Kenenisa Bekele

Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele
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Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele set London Marathon duel of fastest men in history

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Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele will go head-to-head at the London Marathon on April 26, marking the first time in five years that the world’s top two ranked marathoners will toe the start line in the same 26.2-mile race.

The Kenyan Kipchoge, who set the world record of 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon, and the Ethiopian Bekele, who clocked 2:01:41 in Berlin last September, are the only men to ever break 2:02 in a marathon. Kipchoge also clocked 1:59:40 at a non-record-eligible event in Vienna on Oct. 12 instead of racing a fall marathon.

Bekele’s addition to the London field was announced Thursday night, a month after Kipchoge was confirmed. It also includes the third- and fourth-fastest men in history — Ethiopians Birhanu Legese and Mosinet Geremew.

“I am looking forward to racing against Eliud once again,” Bekele said in a press release. “We have had many great battles over the years on the track, roads and cross-country. He is a special athlete who proved that again with his magnificent achievements last year.”

Kipchoge has won 11 of 12 marathons since moving to road racing after failing to make Kenya’s 2012 Olympic track team. Bekele, the more accomplished track athlete with Olympic golds and world records at 5000m and 10,000m, has been a roller-coaster road runner.

Bekele owns two of the seven fastest marathons in history, recorded three years apart in Berlin. In between, he failed to finish two marathons and, in his last London start in 2018, clocked a pedestrian 2:08:53 for sixth place.

That was more than four minutes behind Kipchoge, who is undefeated in four London starts and has beaten by Bekele by at least 100 seconds in all four of their head-to-head marathons.

“I feel like my win in Berlin proved that I am still capable of winning the biggest races in the world and in world-class times,” Bekele said. “I am really looking forward to what I can do in London.”

London could be a preview of the Tokyo Olympics. Kipchoge is expected to headline the Kenyan team that may be named before the spring marathon season. Bekele was controversially left off Ethiopia’s team four years ago.

The London Marathon has historically been the world’s second-fastest record-eligible marathon behind Berlin. Kipchoge owns the course record of 2:02:37.

The last time the world’s top-ranked marathoners (on record-eligible courses) entered the same 26.2-mile race the 2015 London Marathon, pitting then-world-record holder Dennis Kimetto against Emmanuel Mutai. Kipchoge won.

The last time the world’s top-ranked marathoners (on any course) entered the same 26.2-mile race was the 2009 Berlin Marathon, pitting then-world-record holder Haile Gebrselassie against Duncan Kibet. Gebrselassie won.

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MORE: Eliud Kipchoge on his marathon bucket list, shoe technology debate

2019 U.S. and world marathon rankings

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The last full year of marathons before the 2020 Olympics saw not only Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge‘s successful bid to break the two-hour mark under controlled conditions but also a women’s world record and four of the fastest men’s times ever.

Brigid Kosgei of Kenya took more than a minute off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old record, winning the Chicago Marathon in 2:14:01.

FAST TIMES: Kosgei, Kipchoge herald new era

Kipchoge still holds the world record of 2:01:39, set in the 2018 Berlin Marathon 14 months ago. But Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia came within two seconds of that mark in this year’s Berlin race, and Kipchoge himself won the London Marathon with the third-fastest time in history (2:02:37).

Add the runners-up from those races — Ethiopians Birhanu Legese (Berlin, 2:02:48) and Mosinet Geremew (London, 2:02:55) — and the four fastest times behind Kipchoge’s world record were posted in the past seven months. 

The top U.S. runner on the IAAF’s compilation of the year’s best times is Sara Hall, whose time of 2:22:16 in Berlin tied for 33rd on the list. (The IAAF site currently has a glitch listing a U.S. runner higher on the list; the time is incorrect.) Emily Sisson was 49th with her 2:23:08 in London. Sally Kipyego‘s 2:25:10 in Berlin ranks 93rd. (Add times from courses the IAAF considers “irregular” for various reasons, and Kipyego ranks 96th.)

With Galen Rupp out of action while recovering from Achilles surgery, the only U.S. runner among the top 100 was Leonard Korir (tied for 87th, 2:07:56, Amsterdam), but nine of the top 10 U.S. times in the Olympic cycle were posted this year. Only Rupp’s 2:06:07 from Prague in May 2018 ranks higher.

The two next-fastest U.S. men’s times from 2019 were at the Boston Marathon, which the IAAF considers “irregular” because the finish line isn’t near the start line and the overall elevation at the finish line is lower than the start.

The top U.S. women’s times from the Olympic cycle still belong to Jordan Hasay (2:20:57, Chicago 2017) and Amy Cragg (2:21:42, Tokyo 2018), followed by Hall and Sisson.

USA Track and Field will hold its Olympic marathon trials Feb. 29 in Atlanta.

The fastest times of the year (* – on “irregular” course) …

U.S. men

Name Time Race Result
Leonard Korir 2:07:56 Amsterdam 11th
Scott Fauble 2:09:09 Boston* 7th
Jared Ward 2:09:25 Boston* 8th
Jacob Riley 2:10:36 Chicago 9th
Jerrell Mock 2:10:37 Chicago 10th
Jared Ward 2:10:45 New York City 6th
Parker Stinson 2:10:53 Chicago 11th
Andrew Bumbalough 2:10:56 Chicago 12th
Matt McDonald 2:11:10 Chicago 14th
Matt Llano 2:11:14 Berlin 14th
Scott Smith 2:11:34 Chicago 15th

U.S. women

Name Time Race Result
Sara Hall 2:22:16 Berlin 5th
Emily Sisson 2:23:08 London 6th
Sally Kipyego 2:25:10 Berlin 7th
Jordan Hasay 2:25:20 Boston* 3rd
Emma Bates 2:25:27 Chicago 4th
Kellyn Johnson 2:26:27 Prague 4th
Molly Huddle 2:26:33 London 12th
Desiree Linden 2:26:46 New York City 6th
Aliphine Chepkerker Tuliamuk 2:26:50 Rotterdam 3rd
Kellyn Johnson 2:27:00 New York City 7th

World men

Name Time Race Result
Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) 2:01:41 Berlin 1st
Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) 2:02:37 London 1st
Birhanu Legese (ETH) 2:02:48 Berlin 2nd
Mosinet Geremew (ETH) 2:02:55 London 2nd
Mule Washihun (ETH) 2:03:16 London 3rd
Getaneh Molla (ETH) 2:03:34 Dubai 1st
Sisay Lemma (ETH) 2:03:36 Berlin 3rd
Herpasa Negasa (ETH) 2:03:40 Dubai 2nd
Marius Kipserem (KEN) 2:04:11 Rotterdam 1st
Asefa Mengstu (ETH) 2:04:24 Dubai 3rd

World women

Name Time Race Result
Brigid Kosgei 2:14:04 Chicago 1st
Ruth Chepngetich 2:17:08 Dubai 1st
Worknesh Degefa 2:17:41 Dubai 2nd
Brigid Kosgei 2:18:20 London 1st
Valary Jemeli 2:19:10 Frankfurt 1st
Degitu Azimeraw 2:19:26 Amsterdam 1st
Lonah Chemtai Salpeter 2:19:46 Prague 1st
Tigist Girma 2:19:52 Amsterdam 2nd
Vivian J. Cheruiyot 2:20:14 London 2nd
Ashtete Bekere 2:20:14 Berlin 1st

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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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