Kenenisa Bekele, Eliud Kipchoge, Wilson Kipsang
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Berlin Marathon: Kipchoge, Bekele, Kipsang eye world record

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Sunday’s Berlin Marathon may be the biggest single race — road or track — for the next two years. Possibly from now until the 2020 Olympics. Maybe even longer.

Arguably the three greatest distance runners ever toe the line near Brandenburg Gate just after 3 a.m. ET (NBC Sports Gold and NBCSN). If any marathon is worth the sleep deprivation, it’s this one.

Major marathons are only elevating in significance within the sport. Consider the retirement of Usain Bolt and that the next world track and field championships aren’t until fall 2019.

In May, Nike’s sub-two-hour marathon attempt generated incredible buzz for a sporting event that occurred overnight Eastern time.

When Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge ran 2:00:25 on that Italian Formula 1 track, the inevitable question followed: what’s next?

The literal answer, aside from more sub-two talk: Berlin.

It’s where Kipchoge was bound to race next.

It’s where the men’s world record lowered six times since 2003, from 2:05:38 to 2:02:57. (Kipchoge’s 2:00:25, while incredible, came in non-record-eligible conditions, with pacers subbing in and out of the event)

Kipchoge signed up in July. Wilson Kipsang and Kenenisa Bekele soon followed. These three men have come closest to Dennis Kimetto‘s world record since it was set at Berlin 2014. All within 16 seconds.

The belief is that Kipchoge, Kipsang and Bekele, running together and behind rabbits for at least the first half, can push each other to stay on world-record pace. If nothing else, probability: three men chasing the world record is better than one.

Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya
2016 Olympic champion
Ran fastest marathon ever recorded (2:00:25)

Most likely to break the world record. Kipchoge has the pedigree (Olympic/World track medalist), marathon experience, age (32, youngest of the trio), consistency, mental game and fast times.

Kipchoge has run eight marathons (nine if you count the Nike event) and won all but one of them. The lone defeat was at Berlin 2013, when in his second career marathon he took second to Kipsang’s then-world record.

Consider his last four marathons:

Berlin 2015: 2:04:00 (insoles flopping out the back of his shoes the last half of the race)
London 2016: 2:03:05 (broke course record by 84 seconds)
2016 Olympics: 2:08:44 (conditions not suited for fast times; largest Olympic winning margin since 1972)
Nike sub-2: 2:00:25

Some of the best recent marathoners had short peaks, including two of the last three men to break the world record. As short as two years. Kipchoge has been incredible since his 2013 debut at 26.2 miles. How many more world-class marathons are left in those legs? The same can be asked of Bekele and Kipsang.

Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia
Olympic champion, world-record holder at 5000m, 10,000m
Won 2016 Berlin Marathon in second-fastest legal time ever

Bekele, 35, staked his claim to greatest distance runner of all time in Berlin last year, outdueling Kipsang and missing Kimetto’s record by six seconds. His versatility is unmatched:

5000m: Nobody within nine seconds of his 2004 world record since it was set.
10,000m: Nobody within 18 seconds of his 2005 world record since it was set.

This would seem to give Bekele an edge if all three are close in the final miles. However, Bekele is the least consistent of the bunch. Since he took up marathons in 2014, something has gone wrong every year.

2014: Won his debut in Paris, then missed the podium in Chicago.
2015: Dropped out during Dubai and before London due to injury.
2016: Not fully fit for London, dropped by Kipchoge and Stanley Biwott at mile 18 and finished third in his slowest time of five career marathon finishes. Bounced back in Berlin.
2017: Trampled at the start of Dubai and dropped out halfway through. Second in London in 2:05:57.

Wilson Kipsang, Kenya
Owns 3 of the 8 fastest legal marathon times
Won Berlin, London, New York City and Tokyo

Kipsang has run sub-2:05 each of the last eight years. Nobody else has run more than five sub-2:05s in a career.

Even if he doesn’t reclaim the world record, there’s an argument that Kipsang is the greatest marathoner of all time. And Kipsang, a police officer turned restaurant and hotel owner in Kenya, will defiantly make that argument.

He stands 6 feet, half a foot taller than Kipchoge and Bekele. With a longer stride and no track background, his chances in a close finish do not appear strong. Plus, Kipsang is the oldest of the three with the most marathons in his legs.

At this time last year, it appeared Kipsang’s best days were behind him. He went into Berlin 2016 having finished fourth and fifth in his previous two marathons (and dropping out of the one before that).

But he ran a personal best in the German capital last year and then made it back-to-back sub-2:04s for the first time in his career in Tokyo on Feb. 26. Nearly seven months since his last 26.2-miler, he’s by far the most rested of the three.

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Emily Sisson a U.S. Olympic marathon trials favorite, thanks to Ireland

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Emily Sisson didn’t think she would become a professional runner until her last year of college. Now, at 28, she goes into the U.S. Olympic marathon trials as a contender for one of three Tokyo spots, if not the overall favorite.

“I’ve only done one marathon, so I definitely don’t feel like I’m an experienced marathoner,” Sisson said by phone last week from her Arizona base. “That’s the one question mark I’ve had all build-up.”

