The King is Back – Kenenisa Bekele Runs 2:03:03 to Defeat Wilson Kipsang in a Race for the Ages at BMW Berlin Marathon

September 25, 2016

Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia turned back the clock and won an incredible duel with former world record holder Wilson Kipsang at the BMW Berlin Marathon in 2:03:03, the second fastest time ever on a record-eligible course.

This was a fabulous race. If you live in the United States, you need to stop what you are doing and watch the replay on NBC Live Extra.

The Race
This one was fast from the gun. Seven guys hit the halfway point in a blistering 1:01:11 (fastest first half split ever in a marathon), with 2 more guys within 4 seconds of the lead. The official pacers started faltering 50 minutes into the race. The field was going after it, pacers or not.

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The world record attempt was definitely on at the halfway point (the record is 2:02:57). The question was how badly would the leaders suffer in the second half after the fast start.

Geoffrey Ronoh, one of the fastest ever for 30km, took over as an unofficial pacer and would make it just past 25km. The field hit 25km in 1:12:47, two seconds faster than the world best of 1:12:49, according to Tim Hutchings on the race broadcast. At 25k the field was down to six: Kipsang, Bekele (2:05:04 best), Sisay Lemma of Ethiopia (2:05:16 best), Alfers Lagat of Kenya (2:06:58 best), and Evans Chebet of Kenya (2:05:33 best). Everyone in the field was in unknown territory except for Kipsang, the former world record holder with his 2:03:23 personal best.

Ronoh began to fade between 25k and 30k, and now there were no pacers to help the field and the best man would have to emerge on his own. Just before 30km, Kipsang made his first move and opened up a gap on the field. Only Lagat tried to go with him and was one second back at 30km with Chebet and Bekele a further three to four seconds behind.

Bekele, however, was running smarter than everyone else and was the only one of the three chasers who would be able to catch back up to Kipsang. At 32km, he regained contact with Kipsang and the duel between the two legends was on.

Kipsang was not done surging however, and would put in a 2:54 km at 34km to open up another gap on Bekele. At 35km, the gap was 5 seconds and it might have stretched to as much as 7 seconds at one point, but Bekele refused to quit and kept his pace consistently strong. At times, Bekele would raise his arm into the air trying to stretch out some tightness and it was clear he was not feeling 100%, but he was running very strong regardless. Between 37 and 38km, Bekele caught back up with Kipsang once again.

Bekele starts to pull away

Bekele starts to pull away

The pace slowed the next 2km as they ran side by side preparing themselves for the finish. Any chance of the world record appeared to be gone at 40km as they had fallen 23 seconds off of pace. That was until Bekele made his move just before the 41km mark, when the former track star started to surge away from Kipsang, running a 2:49 km from 40km to 41km. Bekele maintained that pace and a 2:47 km to 42km ensured that the race was his. Now the only question was, how fast could he run? Could he challenge the world record or the 2:03 barrier?

Bekele powered from the Brandenburg Gate to the finish as the clock ticked upwards, 2:02:51, 52, 53. The world record was out of the question, but it looked as though he could still get 2:03:00 as he crossed the line with 2:02:59 on the finish line clock. Would it be officially a sub-2:03 finish? No. The finish clock was 2-3 seconds behind the official time and Bekele had to settle for a 2:03:03 victory. Kipsang came through 10 seconds back in 2:03:13 with Evans Chebet the best of the rest in third in 2:05:31. The fast opening pace had destroyed everyone except for the great Kenenisa Bekele and former world record holder Kipsang.

Top 10 men’s results (full results/splits here)
1. Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia 2:03:03
2. Wilson Kipsang, Kenya 2:03:13
3. Evans Chebet, Kenya 2:05:31
4. Sisay Lemma, Ethiopia 2:06:56
5. Eliud Kiptanui, Kenya 2:07:47
6. Geoffrey Ronoh, Kenya 2:09:29
7. Alfers Lagat, Kenya 2:09:46
8. Yohanes Gebregergish, Eritrea 2:09:48
9. Jacob Kendagor, Kenya 2:10:01
10. Suleiman Simotwo, Kenya 2:10:22

1) The King Is Back

Kenenisa Bekele is the greatest cross country runner of all time (11 global titles), arguably the greatest track runner of all time (world record at 5,000 and 10,000, 3 Olympic golds and 5 World golds), and now at 34 years of age he’s the second-fastest marathoner ever. His run today was astonishing and a testament to his greatness.

Dropped two times in this race, Bekele did not quit.  He kept running his own pace, but never directed his attention away from Kipsang. He was rewarded in the end.

Afterwards, Bekele told the IAAF, “I wanted to run my personal best here. The time was fantastic, but I was disappointed I missed the world record.” With his injury history, Bekele may never get another shot at the world record, but showed today once again that he is still one of the best distance runners on the planet.

Near Brandenburg Gate

Near Brandenburg Gate

2) The King Is Back II
Here’s what Bekele had done of note the last four years.

2016 2:06:36 3rd place London Marathon
2015 DNF Dubai Marathon
2014 2:05:04 1st Paris Marathon, 2:05:51 4th Chicago Marathon
2013 13:07 5000, 27:12 Win Prefontaine 10,000
2012 12:55 5k, 4th Olympic Games 10,000

Bekele showed glimpses of his former self, but had not won a global title since 2009 and then the next year missed all of 2010 when the injury bug really hit him. He easily could have retired from the sport, but fortunately for everyone who saw today’s run he did not.

2:02:59 was on the clock

2:02:59 was on the clock

3) What Happened to the World Record?
A chance for the world record went out the window once Bekele recaught Kipsang for the final time. They settled in side by side and prepared for the finishing kick and let the pace drop. The 39th kilometer was 2:59, and the 40th km 3:04 according to the race broadcast. World record tempo is 2:54.8 per km. Suddenly at 40km they were 23 seconds off of world record pace. How was that possible? They had given up 13 seconds on the pace the previous 2km (a mile and a quarter). Bekele motored the final 2km, but it was just a little too late.

Bekele and Kipsang side by side

Bekele and Kipsang side by side

4) What a Race
The King may be back, and may have run 2:03:03, but first and foremost this was a tremendous footrace. Without Wilson Kipsang, there is no way Bekele runs 2:03:03. What we saw today on the streets of Berlin is exactly what our sport needs.


Top 10 women’s results (full results/splits here)
1. Aberu Kebede, Ethiopia 2:20:45
2. Birhane Dibaba, Ethiopia 2:23:58
3. Ruti Aga, Ethiopia 2:24:41
4. Reia Iwade, Japan 2:28:16
5. Katharina Heinig, Germany 2:28:34
6. Janet Ronoh, Kenya 2:29:35
7. Elena Dolinin, Israel 2:35:59
8. Cassie Fien, Australia 2:37:28
9. Claire McCarthy, Ireland 2:38:00
10. Gladys Ganiel, Ireland 2:39:10

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