World Record, Smashed to pieces in Berlin, by Cathal Dennehy

Dennis Kimetto begins to grind away at Emmanuel Mutai, Berlin Marathon, 
photo by

Cathal Dennehy was in Berlin to observe the race and cover it for some key media groups. Here is his piece for RunBlogRun, on what Cathal correctly observes; a unique battle by two men, hell bent on breaking the World Record. 

Once again, just when you thought we were beginning to get nearer the summit of human achievement in the marathon - that the world record was becoming so fast it was only going to be lowered in fractional margins, along comes an East African - or indeed two of them - to smash it to pieces.

On a perfectly calm, cool and sunny day in Berlin yesterday, on a course perfect for fast times, we were duly treated to the perfect race. Not just a time trial, as has so often been the case in Berlin in recent years, but a contest - a battle, a mano-a-mano, two-hour slugfest out on the streets of the German capital. 

In the end, it was a pity there had to be a loser - for a race in which the first two break the world record can only result in the winner rightfully being lavished with praise and the loser's magnificent effort in defeat going relatively unnoticed. 

The signs were good beforehand. The morning dawned cool and calm in Berlin, conditions ideal for marathon running, in which the slightest breeze or just a degree or two above the norm can sabotage a record attempt. 

Dennis Kimetto had entered the race as favourite, undaunted by his failure to finish in Boston earlier this year when struggling with a hamstring injury. He told us on Friday that if all went to plan, then he should break the world record in Berlin. When Emmanuel Mutai also confirmed he was in great shape, and knowingly stated "Sunday will be a good day for me," we quietly began to suspect that we could have a classic on our hands. 

But how often does that hope, that expectation, disappoint? For once, it didn't. In fact, it exceeded them in emphatic style. 

The pace, as it turned out, was slow for a world record attempt, with the three men employed relatively dawdling through the opening 15km 24 seconds slower than Wilson Kipsang did last year. However, they soon upped their game, cranking up the pace to reach halfway on target in 61:45. 

When they dropped out at 30km, Kenya's Emmanuel Mutai was first to surge, and he carried Dennis Kimetto away from the field. By the 35km mark, the pair were well under world record pace, but the question then became who it would be whose name would go down in the record books.

At 38km, we got our answer - Kimetto slowly forged a lead ahead of his Kenyan adversary, a lead that grew to 16 seconds by the time the 30-year-old stormed through the Brandenburg gate and up the home straight to finish in 2:02:57 and become the founding member of the sub-2:03-marathon club. 

It was a race Kimetto had come to not just to win, but to do what he always believed possible: set the world record. "In Chicago last year [where Kimetto won in 2:03:45], my goal was just to win. In Berlin, my goal was to get the world record, so I am feeling good. I'm happy."

And does Kimetto think the time now establishes a high-water mark for marathon running that will stand for years? Far from it. "I can break the record again," he said. 

Back in second, Mutai at least had the consolation of a world record of his own to celebrate - he passed 30km in the lead in 1:27:37 to beat Patrick Makau's old mark by one second. 

"I'm feeling good about the achievement," said Mutai. "To run 2:03 again is not easy. I was fighting to win the race but my colleague was stronger than me. I thought: 'if I cannot be number one, then let me achieve a good time, because time is important for us. Maybe next year I will come back and try to smash Dennis's world record."

In the women's race, it was a case of rivals from the same training camp at the front as Ethiopians Tirfi Tsegaye and Feyse Tadese duelled for the title, with American Shalane Flanagan eventually fading from contention after going out hard in an attempt to break Deena Kastor's American record of 2:19:36.

Flanagan passed halfway flanked by her two male pacemakers in 69:38, just what she was looking for, and with a good 100-metre lead over Tsegaye and Tadese.  Flanagan was still well on pace when reaching the 30km mark in 1:39:15. By then, though, the Ethiopian duo had caught up with the American, and duly moved past. 

Tsegaye powered on ahead of Tadese and built a considerable lead over the next 5km, and despite slowing towards the finish, came home a comfortable winner in a personal best of 2:20:18, with Tadese second in 2:20:27. 

"Today, I beat her, but tomorrow she will beat me," said Tsegaye, referring to her training partner, who is four years her junior. "I thought I would win after 40km. I'll go back to countryside now and celebrate with my family. The race was very tough from the beginning; every kilometre was fast. I thought I could run under 2:20 up until 39km, but I was really tired the last part."

As for Flanagan, it was a day where she set herself a lofty target and despite not reaching it, she was rewarded with a personal best of 2:21:14. "I felt pretty good until the last 5k, but that pace takes its toll. It's another PR, so I really can't complain.

"I gave it the best I could. We went big; we don't race conservative. We'd come here to test our limits and we found out today where it was. You can't have regrets when you give it everything you have. I don't think I'm happy with 2:21 now, but I'll take another shot at some point."

Indeed, today was all about testing limits. In Dennis Kimetto and Emmanuel Mutai, we have a pair of athletes who have once again re-defined what we all thought was possible.

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