Just over ten years ago, the teenage Eliud Kipchoge sprang into the public consciousness by holding off Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele to win the 2003 IAAF World Championships 5000m title in one of the most exciting finishes in the history of track distance running.
Turn the clock forward a decade and the 28-year-old Kenyan is still at the top of his game and will be striving for victory at the 40th BMW Berlin Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (29).
After many superlative performances since his win in the French capital, including Olympic Games silver and bronze medals, Kipchoge decided last year, as he admits, to pursue an ‘old school’ idea of turning to Marathons at the end of his career and he made a winning debut, running 2:05:30 in Hamburg six months ago.
Now, all eyes are on what he can do next on Berlin’s famously super-fast course.
The current World record holder, Patrick Makau, had to pull out injured a fortnight ago but another Kenyan, Wilson Kipsang, who ran just four seconds shy of Makau’s 2:03:38 when winning in Frankfurt two years ago, leads Kipchoge’s pack of compatriots and rivals.
The unrelated Geoffrey Kipsang, the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships junior men’s gold medallist who finished third in Berlin last year in 2:06:12, and Eliud Kiptanui, who made a stunning European debut with a 2:05:39 win in Prague three years ago, will also be on the start line.
Throw in a couple of Wilson K’s hand-picked pacers, and all of the ingredients are there for the Berlin Marathon to produce another fast time, and possibly another World record, to add to the seven set in the German capital since 1998.
Kipsang in World record shape
Wilson Kipsang left few doubts that his trip to Berlin had any other objective. “Right from the start, I’ve prepared to run very well here. It’s in my mind to run the World record. Having run 2:03:42, I know it’s possible. I’ve trained to my very best, and if everything goes well with the pacemakers and my colleagues, I think we can do it. It’s a team effort, like in training, even more in a race. The more you have a strong group, the more easy it is.”
Kipchoge and Geoffrey Kipsang were more circumspect about any record bid.
At 20, the latter is only a few month older than Kipchoge was when he won his World title in Paris. He has run a superb 58:54 when winning the prestigious Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in January, but he made light of his comprehensive defeat of his namesake Wilson over the same distance in Bogota three months ago.
“The Half Marathon and the Marathon are two different things. I’m just looking to run better than last year. I’ve prepared well, but my real focus is to beat my best,” said the younger Kipsang.
Kipchoge said: “My main target is to run under 2:05:30 and to set a personal best. I will go with the pacemakers, but I can’t say I’ll run a World record.” Talking of his transition from the track, he added: “It’s hard to adapt. The training is one thing, but the most important thing is the mind; in my mind, I’ve settled for the road."
He pointed out at Friday’s press conference that his Hamburg performance makes him only the third man in history, alongside Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat, to run under 12:50 for 5000m, under 26:50 for 10,000m and below 2:06 for the Marathon.
What he didn’t mention is that his illustrious colleagues both set World Marathon records on this Berlin course and the pair, along with other recent World record breakers here – Ronaldo da Costa, Patrick Makau, Naoko Takahashi, and Tegla Loroupe – will be watching from the sidelines.
Kiplagat looking to make it a Kenyan double
The women’s field in Berlin is one of the most competitive fields in recent years.
Former winners Florence Kiplagat and Irina Mikitenko, as well as 2012 Boston winner 2012 and Daegu bronze medallist Sharon Cherop, look like the main contenders.
Kiplagat, 26, a winner here two years ago in her personal best of 2:19:44 was unwilling to predict a major revolution in her best time. “I think I can run in the 2:19s, but not a minute faster than my best. I know I’m in good shape, but so is everyone else."
Her Kenyan colleague Cherop, 29, was a little more prepared to venture a possible, if not probable, improvement. “It’s my first time here, and I gather it’s a really fast course. I’ve run 2:22 three times, and I think I’m going to improve that here. I’m going to run my fastest."
Mikitenko, now 41, on the other hand tacitly admits she is hardly like to win, and has modified her objectives.
The German record holder, with 2:19:19 here in 2008, said: “Over 40, you have to set new goals, so I’m targeting the masters’ record (Ludmilla Petrova’s 2:25:43 in New York 2008). It’s feasible, but it’s no good talking about it. You have to do it. There are pros and cons about being five years older than my best. With age you still have endurance, but you have to work harder to maintain your speed.
"But it is a Marathon after all. It’s not a sprint. It feels good running in Berlin again, knowing I set the German record here. And if I’m going to set the masters’ record, it’s going to be here," added Mikitenko.
Pat Butcher (organisers) for the IAAF