24 SEP 2010 General News Berlin, Germany

Kenyan cooperation should lead to fast men's marathon "sprint" in Berlin

Eliud Kiptanui, Geoffrey Mutai and Patrick Makau at the  real_Berlin Marathon press conference (Victah Sailer)Eliud Kiptanui, Geoffrey Mutai and Patrick Makau at the real_Berlin Marathon press conference (Victah Sailer) © Copyright

Berlin may not be the best place in the world for long term long distance training - "flat as a pancake, boring" - moaned one colleague when he returned from an early morning run in the Tiergarten today. But if you want to run a fast time, then the real_Berlin Marathon - IAAF Gold Label Race - on Sunday morning (26) is the one for you.
 
The modern era of marathon running began here in 1998, when the little known Ronaldo da Costa of Brazil broke the decade old World record of Ethiopian Delayneh Dinsamo, with 2:06:05.
 
Twelve years and five more World records later, the most recent being Haile Gebrselassie's 2:03:59 two years ago, Berlin is firmly positioned at the top of the tree for fast courses.
 
After four straight victories and two World records for Gebre, who has brought the wheel round full circle in reclaiming the record for Ethiopia, Berlin now moves into its post-Geb phase, a more than welcome move for those who prefer a competitive race to a solo paced World record assault.
 
Berlin could have it both ways on Sunday. Of course, there will be pacemakers - few major races outside championships would dispense with them nowadays. But with three of the most exciting young marathon talents - Patrick Makau, Geoffrey Mutai and Eliud Kiptanui - in the field, a great contest is expected, with more than a possibility that one of that top trio could reclaim the record for Kenya, whose last luminary to hold it was Paul Tergat, in this same event in 2003.
 
Makau, 25 has run eight times under the hour for the half marathon, including winning the Berlin 'half' twice. He established himself as a marathoner with fourth in the Rotteram race last year, before dropping out of New York with an injury last autumn. But he arrived at the head of the pack with victory in this year's Rotterdam Marathon, in 2:04:48, the year's fastest time, making him the fourth fastest man in history.
 
But Mutai, 28, was only seven seconds behind, having only been dropped in the final kilometre. Their trajectories since then could not have been more different, and it will be intriguing to hear their assessments after the race. Because while Makau has chosen not to race at all, Mutai has run several races, including two rapid 10,000 metres on the track, at altitude, the second being a bronze medal performance at the African Championships in Nairobi, with 27:27.59.
 
A performance like that would be inconceivable to any non-East African born/trained (ie at altitude) athlete, and underlines just why the marathon world is dominated by Ethiopians and Kenyans.
 
Which brings us to the third man with pretensions to victory on Sunday, yet another Kenyan. The emergence of another potential young World record breaker from Kenya had almost ceased to be surprise, such is the wealth of talent and the will to succeed in the country. But Kiptanui's 2:05:39 in winning the Prague Marathon in May, a month short of his 21st birthday, was a shock as much for the time in only his second marathon, and his first outside Kenya, but the fact that Prague is a very different course to Berlin, with several kilometres of cobblestones adding to its difficulty.
 
At today's (Friday 24) press conference, all three seemed relaxed about a projected first half in 62 minutes, Makau raising a laugh when he talked about the half marathon being "a sprint. But at least when you get tired, the race is over."
 
"The marathon is completely different, you need patience, you have to wait. The race only begins at 30k. I've prepared well, I feel good. I think I'm capable of breaking the World record, but so are my friends here," he said, indicating Mutai and Kiptanui alongside him.
 
Mutai concurred, "The marathon is not easy, it needs cooperation between the runners, especially after the pacemakers drop out. If we can work well together, there's no reason we can't run faster than in Rotterdam".
 
The weather looks as if it may help out. The bright sunshine and mid-20s celsius temperatures which have reigned over northern and central Europe this week are due to disappear in the next two days, with showers and 12-15C projected for Sunday morning.

Pat Butcher for the IAAF