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.”
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.
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