2018 BMW Berlin Marathon Women’s Preview: Tirunesh Dibaba Plots Return to Winning Ways Against 3 More Sub-2:20 Women
September 12, 2018
While we can hardly complain about any men’s field that includes Eliud Kipchoge, the fact is there isn’t much drama about who is going to win the men’s race at this year’s Berlin Marathon: Kipchoge is the red-hot favorite to win, just as he has won each of the past eight marathons he has entered.
Similarly, there is an obvious favorite in the women’s race in Berlin as well in Tirunesh Dibaba, but with a total of four sub-2:20 women in the field (including three women who have won majors within the past 17 months), the race for the win should be more competitive than on the men’s side, which figures to wind up as Kipchoge vs. the clock.
We break down the women’s elite field below.
|What: 2018 BMW Berlin Marathon
When: 9:15 am local Sunday (3:15 am ET)
TV: Live on NBCSN in the US starting at 3:00 am ET
Full TV/Streaming Info
Women’s Elite Field
Since the start of 2013, all 37 World Marathon Major winners have entered the race with a sub-2:25 PR. As a result, in this preview, we have only listed the entrants who have broken 2:25 (the full elite field is can be found here).
The Big Favorite
Tirunesh Dibaba — Ethiopia, 32 years old, 2:17:56 pb (2017 London), 66:50 half
Last two marathons: 1st 2017 Chicago (2:18:31), DNF 2018 London
Dibaba, who chose to run Berlin instead of defending her title in Chicago, has started four marathons in her life. One of them went well, two of them went phenomenally well, and one of them went poorly. She debuted with a 2:20:35 in London in 2014, returned to the track to earn world and Olympic medals in the 10,000 in 2016 and 2017 (cranking out a 29:42 pb, #4 all-time, in the process) before making the marathon her full-time focus, where she scorched a 2:17:56 in London and 2:18:31 in Chicago last year.
There is but one blemish on her marathon record: a DNF in London earlier this year that came as a result of chasing Paula Radcliffe‘s legendary 2:15:25 world record on a hot day. In that race, Dibaba went out in an absurd 31:46 for the first 10k (2:14:03 pace) — a pace fast enough to sink anyone’s hopes (Mary Keitany fared slightly better, trotting home in fifth place, running splits of 67:16 and 77:11 for a laborious 2:24:27).
But as long as Dibaba doesn’t get caught up chasing the world record again, she’s the best woman in the field on paper and should win. She hammered out a 2:18:31 in Chicago last year, mostly by herself (she had some men to chase as the men’s and women’s races started simultaneously, but no dedicated pacemakers), so expect her to stick on the rabbits for as long as they go before pounding the field into submission late.
As good as Dibaba is, however, she’ll still need to run a strong race to win as there’s some serious talent in this field.
Gladys Cherono — Kenya, 35 years old, 2:19:25 pb (2015 Berlin), 66:07 half
Last two marathons: 1st 2017 Berlin (2:20:23), 4th 2018 London (2:24:10)
Cherono has won Berlin in her last two tries, clocking a pb of 2:19:25 back in 2015 and 2:20:23 last year (she missed the 2016 race due to injury). Berlin is a race that suits her well as she’s had her most success in Berlin and Dubai (where she ran her PR of 2:20:03 in her debut in 2015), two races where you turn your brain off and follow the rabbits for as long as you can. Cherono posted a pair of solid results in the spring — 67:13 at the RAK Half, 2:24:10 for 4th at the London Marathon on a warm day — and having Dibaba in the field on Sunday could act as a de facto extra pacemaker for Cherono to chase.
If the two women are at their best, Dibaba will likely prevail, but if Cherono’s fit, she could be dragged to a very fast time. And if Dibaba has problems, Cherono is the woman best-equipped to step in and take the race.
