Kenenisa Bekele will join Kenyans Eliud Kipchoge and Wilson Kipsang at the BMW Berlin Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on 24 September, organisers have announced.
The addition of Bekele, the second fastest marathoner of all-time, adds even more power to an already high calibre field which now includes three of the distance's five fastest men.
Kipchoge's avowed intention is to break the 2:02:57 world marathon record set by his compatriot Dennis Kimetto in Berlin in 2014. Kichoge had a kind of “lab test” at the beginning of May when he ran an unratifiable 2:00:25, the fastest time ever for the marathon distance, on the Formula One circuit of Monza in Italy. But this feat was achieved with the help of a team of substitute pacemakers who also formed a wind shield from start to finish.
Under normal race conditions a maximum of three pacemakers is permitted and no substitutes are allowed.
"In Monza I was so close to breaking the two-hour barrier," Kipchoge said. "The Berlin Marathon represents for me the right opportunity to attack the official world record."
At 32, Kipchoge can look back on a long and successful career as a long distance runner. He won the world 5000m title in 2003, silver and bronze medals at the Olympic Games over the same distance in 20'04 and 2008 respectively and is the reigning Olympic marathon champion, thanks to his victory in Rio last year.
Meanwhile, the greatest day thus far in the 35-year-old Kipsang's career came in the 40th edition of this race when he took 15 seconds off the 2:03:38 world record set by his compatriot Patrick Makau. But Kipsang's world record of 2:03:23 stood for just 12 months. In 2014 Kimetto became the first man to run the marathon in under 2:03 with his 2:02:57 on Berlin's renowned fast course. That remains the world record.
Last year in Berlin, Kipsang ran ten seconds faster than his world record but it was only good enough for second place behind Bekele. The Ethiopian set a personal best of 2:03:03, just six seconds shy of the world record. Kipsang had pushed the pace during the race's second half but didn't have the strength to match Bekele's finishing speed over the last two kilometres. But last year's race left Kipsang with the conviction that he still had another very fast marathon in his legs, something he wants to prove next month.
"I am highly motivated and my preparation has been more meticulous than ever," Kipsang said.
Bekele produced history's second fastest run despite suffering muscle problems several times during the second half of the race. He fought back from each bout of muscle cramp and turned his superior basic speed to winning effect at the finish.
The 35-year-old Ethiopian is the most successful long distance track runner in history. Three times an Olympic champion and world champion on five occasions at 5000m and 10,000m, he has also won 11 world cross country titles over the short and long distances. For good measure, he also holds the world records for 5000m and 10,000m.
Bekele turned to the marathon in 2014. Next month's Berlin race will be his eighth over the distance which began with a victorious debut in Paris with 2:05:04. He didn't improve his lifetime best until Berlin last year. In his most recent outing, he was second in London in 2:05:57, nine seconds behind winner Daniel Wanjiru.
"It's a dream match-up," said Berlin race director Mark Milde. "It's not often that the three strongest marathon men in the world race each other. As organisers we are crossing our fingers for good weather and thrilling competition."
Organisers for the IAAF