 27:06), but there’s just not that much money out there for a track guy whose best event is the 10,000. He made a smart decision switching to the roads.

Kamworor hasn’t quite solved the marathon yet. He’s the only one in this group without a victory, major or otherwise, with his best finish a third in Berlin the past two years. Kamworor remains an exceptional talent, however, as he won the World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen in March and has run 58:54 for 13.1, tied for seventh all-time. Kamworor has been a big prospect for a while now (he won the junior race at World Cross in 2011) and it’s a question of when, not if, he breaks through to win a major marathon.

The Next Tier 

These guys only have a shot at the win if the top four can’t handle running WR pace.

Levy Matebo – Kenya, 24 years old, 2:05:16 pb (2011 Frankfurt), 60:06 half

Last two marathons: 2nd, 2014 Warsaw (2:08:09); DNF, 2013 Frankfurt

Prep races: none

Matebo is a solid marathoner but he has struggled in major marathons. He’s run three majors in his life and has never broken 2:10, finishing 12th in two of the races (though he was second in Boston in 2012). In non-majors, he’s been very good, winning twice and placing second three other times, including his pb effort of 2:05:16 in Frankfurt in 2011. It’s difficult to get a read on Matebo because he has only raced once since his disastrous 2013 (12th in Boston, DNF in Frankfurt), finishing second in Warsaw in April in 2:08:09. That’s not a bad performance, but it doesn’t scream “future Berlin champ” either.

Franklin Chepkwony – Kenya, 30 years old, 2:06:11 pb (2012 Eindhoven), 60:11 half

Last two marathons: 3rd, 2014 Boston (2:08:50); 7th, 2013 Amsterdam (2:09:53)

Prep races: none

Chepkwony, who trains with Kimetto and Geoffrey Mutai, has run very well in his last two spring marathons, winning Seoul in 2013 and taking third at Boston in April. Chepkwony closed pretty hard in Boston, and if he had gone with Meb Keflezighi when Meb broke away, there’s a chance he would have been able to win. Obviously there’s a big “if” in there, but Chepkwony should definitely take confidence from his performance, especially considering Boston was his first major. He has a shot to run a nice pb if he stays with the second group in this one (which is going for 2:06 pace, according to Race Results Weekly’s David Monti).

Abera Kuma – Ethiopia, 24 years old, 2:09:53 pb (2014 Dubai), 60:19 half

Last two marathons: 3rd, 2014 Kunsan (South Korea) Marathon (2:14:52); 11th, 2014 Dubai (2:09:53)

Prep races: 60:58 for 3rd at Klagenfurt (Austria) Half Marathon on August 24

It might seem odd to list a guy who’s only broken 2:10 once in his life in this tier, but we have an explanation. First, Kuma has only run two marathons in his life, so the sample size isn’t very large. Second, one of those marathons (Kunsan) came two and a half months after the first, a very quick turnaround in marathoning. Third, he’s another guy that came over early from the track, and while he never won a medal at Worlds/Olympics, he was still VERY good.

He was fifth in the 5,000 at Worlds in 2011, 5th in the 10,000 in 2013 and has pbs of 13:00 and 26:52. He’s still only 24 years old, so those performances suggest that he has a lot of room for improvement over 26.2 miles. Ideally, he would have run a bit faster than 60:58 in his prep half marathon last month, but he’s certainly got a shot at PRing in Berlin.

Real Long Shots

Eliud Kiptanui – Kenya, 25 years old, 2:05:39 pb (2010 Prague), 61:24 half

Last two marathons: 11th, 2014 Seoul (2:14:41); 2nd, 2013 Singapore (2:15:26)

Prep races: none

He hasn’t broken 2:10 since Berlin in 2012 (and even then, he ran 2:09:59).

Kazuhiro Maeda – Japan, 33 years old, 2:08:00 pb (2013 Tokyo), 62:08 half

Last two marathons: 11th, 2014 Beppu-Oita Mainichi (Japan) Marathon (2:14:28); 17th, 2013 Moscow World Championships (2:15:25)

Prep races: 28:42 track 10,000 on July 6

Set his pb to take 4th in Tokyo last year, but was only 11th in his most recent marathon in February.

Ryo Yamamoto – Japan, 30 years old, 2:08:44 pb (2012 Otsu), 61:54 half

Last two marathons: 6th, 2014 Vienna (2:10:59); 5th, 2013 Otsu (2:09:06)

Prep races: 28:54 track 10,000 on July 6; 66:06 for 13th in Shibetsu Half Marathon on July 20

His prep races were awful (though they were over two months ago) and he’s only run 2:08:44, so he’d need a miracle to win this race.

Maswai Kiptanui – Kenya, 26 years old, 2:08:52 pb (2013 Berlin), 64:21 half

Last two marathons: 2nd, 2014 Libreville (Gabon) Marathon (2:15:44); 5th, 2013 Berlin (2:08:52)

Prep races: 64:21 for 2nd in Bali (Indonesia) Half Marathon on September 14

He ran a pb to finish 5th in last year’s race, but hasn’t done anything else impressive in his career.

