The marathon season is upon us and the 2011 BMW Berlin Marathon, to be held on September 25, should be a brilliant way to begin the Fall 2011 marathon season. Paula Radcliffe versus Irina Mikitenko on the women’s side, and Haile Gebrselassie versus Patrick Makau on the men’s side. Pat Butcher, our global correspondent, gives us his thoughts on the Men’s race below, after this morning’s (Berlin time) BMW Berlin Press Conference:
Super BMW BERLIN-MARATHON in Prospect
All roads lead to Berlin. First, on Thursday,
came women’s world record holder, Paula Radcliffe, ready to revive a
flagging career in Sunday’s 38th BMW BERLIN MARATHON. Later
that day, the German Pope arrived, and drove part of the marathon course,
en route to say mass in the Olympic Stadium. Then today, Friday, came the
heavenly twins of men’s marathoning – world record holder and living
legend Haile Gebrselassie, and last year’s Berlin winner Patrick Makau,
out to strengthen his tenuous grasp on the current world number one
At 38 years of age (with serious doubters believing he is well over
40), Gebrselassie is by far the more experienced. As he reminded today’s
press conference, he first ran in Berlin (in an ekiden, a marathon relay)
in 1992, the same year that he won a world junior championships double,
5000/10,000 metres on the track. Subsequently, after two Olympic golds, a
series of world titles and records, he turned to the marathon, and after a
hesitant start, third in London 2002, he went on to eight victories in
nine completed marathons, including four wins and two world records here
in Berlin, the second one, in 2008, being the ground breaking 2.03.59.
With a list of achievements like that, surely only advancing years
could undo him? But Makau could well help the process along. One of the
younger generation of East African runners, who have gone directly to the
marathon (since prize money on the track is at such a premium, with so
many good rivals), the 26 year old Makau has built a brief but superlative
marathon career, two wins in four completed races with, like Haile, an
average of under two hours and six minutes.
As a reference point, this correspondent first attended the Berlin
Marathon in 1998, when Belayneh Dinsamo’s world record was reduced, by
Ronaldo da Costa of Brazil from 2.06.50 to 2.06.05.
It’s fitting that this anticipated duel on Sunday should be between
representatives of Ethiopa and Kenya, the East African highland nations
who have come to define distance running in recent decades. Both men
summed up the rivalry succinctly, the elder statesman, Gebrselassie
saying, “We need each other,” while pretender Makau said, “One wins one
day, the other wins the next”.
But who is going to win the day after, that’s to say, on Sunday?
Both men are coming off questionable performances, Gebrselassie having
dropped out of last autumn’s New York Marathon, while Makau suffered a bad
fall in the London race in April, although he did rally to finish third in
It was telling that Geb kept saying that his time on Sunday was more
important than the victory. “This is part of my plan for the London
Olympics. I have to qualify for London, so I’ve come here, not necessarily
for the win, but for the time”.
But if that was dedicated to giving Makau a false sense of security,
the Kenyan riposted, “I’m not under pressure, because I’m running with the
champion. I’ve done just a few marathons, Haile has done many marathons
with fast times. It’s an opportunity for me to learn and get more
“Last year, conditions were not favourable. This Sunday looks as if the
weather will be good, so I’m hoping to do better”.
He won last year in heavy rain, which bunched his sodden socks inside
his shoes within ten minutes of the start; but he still prevailed in the
final kilometre over colleague Geoffrey Mutai, in 2.05.08. If he is as
good as his word, then it will take Gebrselassie at his best to beat him
Having attended numerous of Geb’s highly entertaining press
conferences, of which this was one more, your correspondent was unkind
enough to remind him that he has frequently said that the day an athlete
announces his/her retirement, even if it is for a future date, the date of
the announcement is actually the day that they retire in their mind. After
the disappointment of New York last November, Geb did exactly that,
announced his retirement. So?
True to form, he claimed an exemption. “It was not in my plan. I was
upset, I didn’t plan to retire. New York was complicated”.
He was back on more solid ground when someone asked why, when he
already had two Olympic golds at 10,000 metres, he wanted to win a
“The marathon medal is the most important,” he replied, “especially for
Ethiopians, historically, ever since Abebe Bikila won in 1960. If you go
home to Ethiopia after a race, and say you won, people will say, was it a
marathon? You say, no, it was a 10k, and they say, oh….”.
Well, it’s marathon on Sunday, and there are a half dozen pacemakers,
prepared to go to 30k or more in pursuit of a 2.05 or faster.
There is an outside chance that one of the other leading entrants could
win. But realistically, the race is between Geb and Makau.
And may the better man win.
The BMW BERLIN MARATHON will be broadcasted live in more than
160 countries. In Germany n-tv will start its 4 hour live coverage at 8.30
am. International coverage is provided by Eurosport, BBC 2, Supersport, Al
Jazeera, Sport 5 (Israel), Fuji TV (Japan), CBC (Canada), Sky Mexico,
Globosat (Brasil) and by Universal Sports via cable as well as Webstream
in the US.