Michel Butter, Kenenisa Bekele, Lawrence Cherono and Meseret Defar at the press conference for the Amsterdam Marathon (Eric Roeske) © Copyright
Preview Amsterdam, Netherlands

Bekele to battle Cherono, Defar to debut in Amsterdam

Two of the greatest distance runners on the track will aim to make their mark on the roads at the TCS Amsterdam Marathon when they line up for the IAAF Gold Label road race on Sunday (21).

Multiple world and Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele takes on defending champion and course record-holder Lawrence Cherono in the men’s race, while fellow Ethiopian Meseret Defar, the 2004 and 2012 Olympic 5000m champion, will make her marathon debut.

“It’s a beautiful mix between a broad international and national top field,” said race director Cees Pronk at the pre-event press conference at the Dutch Royal Theatre Carré on Thursday (18).

Bekele targets course record

Bekele, who still holds the world records for 5000m (12:37.35) and 10,000m (26:17.53), currently sits at third on the world all-time list for the marathon with his 2:03:03 clocking from the 2016 Berlin Marathon. But the 36-year-old feels he hasn’t yet reached his potential for the classic distance.

“I haven’t shown yet in the marathon what I am capable of,” he said at the press conference. “I’ve never experienced a marathon preparation without small injuries or inconveniences. I have never had an optimal marathon.

“I always knew someone could run 2:01 in marathon,” he added of the world record (pending ratification) set by Eliud Kipchoge at last month’s Berlin Marathon. “Eliud Kipchoge motivates me enormously. And at 36 I'm certainly not too old; I think marathon runners can still be at their best up to their 40s. At the same time, the marathon is difficult. It’s a matter of body and mind.”

Bekele has contested eight marathons to date. He ran 2:05:04 on his debut in 2014 to win the Paris Marathon, then finished fourth in Chicago later that year and third in London in 2016 before setting his PB in Berlin a few months later.

The past couple of years have been more erratic as he failed to finish in Dubai at the start of 2017 but rebounded in London to finish second. Another DNF followed in Berlin later that year, but he managed to finish in London earlier this year to place sixth in 2:08:53.

This weekend’s race will be his first 26.2-miler in the Netherlands.

“I’ve never participated here before, but I know Rotterdam and of course Hengelo, where I set my 5000m world record in 2004,” he said. “On Sunday I want to challenge the others and break the course record. It is a flat course so it can be fast. And last year’s race showed it is fast indeed.”

In 2017 Cherono clocked 2:05:09 to take 12 seconds off the course record. The Kenyan finished one place behind Bekele in London earlier this year but feels he can get the better of the Ethiopian on the streets of Amsterdam.

“I want to break my personal best which I ran here in Amsterdam last year,” he said. “I’m ready for it.”

Three other men in the field have PBs faster than 2:06: Ethiopia’s Mule Wasihun, Kenya’s Gideon Kipketer and Laban Korir. Solomon Deksisa’s PB is slightly slower at 2:06:22, but the Kenyan is undefeated at the marathon this year, having won in Mumbai and Hamburg.

The past nine editions of the race have been won in times faster than 2:07. Of those, six were inside 2:06.

Defar ready for second chapter

Having won numerous global medals on the track across a span of 12 years, Defar is ready to prove herself on a new surface.

“Now it's time for chapter two in my career: the road races,” said Defar, winner of four successive world indoor 3000m titles between 2004 and 2010 as well as the 2007 and 2013 outdoor world 5000m titles. “Chapter one was the ending of my track career, chapter two is starting on the road.”

Defar has already produced some notable performances on the roads, including a 10km best of 31:14 and a half marathon PB (on a record-eligible course) of 1:07:25. She had originally intended to make her marathon debut in Tokyo earlier this year, but an injury prevented her from making it to the start line.

“I have trained very well, but I have no idea what a marathon will do to me,” said the 34-year-old. “Training for the marathon is very difficult – like the marathon itself, I guess.”

Tadelech Bekele, who won last year in 2:21:54 and improved to 2:21:40 to finish third in London six months ago, will defend her title. Bahrain’s Desi Jisa, who ran 2:24:05 on her marathon debut in Dubai earlier this year and finished seventh at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships Valencia 2018, is also expected to be a contender.

The race record of 2:21:09 was set in 2012 by Ethiopia’s Meseret Hailu.

As will be the case up to and including 2022, the Amsterdam Marathon will incorporate the Dutch championships for the distance.

Michel Butter, who set his personal best of 2:09:58 at the 2012 edition of this race, will start as the favourite in the men’s race. Instead of targeting a fast time, he will focus on racing for the national title alongside five other Dutch athletes with PBs faster than 2:20. Miranda Boonstra, now 46, will is the pre-race favourite for the women’s title.

The marathon, which starts and finishes in Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium, will be the main focus of the events taking place in the Dutch capital this weekend. The race starts at 9:30am local time and the weather forecast predicts a temperature of 15C with a slight southwestern wind. Combined with other distances, 60,000 runners are expected to take to the streets of Amsterdam.

Eric Roeske for the IAAF