Predicting a marathon can be a crapshoot, but a Podiumrunner.com experts panel pegged Sisson to win. She is younger than any female U.S. Olympic marathoner since Anne Marie Lauck in 1996 (though fellow contender Jordan Hasay is a month younger).

Confidence stems from last April 28. Sisson clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in U.S. women’s history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow. She finished sixth — behind five East Africans. She crossed 3:25 ahead of sometimes training partner and mentor Molly Huddle, also a headliner at trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (12 p.m. ET, NBC).

“We wanted to run faster,” Sisson said that day in London. “There’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Sisson later mentioned a pre-race scare on the “Keeping Track” podcast. She tripped over a carpet jogging back from a bathroom, banged both knees 15 minutes before the start and got checked out physically by a chiropractor and mentally by her husband, who has a master’s degree in mental health counseling.

Sisson then covered the final half of that marathon alone, a foreign feeling for the longtime track runner. At one point, she thought about having never before run more than 23 miles.

Her mind could have also wandered to sports memories that led her to the world’s strongest marathon: Attending a 1999 Women’s World Cup match and seeing her hero, Mia Hamm. As a soccer-playing teenager, being asked by a friend to join a track relay team. Or being told during a record-breaking high school career that she was reminiscent of 2004 Olympic marathoner Jen Rhines.

Sisson, whose dad ran and mom did gymnastics at the University of Wisconsin, transferred after one year in Madison to Providence. She had a best NCAA Championships finish of fourth going into her last year. Before that final season, Sisson was prepared to leave competitive running once her NCAA eligibility exhausted in pursuit of an MBA.

“I had been going through a bit of a funk with running,” she said. “I was getting a little tired.”

Things changed the summer before her senior year. She vacationed with then-boyfriend/now-husband Shane Quinn, a fellow Providence runner, in Quinn’s native Ireland. At one point, they altered training, ditching tempo runs for local road races. Sisson never before competed on the roads. She doesn’t remember the distances being exact. She does remember winning.

“That was a new, fun thing that kept the sport kind of fresh for me,” she said. “You finish, and you go into a local pub and have sandwiches.”

Providence coach Ray Treacy put Sisson in more road races that fall. The opportunity was right. She had no cross-country eligibility left while she readied for the winter and spring track seasons. She went on to win the 2015 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor 5000m, a springboard to the pros (while still going after the MBA).

Sisson was set back by injury in 2016 and placed 10th in the Olympic trials 10,000m. She kept training under Treacy, and perhaps just as important, with Huddle, the American record holder at 10,000m. Huddle, seven years older than Sisson, made her marathon debut after the Rio Olympics.

“Emily really looks up to her and is inspired by her,” Treacy said. “Molly has helped her out in numerous ways in training. … Making sure she’s not going overboard with the training, not running too fast. She kind of keeps her under control.”

Sisson made the last two world championships teams in the 10,000m, but Treacy thought marathon since 2015. They signed her up for the 2019 London Marathon, in part because Huddle was going to race it as her third career 26.2-miler. And in part to get Sisson ready for the Olympic trials in 10 months’ time.

The build-up was better than ideal. Sisson ran the second-fastest half marathon in U.S. history (on a record-eligible course) in January. She became the third-fastest U.S. woman all-time at 10,000m in March.

Come April, Treacy was impressed again just by watching Sisson after she crossed the London finish line in what would be the second-fastest marathon for a U.S. woman in 2019.

“It didn’t look like it took anything out of her,” Treacy said. “She recovered really fast. Within minutes, she was feeling pretty good. That was a good sign.”

Sisson returned home to Quinn and their golden retriever, Desmond, who has 1,400 Instagram followers. She skipped a fall marathon to compete in the 10,000m at track worlds in Doha, placing a respectable 10th.

The recent marathon build-up for trials went just as well, if not better, than the training for London.

“I’m definitely putting a bit of pressure on myself with this one,” Sisson said. “But at the same time, I don’t get caught up in so much what other people say. I don’t really read the articles about who’s the favorite or what chance you have of making the team.”

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Brigid Kosgei beaten as another world record smashed in Nike shoes

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Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh broke the half marathon world record by 20 seconds, beating new marathon world-record holder Brigid Kosgei in the United Arab Emirates on Friday.

Nike-sponsored runners lowered the men’s and women’s marathon and half marathon records since September 2018, each appearing to race in versions of the apparel giant’s scrutinized Vaporfly shoes.

Yeshaneh, a 28-year-old who finished 14th in the 2016 Olympic 5000m, clocked 1:04:31 for 13.1 miles to better Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei‘s world record from 2017.

Kosgei, a 26-year-old Kenyan, also came in under the old world record but 18 seconds behind Yeshaneh.

Kosgei took 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old women’s marathon world record on Oct. 13, clocking 2:14:04 to win the Chicago Marathon.

Nike Vaporfly shoes, including the prototypes worn by Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge when he ran a sub-two-hour marathon, were deemed legal by World Athletics’ new shoe regulations last month, according to Nike.

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