2015 BMW Berlin Marathon Women’s Preview: In Her First Major, Kenya’s Gladys Cherono Is The Woman To Beat

By LetsRun.com
September 25, 2015

The Berlin women’s race is usually overshadowed by a world record attempt in the men’s race, and that’s the case again at the 2015 BMW Berlin Marathon as Eliud Kipchoge and Emmanuel Mutai will go for a sixth world record in nine years in the Germany capital. The women’s race doesn’t have many big names but it does have two women who have broken 2:21 and two more under 2:23. World half marathon champ Gladys Cherono of Kenya, who ran the third-fastest debut marathon ever in Dubai in January (2:20), leads the way but she’ll have company in Ethiopians Aberu Kebede, a two-time champion in Berlin, Meseret Hailu (2:21:09 PB) and Tadelech Bekele (who was fourth here a year ago).

We give you the need-to-know details for Sunday’s race below (it starts at 3 a.m. ET if you want to watch live, though Universal Sports will show a replay at 1 p.m. ET) followed by a preview of the women’s race.

What: 2015 BMW Berlin Marathon

When: Sunday, September 27, 3 a.m. ET (9 a.m. local time)

Where: Berlin, Germany

How to watch: You can stream it live starting at 3 a.m. ET on UniversalSports.com or watch it tape-delayed on Universal Sports Network at 1 p.m. ET.

Prize money: 40,000 Euros ($45,152) for the winner down to 2,000 Euros ($2,257) for 10th. 30,000-Euro ($33,864) time bonus for first woman under 2:19; 15,000-Euro ($16,932) bonus for first and second women under 2:20:30. 50,000-Euro ($56,440) world record bonus.

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Abbott World Marathon Majors

The Abbott World Marathon Majors consists of eight major marathons — Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York, the World Championships and the Olympics — with the winner of each series taking home $500,000. Starting this year, the AWMM changed its format so that each series lasts a year plus one race. So the current series began at the 2015 Tokyo Marathon and will conclude at the 2016 Tokyo Marathon.

The 2015 edition of the Berlin Marathon won’t have many AWMM implications, however, as no one in the field scored any points in a spring marathon. So unless someone scores major points in Berlin and Tokyo next year, no one in the Berlin field will be winning the $500,000 prize. You can view the current AWMM standings here.

Important links: LRC 2014 Berlin Marathon coverage * Berlin Marathon live results page * Race website

The Search for Sub-2:20

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Since the start of 2013, only three women have broken 2:20 in the marathon, and one of them, Rita Jeptoo, was later busted for doping. That leaves Buzunesh Deba‘s 2:19:59 in Boston last year and World champ Mare Dibaba‘s 2:19:52 in Xiamen on January 3 as the only sub-2:20s in the past three years.

Most of the world’s top women will be in New York this fall, but the course record there is 2:22:31. World half marathon record holder/2:19 marathoner Florence Kiplagat will be in Chicago, but without rabbits, she may not break 2:20 either. Berlin’s field isn’t particularly strong, but the combination of rabbits, a few top women and men to chase (the men’s and women’s elite races start simultaneously) make it the fall’s best chance at a sub-2:20.

The Field

Name Country PB Comment
Gladys Cherono Kenya 2:20:03 World half marathon champ ran 2:20 for 2nd in debut in Dubai in Jan.
Aberu Kebede Ethiopia 2:20:30 Two-time Berlin champ was 5th in Dubai, 7th in Boston so far in ’15
Meseret Hailu Ethiopia 2:21:09 ’12 world half champ coming off win in Hamburg in April
Tadelech Bekele Ethiopia 2:22:51 4th last year (top returner), she was 7th in Dubai before DNFing Prague in May
Fate Tola Ethiopia 2:25:14 7th in Vienna in April
Eri Hayakawa Japan 2:25:31 2:30 for 10th in Nagoya in March
Lisa Nemec Croatia 2:25:44 American-born Columbia grad was 12th in Boston in April
Tomomi Tanaka Japan 2:26:05 Has run track PBs of 9:15/15:37/32:08 this year
Anna Hahner Germany 2:26:44 Top German last year (7th) was runner-up in Rio Marathon in July
Deborah Toniolo Italy 2:28:31
Maja Neuenschwander Switzerland 2:29:42
Sonia Samuels Great Britain 2:30:56
Alyson Dixon Great Britain 2:31:10
Maria Diaz Spain 2:32:22
Andrea Deelstra The Netherlands 2:32:39
Wendy Thomas USA 2:32:49
Iris Fuentespila Spain debut

The Favorite

Gladys Cherono — Kenya, 32 years old, 2:20:03 pb (2015 Dubai), 66:38 half
Last marathon: 2nd, 2015 Dubai (2:20:03)

Cherono winning gold at the World Half Champs last year Cherono winning gold at the World Half Champs last year

Cherono is the most accomplished woman in the field, but most of those accomplishments come at distances other than the marathon. The 2013 World Championships silver medallist at 10,000, Cherono won the World Half Marathon Championships last year and owns personal bests of 14:47, 30:29 and 66:38, the latter coming at April’s Istanbul Half Marathon. Cherono also won the Ottawa 10K on May 23 (30:56) and finished second to Joyce Chepkirui at the Healthy Kidney 10K in New York a week later.

If you guessed that those performances would make Cherono a strong marathoner, you’d be right. Cherono debuted at 26.2 in January in Dubai and came up agonizingly short of the $200,000 first-place prize, losing by one second to Aselefech Mergia. Don’t feel too bad for Cherono, though. She still took home $80,000 for second, and her time of 2:20:03 was the third-fastest debut ever. She also beat two of her main rivals in Berlin in Aberu Kebede (5th) and Tadelech Bekele (7th).

In Berlin, she’ll be focused not only on winning the race, but improving her PB and getting under the 2:20 barrier. Though you can never predict what’s going to happen at a marathon, Cherono’s stellar debut and her half marathon PB in April suggest that she’s got a 2:19 in her on Sunday. As in the men’s race, though, it will be easier for her if she has someone to run with.

The Contenders

Aberu Kebede — Ethiopia, 26 years old, 2:20:30 pb (2012 Berlin), 67:39 half
Last two marathons:
7th, 2015 Boston (2:26:52); 5th, 2015 Dubai (2:21:17)

Kebede en route to a seventh-place finish in Boston this year Kebede en route to a seventh-place finish in Boston this year

Kebede is a consistent marathoner who rarely runs a horrible race. And with six victories in 15 career starts — including two in Berlin — she could definitely win this thing on Sunday. Her two marathons so far in 2015 have gone okay. Her 2:26:52 in Boston wasn’t her best showing, but it came against a strong field on a slow day (winning time was 2:24:55). And 2:21:17 is still a quick time, even if it was only good for fifth place in a deep Dubai Marathon.

How good is 2:21:17? Consider only two other women in the field have run faster than 2:22:51 in their careers — Cherono and Meseret Hailu. And if you want to apply the Dubai tax (Dubai produces so many fast times annually that observers of the sport will occasionally discount the times), that actually helps Kebede. Both Cherono and the fourth-fastest woman in the field, Tadelech Bekele, set their PBs in Dubai this year (Kebede beat Bekele head-to-head in that race). Kebede, meanwhile, ran her PB not in Dubai, but Berlin. Of course, Berlin is fast in its own right, but it also happens to be the course where Sunday’s race is going to be held. Kebede’s knowledge of the layout (she won here in 2010 and 2012) and her experience as a marathoner could net her a win if Cherono goes out too hard early.

Meseret Hailu — Ethiopia, 25 years old, 2:21:09 pb (2012 Amsterdam), 66:56 half
Last two marathons: 1st, 2015 Hamburg (2:25:41); 4th, 2014 Dubai (2:26:20)

Hailu races sparingly, but her pedigree is strong. She’s coming off a win in Hamburg in April and has placed in the top five in seven of her last eight marathons, including a runner-up showing in Boston two years ago that should probably count as a win (she lost to doper Rita Jeptoo). Hailu also owns a formidable 66:56 half marathon PB; in fact, she was the World Half Marathon champion in 2012, meaning we’ll get to see the last two world champs at that distance square off in Hailu and Cherono. Hailu hasn’t raced since Hamburg, so assessing her fitness is a challenge, but like Kebede, she’s an experienced marathoner who could take advantage of relative newbies Cherono and Tadelech Bekele (three combined marathon finishes).

Tadelech Bekele — Ethiopia, 24 years old, 2:22:51 pb (2015 Dubai – 7th place), 68:38 half
Last two marathons: 
DNF, 2015 Prague; 7th, 2015 Dubai (2:22:51)

Bekele is the last woman we’re giving a chance to realistically win the race. Her debut in Berlin last year was promising — she took fourth in 2:23:02 behind Tirfi Tsegaye, Boru Tadese and Shalane Flanagan — and she PR’d in Dubai on January 23 before DNFing Prague on May 3 (perhaps because she came back too quickly). Bekele’s 68:38 half pb isn’t that impressive but her 30:38 road 10K is quite impressive. If she can run PR, she may be in contention.

Most likely, it will take something between 2:19 and 2:21 to win in Berlin, which would require a jump from Bekele, but considering she’s 24 years old and running just her fourth career marathon, she’s the type of runner who could make such a jump. Still, out of the top four, she’s the least likely to win as she already has losses to Cherono and Kebede in Dubai this year.

Could anyone else win it?

After Bekele, the next-fastest woman on paper is Fate Tola at 2:25:14 and history has shown that’s not nearly fast enough to win in Berlin. From 2004 to 2014, the winning time was slower than 2:21:34 on just three occasions, and even then, those times (2:23:17, 2:23:58 and 2:24:46) are beyond what Tola or anyone else in the field has accomplished. The only way someone outside the top four wins this race is if the lead runners totally miscalculate their fitness and go out too hard or someone has a MAJOR breakthrough.

Keep an eye on American citizen Lisa Nemec (2:25 PB; 12th in Boston this year) and top German Anna Hahner (who PR’d here last year, running 2:26:44) but don’t expect them to challenge for the win unless something crazy happens. Nemec was born and raised in Connecticut before running collegiately at Columbia but now competes for Croatia. If she still ran for the US, she’d be a favorite 2016 US Olympic team (LRC interview with Nemec before 2015 Boston).

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