Yoko Shibui after her 2:19:41 Japanese record win in Berlin (AFP/Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Berlin, Germany

Shibui breaks 2:20 in Real Berlin Marathon

Japan's Yoko Shibui won today’s Real Berlin Marathon in a course and national record time of 2:19:41, while Felix Limo continued Kenya’s win streak in the men’s race with a time of 2:06:44.

The 25 year-old Japanese won the 31st Real Berlin Marathon this Sunday in 2:19:41 and so became the fifth woman in history to break the 2:20 barrier. In the process Shibui broke the famous course and Japanese national record of Naoko Takahashi - the first women to go sub 2:20 in Berlin in 2001 (2:19:46). Shibui missed the Asian record of Yingjie Sun of China by just two seconds.

In a Japanese double triumph Hiromi Ominami took second place in a fast 2:23:26. Third was Sonja Oberem (Germany) with a time of 2:26:53. When she finished she stated that this was the last marathon race of her career.

Limo won the men's race with a time of 2:06:44. It was not before the very last kilometre that he was able to leave compatriot Joseph Riri behind.

While Limo missed his season’s best of 2:06:14 from Rotterdam, which is also the world leading time this year, Riri sensationally improved from 2:14:18 (altitude, 2002) to 2:06:49. Joshua Chelanga was third in another clean sweep for Kenya (2:07:05). There was also a Kenyan in fourth place: Wilson Onsare (2:08:53).

It was the sixth win in a row for Kenya in Berlin and the fourth time that Kenya has taken the top three places in this race. For the Japanese women it was the fifth Berlin triumph in a row.


WOMEN - Not upset at missing the Asian record 

Despite some very bad weather forecasts there was only light rain at the beginning of the race and no strong wind. Temperature was 9° Celsius at the start. About a million spectators lined the streets of Berlin making this once again Germany’s greatest athletics event. 36,193 runners from 91 nations had entered the 31st edition of the Berlin Marathon.

“I do not mind having missed the Asian record by such a close margin”, Yoko Shibui said. “I just concentrated on my running. I did not hear or see much. Wearing sunglasses in this weather meant that it was quite dark in front of me.” Shibui also recorded that her coach Suzuki Hideo had been on the course shouting to her. “But I did not listen to him. I was not interested in the splits. I wanted to win the race.”

Right after the start Shibui had taken the lead. Running within a group of men, some of them pacemakers, there was no chance for any of her opponents of catching her. Shibui was soon out of sight. She passed the 10 k point in 32:58 minutes and was already 41 seconds ahead of Hiromi Ominami.

“I think the first two places are booked by the two Japanese runners”, Sonja Oberem had stated in a press conference three days earlier. The German was proofed to be right and finally won the battle for third place.

Half way was passed by Shibui in 1:09:40 with Ominami now more than a minute behind (1:10:54). There was a part of the race at about 35k when Shibui looked like she was running into problems. But she held on. At 35k she got a bottle with a Japanese word written on it: “Don’t give up” it read. “It was then only just before Brandenburg Gate when I realised that I was on the way for a sub 2:20 time. I knew I had to give everything, so I did.” For the Japanese women it was the fifth Berlin triumph in a row.

Yoko Shibui had run up to 40k in her Chinese training camp in Kunming. “About eight times a month I had training runs of at least 30k.” Asked ‘who is Japan’s best women’s marathon runner, the new record holder Shibui or the two Olympic champions Naoko Takahashi and Mizuki Noguchi’ she modestly said: “I don’t know.” Her coach of course had an answer, pointing to Yoko Shibui.

In second place in 2:23:26, Hiromi Ominami said “I am very happy with my performance, because I have beaten the family record. My sister watched the race on TV back in Japan”. Her sister Takami Ominami has a personal best of 2:23:43.

MEN - Sixth consecutive win for Kenya

The men’s race ended with the sixth win in a row for Kenya. And it was the fourth time that Kenyans took the top three places in this race. After a quick start with a 3k split of 8:49 minutes the pace was slowing slightly in the men’s race, which was sensible because of the cool and wet weather conditions.

Halfway was passed by a compact group in 63:20 minutes. It was in the next 5km stretch that the elite group slimmed. In this phase of the race pacemaker Jackson Koech (Kenya) increased the tempo. Soon after 25 km (1:14:51) there were only five runners left. Besides Koech these were Limo, Joshua Chalanga, Wilson Onsare and Joseph Riri. So it was already a Kenyan affair at this stage of the race. Soon after 30km (1:29:36) Koech dropped out while Onsare lost contact. At this stage a fast finishing time of sub 2:06 seemed suddenly possible. Because the kilometres had been run well under 3:00 minutes.

But with the loss of the last pacemaker it seemed to become more tactical. Some speed was lost in the next few kilometres so there was no chance any more for a sub 2:06. “I felt a slight problem in my back. So I decided to just sit in for a while and save some energy for the last few kilometres, because I really wanted to win this race”, said Limo later.

That plan worked well for the 24 year-old. For a short time Joshua Chelanga worked at the front, but he then became a victim of his own pace. “It was too cold for me. I got problems with my legs at the end of the race. Still I am quite happy with my time, although I hoped for an even faster result”, said Chelanga, who belongs to Paul Tergat’s training group in Kenya.

So it was down to two: Riri and Limo.

 “I knew that I would hardly have a chance to beat Felix. But I am very happy with my result”, said Joseph Riri.

Limo attacked in the last mile of the race. And when he was in the last 1000 metres he finally was able to leave Riri behind.

Tergat's World record was the aim

The winner for his part confirmed, “it was not before 38km that I was convinced that I would win the race. It was not an easy race, because in the first part it was still raining. And I was careful not to step into puddles. Because it gets difficult when you get water into your shoes.”

Limo had not stated it publicly before the race to avoid pressure put on him but it had been his aim to attack Paul Tergat’s World record in Berlin. The weather prevented him from doing so.

“I hope I will be able to come back next year and hopefully the weather god will be on our side then. If we get perfect conditions I think it would be possible for me to run 2:04:45 on this flat and fast course in Berlin. Paul Tergat has run the world record in Berlin – so I can do so too,” concluded Limo.

“We are happy with the results and extremely proud that Yoko Shibui managed to run a sub 2:20 time despite the weather conditions not being ideal for the elite runners today”, confirmed the new race director Mark Milde.

Jörg Wenig for the IAAF



1. Felix Limo KEN 2:06:44
2. Joseph Riri KEN 2:06:49
3. Joshua Chelanga KEN 2:07:05
4. Wilson Onsare KEN 2:08:53
5. Luis Jesus POR 2:09:08
6. Shinichi Watanabe JPN 2:09:32
7. Luis Novo POR 2:09:41
8. Gashaw Melese ETH 2:09:47
9. Isaac Macharia KEN 2:11:26
10. Ernest Kipyego KEN 2:11:52

1. Yoko Shibui JPN 2:19:41
2. Hiromi Ominami JPN 2:23:26
3. Sonja Oberem GER 2:26:53
4. Beatrice Omwanza KEN 2:27:19
5. Leila Aman ETH 2:27:54
6. Tiziana Alagia ITA 2:32:20
7. Edyta Lewandowska POL 2:34:18
8. Romy Spitzmüller GER 2:34:44