Ruti Aga — Ethiopia, 24 years old, 2:20:41 pb (2017 Berlin), 66:39 half
Last two marathons: 2nd 2017 Berlin (2:20:41), 2nd 2018 Tokyo (2:21:19)
The youngest contender in this field by far (all the others are well over 30), Aga looks primed to join the sub-2:20 club if the weather cooperates and Sunday could be the day she does it. She ran a PR here in her first appearance in 2016 (2:24:41) and slashed four minutes off that time to place second last year in 2:20:41. Her fine form has carried over to 2018 as she won the Houston Half Marathon in January in a big PR of 66:39 and followed that up with 2:21:19 for second at the Tokyo Marathon in February.
Edna Kiplagat — Kenya, 38 years old, 2:19:50 pb (2012 London), 67:41 half
Last two marathons: 4th 2017 New York (2:29:36), 8th 2018 Boston (2:47:14)
Berlin is an interesting choice for Kiplagat, who at this point in her career ata ge 38 would appear better-suited for a race like New York, where she can draw upon her experience (20 career marathons, 5 major wins), as opposed to Berlin, where there is little strategy and she will have to run a PR to win.
A PR isn’t out of the question for Kiplagat, however. Remember, Meb Keflezighi PR’d to win Boston at age 38, the same age Kiplagat is now. Last year, Kiplagat put together a very impressive string of races — win at Boston, 2nd at Worlds, 4th at New York — but because none of those were fast, rabbitted races, she didn’t sniff her 2:19:50 PR.
It’s hard to imagine a 38-year-old Kiplagat blasting away from Dibaba, Cherono, and Aga, but she’s good enough that a top-three finish is well within the realm of possibility — which would make her the first woman to record a top-three finish in all six WMM city races.
Aselefech Mergia — Ethiopia, 33 years old, 2:19:31 pb (2012 Dubai), 67:21 half
Last two marathons: 12th 2017 Worlds (2:29:43), DNF 2018 Boston
Mergia has some fast times and impressive wins under her belt (2010 London champ, 2011, 2012, 2015 Dubai champ), but no victories since January 2015. Part of that is because she’s been running tough races against deep fields — she was third in London last year when Keitany and Dibaba both ran 2:17 — but her most recent finish, 12th at Worlds in August, was not convincing (she gets a pass on 2018 Boston because of the awful weather).
Mergia is the only woman in this group to have run anything close to a tuneup race, clocking 69:45 at the Olomouc Half Marathon on June 23 (she finished second in that race, 2:15 behind Netsanet Gudeta, the world half marathon champ). That’s not a time that will turn any heads; of the four women in this group, she’s the least likely to upset Dibaba in Berlin.
Japan’s Mizuki Matsuda made a very impressive debut in Osaka in January, running a 2:22:44 that featured a sizeable negative split (71:59/70:45). Berlin represents a sizeable step in competition, but if the early pace isn’t too fast (say 69:30-70:00 for the first half), she could be dragged to a big PR.
There are two other Japanese women in the field, Rei Ohara (2:23:20 in Nagoya last year) and Honami Maeda (2:23:48 pb). Of the two, Maeda has more upside: she has PR’d in all three of her career marathons (2:32:19 at 2017 Osaka, 2:28:48 FTW at 2017 Sapporo, 2:23:48 at 2018 Osaka), but this will be her first crack at the 26.2-mile distance outside of Japan. She was 35th at the World Half Marathon Championships in March, running 72:09 on a windy day.
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LRC Prediction: We’ll wait until we hear what the athletes say at the press conference but if everyone trained well, we think everyone knows we are going with Dibaba.
Talk about the race on our world famous fan forum / messageboard: MB: 2018 Berlin Marathon Discussion Thread: Will Kipchoge get the WR? Will Dibaba get the win?
More: Men’s Preview: Eliud Kipchoge Is Chasing The World Record In Berlin (Again). Whether He Gets It Or Not Is Out Of His Control The last 6 men’s WRs have all been set in Berlin. Can the greatest marathoner ever make it #7?