Gladys Cherono

Kenenisa Bekele wins Berlin Marathon, just misses world record

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Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele restaked his claim as the greatest runner in history, winning the Berlin Marathon in 2:01:41 to miss the marathon world record by two seconds on Sunday.

Bekele, a 37-year-old who struggled the last three years, came just shy of Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge‘s world record of 2:01:39 set in Berlin last year.

He did so with a blazing finish, coming from 13 seconds behind in the 22nd mile to prevail by 67 seconds over countryman Birhanu Legese, who clocked the fourth-fastest time ever.

“I’m sorry, you know, just few seconds I missed world record,” Bekele said, smiling. “Still I can do better than before. … My preparation was not 100 percent because of injury. I was in a rehabilitation center three months ago. After my preparation was a little bit short for a marathon, especially for a record you need four, five months.”

MORE: 2019 Berlin Marathon Results

Kipchoge, 34, skipped Berlin, the world’s fastest marathon for its ideal weather and pancake-flat course, to try and become the first person to break two hours in a marathon in a special event in Austria in October. Vienna will not be record-eligible, though, with pacers set to come in and out of the event.

When Kipchoge took 78 seconds off the world record last year, he also made his argument as the greatest runner in history. He is on the longest winning streak in modern marathoning — 10 straight victories dating to 2014.

But Kipchoge’s success on the track — a world title and two Olympic 5000m medals — pales in comparison to Bekele. The Ethiopian owns eight combined Olympic and world titles between the 5000m and 10,000m, plus world records at both distances.

And Bekele now owns two of the seven fastest marathons in history.

But this one came from out of nowhere. Bekele’s other top marathon time — 2:03:03 — came in Berlin, but way back in 2016. He failed to finish two marathons in 2017 and another in 2018. His last full race at 26.2 miles was at the April 2018 London Marathon, where he was sixth in 2:08:53.

Ethiopian Ashete Bekere won the Berlin women’s race in 2:20:14. Pre-race favorite Gladys Cherono of Kenya dropped out between the 19th and 22nd miles. American Sara Hall joined a deep group of U.S. Olympic hopefuls by finishing fifth in 2:22:16, taking 4:04 off her personal best.

The fall marathon season continues in Chicago on Oct. 13, featuring Mo Farah and Galen Rupp.

MORE: World championships women’s marathon a race of attrition

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Berlin Marathon likely to have fast times despite depleted field

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The final race of the World Marathon Majors series, the Berlin Marathon, is often the fastest. Five of the six fastest marathons on the IAAF all-time list, including Eliud Kipchoge‘s record of 2:01:39, have been run in Berlin.

This year’s race on Sunday morning will be missing some top runners because it coincides with the world championships in Doha as well as Kipchoge’s upcoming effort to break the two-hour mark under controlled conditions, but the men’s start list still includes five runners who have broken the 2:05 mark, and defending women’s champion Gladys Cherono of Kenya also is set to run.

Kipchoge leads the World Marathon Majors standings, but Ethiopian Birhanu Legese can move into a tie with a win in Berlin. The top finishes in the major races count toward the standings, so Kipchoge couldn’t improve on his tally of 50 points (wins last year in Berlin and earlier this year in London) even if he were entered in Berlin. Legese’s only scoring race so far is his win in the Tokyo Marathon.

In the women’s standings, Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei also has the maximum of 50 points and is not entered in Berlin. Cherono can move up to 50 with a win this weekend.

World championship marathons also count toward the standings, which means Ethiopian’s Ruti Aga can move up to a perfect 50 with a win in Doha.

Berlin also features inline skaters rolling over the marathon course. Belgian skater Bart Swings, who also competes on ice and took silver in the 2018 Olympic mass start, has won the men’s race six straight years.

NBC Sports Gold will have live coverage at 3 a.m. EDT Sunday.

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London Marathon preview; runners to watch

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World records are under threat from male and female runners at the London Marathon on Sunday (3:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold).

The forecast calls for the warmest London Marathon in its 38-year history (a high Sunday in the low 70s, though likely cooler for the morning start times).

The elite fields, stronger than for last Monday’s Boston Marathon, include the greatest marathoners of this generation — Eliud Kipchoge and Mary Keitany — plus arguably each Kenyan’s top rival at the moment.

Five runners to watch in each field …

Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya
2016 Olympic champ
2015, 2016 London Marathon winner
Ran 2:00:25 in Nike’s sub-two-hour marathon attempt last May

In Kipchoge’s last start in London, he missed countryman Dennis Kimetto‘s world record by eight seconds, prevailing in 2:03:05 in 2016. Since, Kipchoge won the Olympic title, had what he deemed his greatest performance in the sub-two-hour (non-record-eligible) event and extended his marathon win streak to seven races over four years in rainy, humid Berlin last September. The 33-year-old has refused to get into world-record talk, telling media he just wants to run “a beautiful race” Sunday.

Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia
Second-fastest marathoner of all time (Berlin 2016, 2:03:03)
World-record holder in 5000m, 10,000m
Eight Olympic/world titles in 5000m, 10,000m

Credentials from 5000m to marathon make a strong case that Bekele is the greatest runner of all time, ahead of Usain Bolt and Kipchoge. He really started taking aim at the world record after that 2016 Berlin breakthrough. Bekele was runner-up with foot blisters in London last year, nearly three minutes slower than in Germany, and failed to finish his other two marathons in 2017. “To have the records for 5000m to marathon would be something – no one else has done that. I feel like that would make me the greatest ever,” Bekele said, according to marathon organizers.

Mo Farah, Great Britain
2012, 2016 Olympic champ in 5000m/10,000m
Second marathon
8th at 2014 London Marathon

Farah’s primary goal Sunday is modest in comparison to Kipchoge and Bekele — break the British marathon record of 2:07:13. Farah, repeating in a press conference Tuesday that he is ranked 27th in the world in the distance, said he still intends to go out with the leaders even if they start on world-record pace. It’s his first marathon since switching full-time to road running after last season and his second overall after his 2:08:21 in London four years ago.

Guye Adola, Ethiopia
Second to Kipchoge at 2017 Berlin Marathon in 26.2-mile debut

Adola came out of nowhere to finish 14 seconds behind Kipchoge in Berlin on Sept. 24 in the fastest-ever marathon debut on a record-eligible course, sticking with Kipchoge until the last mile. Afterward, we learned Adola didn’t know he was running until four days before the race and wasn’t meant to start with the elite group. The 27-year-old was second and fifth in half marathons in January and February, not particularly impressive.

Daniel Wanjiru, Kenya
2017 London Marathon winner

Wanjiru won his major marathon debut last year, then returned to London for the world championships on Aug. 6 and was eighth. Neither of those fields was as strong as Sunday’s is shaping up to be. Just 25, Wanjiru will be tested like never before.

Mary Keitany, Kenya
2011, 2012, 2017 London Marathon winner
Ran fastest marathon by a woman without male pacers
2014, 2015, 2016 New York City Marathon winner

The 5-foot-2 mother of two smashed Paula Radcliffe‘s women-only world record by 41 seconds in London last year, clocking 2:17:01. She’ll run with male pacers Sunday in a bid to break Radcliffe’s world record of 2:15:25 from the 2003 London Marathon (the first time since 2003 London has male pacers for the women’s race). Keitany was stunned by Shalane Flanagan at her last marathon in New York City in November but came back in February to lower her half marathon personal best. “I’ve had Paula’s record in mind since I started my career,” the 36-year-old Keitany said.

Tirunesh Dibaba, Ethiopia
2017 Chicago Marathon winner
2017 London Marathon runner-up
Third-fastest female marathoner of all time
Eight Olympic/world titles in 5000m/10,000m

The Baby-Faced Destroyer is the only woman in the field whose personal best is within two minutes of Keitany’s. There’s reason to believe she can be closer to Keitany than last year (55 seconds behind, and that’s after stopping briefly with two miles left with stomach problems). Dibaba is four years younger than Keitany, with a decorated track background and just one year into her full-time marathon career.

Gladys Cherono, Kenya
2015, 2017 Berlin Marathon winner

The woman with the third-fastest personal best in the field has never raced London and was fifth in her only major marathon outside of Berlin. She was eighth in a half marathon in February, more than two minutes behind Keitany.

Rose Chelimo, Bahrain
2017 World champion
2017 Boston Marathon runner-up

Impressive second year as a marathoner in 2017. Chelimo, 28, was born in Kenya but switched to Bahrain in 2015. Though this is her London Marathon debut, her world title came in London in August. She did not impress at the world half marathon championships last month, finishing 14th overall and fifth among runners from Bahrain.

Vivian Cheruiyot, Kenya
Fourth at 2017 London Marathon in 26.2-mile debut
Four Olympic medals in 5000m/10,000m
Four world championships in 5000m/10,000m

Credentials similar to but not quite as impressive as Dibaba in terms of track medals, early marathon experience and age (34 to Dibaba’s 32). Cheruiyot finished more than five minutes behind Keitany and Dibaba in her 26.2-mile debut in London last year. She dropped out of the New York City Half Marathon on March 18 with a breathing problem in the cold weather but insisted she’s healthy for Sunday.

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