Guye Adola of Ethiopia shocked the field, clocking the fastest debut marathon in history.
It wasn’t the race that anybody anticipated and the world record of 2:02:57 still stands, but Eliud Kipchoge came away from the 2017 Berlin Marathon on Sunday with the win in 2:03:32 – and he faced some unanticipated late-race competition from a newcomer to the distance.
Although the pre-race hype focused on a battle between the “big three” of Kipchoge, Wilson Kipsang and Kenenisa Bekele, by 30K the competition came down to just Kipchoge and Guye Adola, a 26-year-old Ethiopian running his first marathon. Bekele lost the lead pack just past the halfway point (he eventually dropped out) and Kipsang suddenly stopped at 30K without showing any signs of distress beforehand.
That left Kipchoge and Adola to run for the title. With the hope of the world record gone by 35K, the competition became more tactical. The rookie surged ahead a few times, but Kipchoge patiently reined him in. With about 2K left to go, the master of the marathon put in a final acceleration for the win.
“Guye Adola was a big surprise to me,” Kipchoge said after the race.
Adola came with a personal best of 59:06 for the half-marathon, set in 2014, and now is the owner of the fastest marathon debut ever, finishing second in 2:03:46, besting Dennis Kimetto’s 2:04:16 previous debut record he set in 2012. Adola said after the race that he decided to run the marathon about three months ago. Was he scared to hold world record pace on his first try at the distance?
“This is a difficult question,” he said, adding that his confidence came from his preparation. “We train very hard – the success that we have is because of how hard we work.”
Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia was third in 2:06:09.
Although the goal was to beat Kimetto’s world record time set in 2014, the leaders fell off that pace after 30K. They passed the halfway point in 1:01:29, putting them within reach, though it was not to be in the end. The weather conditions were not ideal and likely made such lofty objectives difficult, with rain, 97 per cent humidity, and a starting temperature of 14 degrees Celsius.
“It was not what I was coming here for but I am happy for the result,” Kipchoge said, later confirming that the slippery roads hampered his pacing plans. “You understand that when the water splashes on the muscles, the muscles start to cramp immediately and you can’t move anymore because of the coldness.”
Kipchoge, 32, is from Kenya and the 2016 Olympic marathon champion. He became a fan favourite following the Nike Breaking2 experiment, where he ran a 2:00:25 on a racetrack in Monza, Italy. Though it remains the fastest time ever for a marathon, it didn’t count as an official record because of the tactics used, such as the team of rotating pacesetters who aided his attempt to break two hours.
The world record is still on Kipchoge’s radar and he said he plans to return to Berlin.
“For now, I am going back to plan more,” he said. “But the world record is still in front of my head.”
In the women’s race, Gladys Cherono of Kenya won in 2:20:23, Ruti Aga from Ethiopia was second in 2:20:41, and Valary Ayabei of Kenya placed third in 2:20:53.
Australia’s Liam Adams finished ninth with a time of 2:12:52 – a PB and Commonwealth Games qualifier. The first Australian woman to cross the finish line was Ellie O’Kane, coming in at 13th place with a time of 2:35:55.
Cindy Kuzma contributed to this report from Berlin.