Picture by 2020 Pool

Kenenisa Bekele headlines 2021 Berlin Marathon on 'world record course'

Ahead of the race on Sunday 26 September, the three-time Olympic champion's coach Haji Adelo told Olympics.com that Bekele is "better prepared" than two years ago, when he ran the second fastest time in history.
By Evelyn Watta

For most of the runners who weren't at the Tokyo Olympics, Berlin will be the first main marathon since the start of the COVID pandemic.

All eyes in the German capital will be on triple Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele.

Will the second fastest man ever chase a world record on the quickest marathon course on earth?

The 39-year-old Ethiopian missed the mark of 2:01:39 set by Eliud Kipchoge in 2018 by just two seconds in 2019, and the world record could be a target again on Sunday 26 September.

His coach told Olympics.com that Bekele has still a lot left in his tank:

“This time he goes hoping for better results and he is better prepared than he was in the last race in Berlin,” said coach Haji Adelo.

“He’s healthy and is in great shape and form. He is confident of the race coming this weekend.”

The Berlin Marathon is the first of six World Marathon Majors that will be contested in autumn this year.

Kenenisa Bekele at the 2019 Berlin marathon.

World record under attack?

A year after Kipchoge shattered the world record by an imposing one minute 18 seconds at the German capital in 2018, Bekele nearly bettered that mark.

The then world record holder in both the 5000m and 10,000m (which he held between 2004-2020), returned to the familiar Berlin course in 2019.

He was a man on a mission.

Out of three starts in the city where he had only won once - in 2016 (2:03.03) - Bekele ran one of his best races. But he “painfully” missed the world record.

“I missed by seconds…two seconds. To miss the world record in the marathon by two seconds...you know two seconds? It's crazy! It was painful,” Bekele told Olympics.com in April 2020.

His winning time of 2:01.41 improved his personal record by nearly two minutes.

“I knew the world record was not easy, it was far off from my personal best. I just focused on running my personal best on that day.

"I didn’t really focus on the record. I think that’s why I missed it.- Kenenisa Bekele

“Maybe, I also made some mistakes during the race. With two kilometres to go, I should have focused on the record. But I didn't."

His coach Adelo, whom he began working with before that race in 2019, feels Bekele is in even better shape now.

“Previously when he ran in Berlin, he was not targeting the world record, he only realised in the last few kilometres that he was in world record pace,” Adelo, considered one of the best long-distance coaches in the world, told Olympics.com from Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa,.

“But this time he goes hoping for better results and he is better prepared than he was in the last race in Berlin.”- Kenenisa Bekele's coach Haji Adelo.

The most decorated cross-country runner has an opportunity to right the wrongs from his last 42km race.

He pulled out of the 2020 London marathon with injury.

Then in 2021 he was again left out of the Ethiopian Olympic squad for Tokyo.

A huge blow for the 39-year-old, who had hoped to compete at what may have been his fourth and last Games.

Two marathons in 42 days?

Berlin will be Bekele’s first race in nearly 18 months.

He hasn’t competed since winning the London Big half marathon in March 2020 in a course record.

His last marathon was the Berlin race in 2019.

It’s the longest period Bekele, who has been battling a persistent Achilles tendon injury in the past, has gone without running competitively.

Bekele is planning a huge comeback: two marathons in 42 days!

He is scheduled to run the New York City Marathon on November 7.

“For a whole year, I couldn’t race and it’s been really difficult for athletes,” Bekele told Sports Illustrated.

“I want to take this chance and see what is possible.”

It could be an arduous double, but a doable one for the man who won 17 world titles over cross-country, track, and road.

Bekele has the blessings of Adelo, who has coached several Ethiopian stars - including Lelisa Desisa winner of four World Marathon Majors, and triple Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba.

“Scientifically it’s not advisable to run two marathons in two months but considering Kenenisa is naturally gifted with power and hard work coupled with his current good form and health, he is very ok and will run both Berlin and New York.

“Since he has had two years of good rest, he doesn’t have any pressure at all. He believes in his ability to run the two marathons in 42 days.”

Who else will be competing?

Besides Bekele, there are a handful of Ethiopians who could upset the form books.

Guye Adola, second behind Eliud Kipchoge in 2017, is the other man to watch.

There is also youngster Olika Adugna, who is only 22. He won the Dubai race in his first marathon attempt in 2020.

Also watch out for the 2021 Lake Biwa Marathon winner, Japan’s Hidekazu Hijikata.

On the women’s entry list, Ethiopian Hiwot Gebrekidan will start as the clear favourite as she boasts the fastest time of the field (2:19:25) from the 2021 Milan Marathon.

2015 Copenhagen and Lisbon marathon champion Purity Rionoripo of Kenya is the other star starter.

The 'World record course'

The Berlin Marathon is the fastest marathon course in the world.

Eight men’s world record and three in women have been set in the German city.

Here is a look at the seven of the eight records that have been set on the course since the first race in 1974.

Brazil’s Ronaldo da Costa was the first world record holder from the Berlin course with his time of 2:06:05 in 1998.

Men’s world record progression of marathon

2:01:39 Eliud Kipchoge KEN Berlin 16 SEP 2018

2:02:57 Dennis Kimetto KEN Berlin 28 SEP 2014

2:03:23 Wilson Kipsang KEN Berlin 29 SEP 2013

2:03:38 Patrick Makau KEN Berlin 25 SEP 2011

2:03:59 Haile Gebrselassie ETH Berlin 28 SEP 2008

2:04:26 Haile Gebrselassie ETH Berlin 30 SEP 2007

2:04:55 Paul Tergat KEN Berlin 28 SEP 2003

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Picture by Bongarts