Scott Overall – Great Britain, 31 years old, 2:10:55 pb (2011 Berlin), 61:25 half

Last two marathons: 19th, 2014 London (2:19:55); DNF, 2013 London

Prep races: 29:18 track 10,000 on September 6 (won by 35 seconds); 65:21 to win Dublin Half Marathon on August 4

Ran his pb here in 2011 but hasn’t broken 2:14 in five marathons since.

Fernando Cabada – USA, 32 years old, 2:11:53 pb (2012 Houston), 62:00 half

Last two marathons: 16th, 2013 Boston (2:18:23); DNF, 2012 Toronto

Prep races: 66:23 for 13th in Usti nad Labem (Czech Republic) Half Marathon on September 14; 63:18 for 10th in U.S. 20k Champs on September 1

The lone American male in the elite field has struggled this year after running a pb of 62:00 for the half in Houston in January. He DNF’ed his spring marathon in London (UPDATE: Cabada was actually a pacer in this race, so it wasn’t really a DNF) and his prep races didn’t go great, so the signs aren’t that encouraging for Cabada.

How Will the Race Play Out?

There’s no doubt that Kimetto wants the world record, stating in the race magazine that his aim is to run splits of 61:30/61:40 for a 2:03:10. David Monti tweeted the pace groups for Berlin last week and confirmed that the lead group will be running world-record pace (Group 2 is shooting for 2:06:00, Group 3 is 2:09:45 and Group 4 is 2:14:00). Kimetto, Mutai, Kebede and Kamworor should all be in the first group, but the interesting question is whether someone like Matebo or Chepkwony tries to hang with the top guys even though the pace would be significantly faster than their pbs. Even if those two don’t join the leaders, Kimetto will certainly have people to run with in his record attempt.

Even after his DNF in Boston in April, Kimetto has to be considered the favorite. His win in Chicago last fall broke the course record by 53 seconds and he said after the race that he wasn’t even focused on the time; Kimetto will definitely be watching the clock this time around, and if he’s as fit as he was at Chicago last fall, he’s got a chance to run the world record because Berlin is very good at producing record times. Still, this is a marathon, and there are no guarantees (or even “very likelies”) at the 26.2-mile distance. Mutai hung with Kimetto almost the entire way in Chicago last year and is a more experienced marathoner. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him sit on Kimetto once the rabbits drop out and pull away for the win.

If the winning time is fast, Kimetto and Mutai are the best bets for the win. But if the record attempt fizzles, the man most likely to benefit is Kebede. He has a history of capitalizing on failed record attempts as he won London in 2013 when the lead pack (including Mutai) went out on world-record pace in 61:34 before slowing down precipitously over the second half.

Of the “Big Four,” Kamworor has the smallest chance at the win because the other three have had a lot more success in major marathons, though it wouldn’t be a shock to see him battling for the win with his half-marathon credentials. With him, it’s more of a question of when, not if he breaks through as a super accomplished marathoner. It would certainly be a more of a surprise if he never has a big marathon result than if he does.

The full men’s elite  field is listed below. What do you think will happen? Vote in our poll below and tell us what you think on the fan forum where we ourselves are making our predictions: Official 2014 BMW Berlin Marathon Prediction Thread.

Name Country PB Comment
Dennis Kimetto Kenya 2:03:45 Won Tokyo last year and set CR at Chicago (#3 all-time); DNF in Boston in April
Emmanuel Mutai Kenya 2:03:52 7th in London this year; runner-up in London and Chicago (#4 all-time) last year
Tsegaye Kebede Ethiopia 2:04:38 Super-consistent; 2x London champ and also won Chicago in ’12; 3rd in London this year
Levy Matebo Kenya 2:05:16 Rough 2013 (12th in Boston, DNF in Frankfurt); 2nd in Warsaw in April
Eliud Kiptanui Kenya 2:05:39 11th in Seoul in March; 2nd in Singapore in December
Franklin Chepkwony Kenya 2:06:11 Won Seoul last year; 3rd in Boston in April
Geoffrey Kamworor Kenya 2:06:12 World half marathon champ (58:54 PB) has finished 3rd in Berlin last 2 years
Kazuhiro Maeda Japan 2:08:00 4th in Tokyo last year; 17th at Moscow World Champs
Ryo Yamamoto Japan 2:08:44 6th in Vienna in April in 2:10:59
Maswai Kiptanui Kenya 2:08:52 Ran PB to take 5th in Berlin last year
Abera Kuma Ethiopia 2:09:53 5th in 10k at Worlds last year; 2:09:53 in debut in Dubai in January
Scott Overall GBR 2:10:55 Former Butler runner was 19th in London in April; won Dublin Half Marathon in 65:21 in August
Kazuki Tomaru Japan 2:11:43
Fernando Cabada USA 2:11:53 10th at US 20k Champs on 9/1; just 66:23 for half marathon in Czech Republic on 9/14
Falk Cierpinski Germany 2:13:30 Son of 2-time Olympic marathon champ Waldemar was 18th last year
John Gilbert GBR 2:16:46
Markus Weiß-Latzko Germany 2:18:06
Andrew Lemoncello GBR 2:23:40
 [gravityform action=”polls” id=”47″ mode=”poll” cookie=”1 month” show_results_link=”true” display_results=”true” percentages=”true” counts=”false”]

 Full men’s elite field



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