Traditionally the Vattenfall Berlin Half Marathon kickstarts the German road running season. While the nation’s biggest Half Marathon will take place on Sunday more major road races will follow in the coming weeks: Paderborn’s Easter Race takes place on 11 April, the Hamburg Marathon is scheduled for the 26th of April, the Düsseldorf Marathon will take place on 3 May and the Berlin 25 k Road Race will be started on 10 May. The biggest race of all these is the Berlin Half Marathon, which has made remarkable progress in recent years concerning both the quality of the elite runners’ results as well as the size of the field.
Anything other than an eighth consecutive men’s victory for Kenya would be a major surprise on Sunday. The athletes from eastern Africa dominated the race in the past years and should continue to do so. They will again look to break the one hour barrier on the fast course in Germany’s capital. So far runners have clocked sub-60 minute results six times in Berlin. It was Spain’s Fabián Roncero who initially broke the barrier for the first time in the capital, when he took the race with 59:52 in 2001. This time still stands as the European record today. But the course record was improved by Kenyans twice since then. First Paul Kosgei clocked 59:07 in 2006 and in the following year Patrick Makau Musyoki won with 58:56.
In 2008 Makau, who will be running his marathon debut in Rotterdam this Sunday, just missed out on another sub-one hour performance, when he was timed at exactly 60:00 minutes. In that race his fellow countryman Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich finished sixth with 61:03. Since then Kiprotich has improved by more than two minutes and returns to Berlin as the favourite. It was just two months ago, when he took second in the Ras Al Khaimah race in the United Arab Emirates, with his time of 58:59 that he became the fourth runner in history to break 59 minutes. And Kiprotich’s personal best is now just 26 seconds slower than the world record.
“I am in fine form,” Kiprotich said. “If the weather is good, then with the help of the pacemakers we will run very fast. Hopefully we will achieve a time of around 59 minutes or even faster.” Present weather forecasts suggest 13° Celsius with dry conditions. “Last year I found it difficult to run here, because it was rainy and the roads were slippery. In better conditions I will do much better,” Kiprotich added.
Kiprotich will be up against two big names in road running: his fellow countrymen Rodgers Rop and Patrick Ivuti. The 33-year-old Rop won the Boston and New York City Marathons in 2002. Two years ago he took the Hamburg Marathon with a personal best of 2:07:32. While his Half Marathon best stands at 59:49 Ivuti has run the distance even faster: He clocked 59:27 in Rotterdam two years ago. After that race he went on to win the Chicago Marathon. Ivuti has a great track record as well. He was fourth in the Olympic 10,000m in Sydney 2000, missing a bronze medal by less than a second. “Sunday’s race will be my first one this year. Because of this it is difficult to make any predictions, but I have trained well in Ngong and near Eldoret,” Ivuti said.
But there is even more Kenyan talent in Sunday’s race. Samuel Karanja Karuku, who was the winner of Berlin’s 25Km race in May 2008 with 1:13:50, should be in with a chance. That also applies to Bernard Kipyego. The 22-year-old will run his Half Marathon debut on Sunday. He was third in the World Cross Country Championships in 2007 and has superb track speed with a 10,000m best of 26:59.51.
Mockenhaupt takes centre stage – women’s race
In comparison to the men the women’s field will be weaker. But the race could produce a home win for the first time since Luminita Zaituc in 2005. Sabrina Mockenhaupt will be in the centre of attention on Sunday. In autumn 2008 she won the Cologne Half Marathon with a personal best of 1:08:51.
“It is my aim to further improve my personal best in Berlin. I know about the fast course,” said the 28-year-old Mockenhaupt, who won the Frankfurt Marathon in October with a personal best of 2:26:22. “For me the Vattenfall Berlin Half Marathon will be the main road race this spring. It will be important to see where I stand regarding this year’s season.”
Three Kenyan women might try to go with Mockenhaupt’s pace: Hellen Kimutai has a personal best of 1:09:59, Alice Mogire has run 1:11:07 and Lydia Njeri so far has a personal record of 1:11:16 minutes.
Unfortunately Japan’s Tokyo Women’s Marathon winner from 2008, Yoshimi Ozaki, had to cancel her start due to slight a back problem.
A record number of 21,679 runners from 85 nations have entered the race. Adding other events the figure will rise to over 25,000. 150,000 spectators are expected to line the city loop course this Sunday.
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF