2016 BMW Berlin Marathon Women’s Preview: Aberu Kebede Looks to Join the Sub-2:20 Club and Hold Off a Young Field

By LetsRun.com
September 23, 2016

As is usually the case in Berlin, the women’s field is not as strong as the men’s (if you missed our men’s preview, read it here: LRC 2016 BMW Berlin Marathon Men’s Preview: Legends Kenenisa Bekele & Wilson Kipsang Square Off in a Field Full of Men Searching for Redemption). Yes, there is a 2:20 women in two-time champ Aberu Kebede, plus promising youngsters Birhane Dibaba of Ethiopia (won Tokyo at age 21 last year) and Reia Iwade of Japan (ran 2:24 in Nagoya at age 21 in March). That’s about it, however. Those are the only women in the field who have ever broken 2:25, and there are just six women in the race under 2:30. With that said, Kebede vs. Dibaba could be a good race as Kebede aims to join Jutta von HaaseRenata Kokowska and German legend Uta Pippig as the only women to win Berlin three times.

We preview the women’s race below.

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What: 2016 BMW Berlin Marathon

When: Sunday, September 25, 3:15 a.m. ET (9:15 a.m. local time)

Where: Berlin, Germany

How to watch: You can stream it live starting at 2:30 a.m. ET through NBC Sports or watch it tape-delayed on NBC Sports Network at 7:30 p.m. ET on Monday.

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. The current series runs from the 2016 Boston Marathon to the 2017 Boston Marathon, and right now Kenya’s Jemima Sumgong is the leader with 50 points thanks to her victories in London and at the Olympics. Sumgong cannot be caught, only tied, as athletes can only count two marathons per cycle. Since none of the women entered in Berlin have won a marathon in this cycle, they’d need to win here and in Tokyo or Boston next year just to tie Sumgong. And even then, they’d still likely lose out on the $500,000 grand prize as in the event of a tie, the WMM race directors hold a vote to determine the champion and no one is topping Sumgong’s resume.

Important links: LRC 2015 Berlin Marathon coverage * Berlin Marathon live results page * Race website * Course map

Women’s elite field

Name Country PB Comment
Aberu Kebede Ethiopia 2:20:30 2-time champ (’10, ’12) is top returner from ’15; 4th in Tokyo in Feb.
Amane Beriso Ethiopia 2:20:48 2nd in debut in Dubai in Jan. but only 13th in Boston
Birhane Dibaba Ethiopia 2:22:30 Won Tokyo at age 21 in ’15; 5th Tokyo this year
Reia Iwade Japan 2:24:38 21-year-old coming off big 2:24 PR at Nagoya in March
Ruti Aga Ethiopia 2:25:27 Her 2nd in Vienna in April is first marathon she’s finished
Janet Ronoh Kenya 2:26:03 Has run 11 career marathons, but none faster than 2:26
Risa Takenaka Japan 2:28:09 3rd in Osaka in January
Charlotte Purdue Great Britain 2:32:48 16th in debut in London
Cassie Fien Australia 2:33:36 18th in London
Mona Stockhecke Germany 2:33:43 Coming off PR in Hamburg in April
Katharina Heinig Germany 2:33:56 DNF’d last marathon in Zurich in April

The Favorite

Aberu Kebede — Ethiopia, 27 years old, 2:20:30 pb (2012 Berlin), 67:49 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 
5th 2015 Dubai (2:21:17), 7th 2015 Boston (2:26:52), 2nd 2015 Berlin (2:20:48), 4th 2016 Tokyo (2:23:01)

Most runners go to Berlin for one reason: to run fast. Kebede, the top returner from last year (defending champ Gladys Cherono is absent), has won in Berlin twice already, and while adding a hat-trick of titles is certainly on her mind, her main goal is to break 2:20. If she manages that, she’ll be the 21st woman to do it and the sixth Ethiopian. The breakdown of the 20 fastest women in history is certainly a lot more diverse than it is is on the men’s side. Among the women’s top 20 are seven Kenyans, five Ethiopians, three Japanese, two Chinese and one each from the UK, USA and Germany. For the men, it’s 12 Kenyans (including the top eight) and eight Ethiopians. If you count non-record-eligible times, American Ryan Hall is the first non-Kenyan/Ethiopian at no. 33. If you’re not counting them, you’d have to go down to Morocco’s Jaouad Gharib at no. 43.

Kebede has come close on three occasions, running 2:20:30, 2:20:33 and 2:20:48 (two of them in Berlin), which makes her the only woman in history to have run in the 2:20’s three times. Kebede hasn’t raced since May, but her last two marathons were both solid efforts, in particular her 2:20:48 for second in Berlin last year. She took a step back with her 4th in Tokyo in February, but Kebede told race organizers, “I believe I am now ready to go under 2:20.” If she does that, Kebede has a great chance to win as only five women have ever broken 2:20 and failed to win the race (Catherine Ndereba did it twice, losing to a Paula Radcliffe world record on both occasions).

Kebede has experience on the course, has the best PR and has won multiple majors (she claimed Tokyo in 2013 in addition to Berlin victories in 2010 and 2012). In a shallow field, she has to be the favorite.

If Kebede Falters, One of These Two Should Win

Amane Beriso — Ethiopia, 24 years old, 2:20:48 pb (2016 Dubai), 68:43 half
Marathons since the start of 2015: 2nd 2016 Dubai (2:20:48), 13th 2016 Boston (2:39:38)

Beriso burst onto the scene in January by posting the fifth-fastest debut of all time, a 2:20:48 clocking in Dubai. However, as many runners do, Beriso struggled to replicate that performance outside of Dubai and was only 13th in Boston three months later. This will be Beriso’s third marathon of the year, and while that’s a tough workload for anyone, let alone someone who had never run a marathon at the start of the year, she’s had a lot longer to recover from Boston than she did after Dubai. Berlin also has a lot more in common with Dubai than Boston: it’s flat and fast, with little strategy involved.

Beriso’s situation is similar to that of Gladys Cherono a year ago. Cherono was second in a fast time (2:20:03) in her debut in Dubai and then ran 38 seconds faster to win Berlin in 2:19:25. Granted, Cherono was older and more accomplished (2nd at ’13 Worlds in 10k, World Half Marathon champ) than Beriso, but if Beriso merely produces a similar effort to what she ran in Dubai, she’ll be in the hunt for the win.

UPDATE: Berlin organizers have announced that Beriso is a late scratch due to injury.

Dibaba winning Tokyo last year

Dibaba winning Tokyo last year

Birhane Dibaba — Ethiopia, 23 years old, 2:22:30 pb (2014 Tokyo), 67:47 half
Marathons since the start of 2015: 1st 2015 Tokyo (2:23:15), 3rd 2015 Chicago (2:24:24), 5th 2015 Tokyo (2:23:16)

If Kebede falters, Dibaba is the woman most likely to pick up the slack and win the race. She’s very consistent — just look at her marathon record since she made her major debut as a 20-year-old in Tokyo two years ago:

Date Race Time Place
2/23/14 Tokyo 2:22:30 2nd
10/12/14 Chicago 2:27:02 3rd
2/22/15 Tokyo 2:23:15 1st
10/11/15 Chicago 2:24:24 3rd
2/28/16 Tokyo 2:23:16 5th

Granted, Chicago and Tokyo are two of the weaker majors, but they’re still among the most competitive marathons on Earth and this year’s Berlin field isn’t that strong anyway. When 2:23:16 for 5th is your worst race, you’re doing pretty well. Dibaba hasn’t raced since April, but her result in that race was exceptional as she clocked 67:47 for the half marathon in Yangzhou, China, losing only to World Half Marathon champ Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya. That race was five months ago, so it’s impossible to say whether her fitness is at the same level right now. But if it is, Dibaba is in for a big PR in her first appearance on the fast Berlin course.

Outside Shots

Reia Iwade — Japan, 21 years old, 2:24:38 pb (2016 Nagoya), 69:45 half
Marathons since the start of 2015: 7th 2015 Nagoya (2:29:16), 5th 2016 Nagoya (2:24:38)

In the seven years since China’s Bai Xue won the World Championships in Berlin, every World Marathon Major women’s event has been won by either an Ethiopian or a Kenyan (Japan’s Noriko Higuchi won Tokyo in 2011, but Tokyo didn’t become a major until 2013).

Race Last non-Ethiopia/Kenyan champ
Tokyo 2011 (Noriko Higuchi, Japan)
Boston 2007 (Lidiya Grigoryeva, Russia)*
London 2007 (Zhou Chunxiu, China)
World Champs 2009 (Bai Xue, China)
Olympics 2008 (Constantina Dita, Romania)
Berlin 2008 (Irina Mikitenko, Germany)
Chicago 2008 (Lidiya Grigoryeva, Russia)*
New York 2008 (Paula Radcliffe, Great Britain)

*Grigoryeva was banned for doping in June 2016 but has not been stripped of either her 2007 Boston or 2008 Chicago title

In all, since the World Marathon Majors’ inception in 2006, Ethiopians and Kenyans have combined to win 53 of 63 (84%) of all World Marathon Majors women’s events. Check out the breakdown below:

Ethiopian/Kenyan Female Winners at World Marathon Majors
Tokyo 4 for 4
Boston 10 for 11
London 9 for 11
Worlds 4 for 5
Olympics 2 for 3
Berlin 9 for 10
Chicago 9 for 10
New York 6 for 9

Why do we bring all this up? Because there’s an outside chance that on Sunday, for the first time in over seven years, a non-Ethiopian/Kenyan woman could win a major marathon. As we mentioned above, this year’s Berlin field is not particularly deep. Iwade has run 2:24:38, the third-best PR in the field. If Kebede and Dibaba run poorly, she becomes the woman to beat. It’s the same reason why we argued Dathan Ritzenhein could have a shot at winning New York this year.

Iwade is by no means a stud — in three career marathons, she’s run 2:27, 2:29 and 2:24, never placing higher than third — but she’s very young (21) and made a big breakthrough in March in Nagoya, PR’ing by almost three minutes. If she can build on that in Berlin and the top two women blow up — big if’s, but possible if they get sucked into chasing sub-2:20 — she has as good a chance of winning this race as anyone else in the field.

Ruti Aga — Ethiopia, 22 years old, 2:25:27 pb (2016 Vienna), 68:07 half
Marathons since the start of 2015: DNF 2016 Osaka, 2nd 2016 Vienna (2:25:27)

Aga is the least-experienced among the contenders, as she only made her debut in January in Osaka (where she proceeded to drop out). But Aga’s second marathon, in Vienna in April, went better and she’s now set to make her major debut. Aga clearly has talent — she was 2nd at World Juniors in the 5k in 2012, 5th in the junior race at World XC in 2013 and, more recently, ran a couple of strong half marathons earlier this year (68:07 for 4th in Houston in January, 69:16 for the win in Lisbon in March). Aga’s best marathons are ahead of her, but she may still be a year or two away from contending at a major.

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