Watching the 2016 Berlin Marathon was an example of what marathons should be! They should be battles between fine athletes, where the tension builds over 90 minutes as the lead group is whittled down to a final three, then two, and the real race begins.
Kenenisa Bekele and Wilson Kipsang, BMW Berlin 2016, the race is on! photo by PhotoRun.net
Kenenisa Bekele and Wilson Kipsang dueled from 34 kilometers to the finish. On two separate occassions, Wilson Kipsang built some real estate between himself and Mr. Bekele. By 37 kilometers, though, the race was down to Kipsang and Bekele, running next to each other. The final two kilometers were run fast and furiously, as Kenenisa Bekele called on the muscle memory of fast 5000 meter and 10,000 meter races and ran 6:08 for the final 2.2 kilometers. Wilson Kipsang broke, but held on enough to show that he is back, and will be a force to reckon with in future races.
Here is Justin Lagat's view, from Kenya, of the fine BMW Berlin Marathon.
Kenenisa Bekele wins the 2016 Berlin Marathon in a thrilling race with Wilson Kipsang
From 33km onwards, the Berlin marathon turned into a spectacular duel between Kenenisa Bekele and Wilson Kipsang, as Kipsang kept surging ahead and Bekele kept running evenly and closing the gap again and again. With his legendary finishing kick on the track and cross country running, Bekele definitely knew that he was safely going to win the race against Kipsang, the closer that they approached the finish together. From 37km onwards, the two ran side by side up to the 41km point when Bekele suddenly pulled away in a 2:50 pace followed by a 2:47 pace and left Kipsang trailing him. Bekele crossed the finish line to win the race in a new Ethiopian marathon record and a world leading time of 2:03:03. Following closely behind, Kipsang shed 10 seconds off his former world record time to run a new personal best time of 2:03:13.
Kipsang and Bekele, 2016 BMW Berlin Marathon, September 25, 2016, photo by PhotoRun.net
The weather conditions were perfect for a fast race. Kipsang had already promised, during the pre-race press conference, that he was going for a fast time, and possibly attack the world record. And sure indeed, the world record was under threat for the better part of the race.
Just after the start, the leading pack quickly cut itself from the rest of the field to cross the first kilometer in a time of 2:40, which was perhaps a bit too fast for a marathon race. But, all the contenders were still there. The pace was quickly contained and began to oscillate from a saner pace of 2:52 to 2:59 through the first 10km that was crossed in 29 minutes flat.
For the better part of the first half, Bekele just hung patiently in the leading pack as if he was not concerned with whatever pace was being set. It was mostly Geoffrey Ronoh and Kipsang who kept nudging the pace setters at the front. Ronoh, particularly, would run ahead of the pace setters at some parts of the race and push them on. Credit should actually go to him for the fast times. At some point around the 13km point, the pace had dropped down and they were for the first time outside the world record pace, but Geoffrey Ronoh went to the front and pushed the pace back inside the world record as he ran alone slightly ahead of the pace setters! He is the same guy who paced Dennis Kimetto upto the 30km point while going for the current world record in 2014. Watching it, one would wonder whether he was pacing himself to a new world record here, or whether he was a private pace setter for someone else in the leading pack.
Ronoh began to falter as they approached the 30km point and Wilson Kipsang took to the front as he disintegrated the remaining leading pack of five athletes into a single file. But, at around 34km he surprisingly, on his right hand-side, saw Bekele's chest appear parallel to his. They remained momentarily together before Kipsang again pulled away and managed to open a sizeable gap on Bekele, but Bekele again pulled up beside him by 37km. It was becoming an interesting race!
Kenenisa Bekele, September 26, 2016, photo by PhotoRun.net
In the end, Bekele finally proved that, while track athletes still struggle to match his world records in the 5000m and 10,000m events, he has finally successfully moved up to the marathon and is now a new force to reckon with here. His victory here sets a stage for more exciting duels ahead against other world leading marathon runners.
It will be exciting to watch him run against Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge in the near future.