It wasn’t the race that anybody anticipated and the world record of 2:02:57 still stands, but Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge came away from the 2017 Berlin Marathon on Sunday with the win in 2:03:32—and he faced some unanticipated late-race competition from a newcomer to the distance.
Although the pre-race hype focused on a battle between the “big three” of Kipchoge, Wilson Kipsang (Kenya), and Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia), by 30 km the competition came down to just Kipchoge and Guye Adola, a 26-year-old Ethiopian running his first marathon. Bekele lost the lead pack just past the halfway point (he eventually dropped out) and Kipsang suddenly stopped at Km 30 without showing any signs of distress beforehand.
That left Kipchoge and Adola to run for the title. With the hope of the world record gone by 35 km, the competition became more tactical. The rookie surged ahead a few times, but Kipchoge patiently reined him in. With about 2 km left to go, the master of the marathon put in a final acceleration for the win.
“Guye Adola was a big surprise to me,” Kipchoge said after the race.
Adola came with a personal best of 59:06 for the half marathon, set in 2014, and now is the owner of the fastest marathon debut ever, finishing second in 2:03:46, besting Dennis Kimetto’s 2:04:16 previous debut record he set in 2012. Adola said after the race that he decided to run the marathon about three months ago.
Although the goal was to beat Kimetto’s world record time set in 2014, the leaders fell off that pace after 30 km. They passed the halfway point in 1:01:29, putting them within reach, though it was not to be in the end. The weather conditions were not ideal and likely made such lofty objectives difficult, with rain, 97 per cent humidity, and a starting temperature of 58 degrees.
“It was not what I was coming here for but I am happy for the result,” Kipchoge said, later confirming that the slippery roads hampered his pacing plans. “You understand that when the water splashes on the muscles, the muscles start to cramp immediately and you can’t move anymore because of the coldness.”
Kipchoge, 32, is the 2016 Olympic marathon champion. He became a fan favourite following the Nike Breaking2 experiment, where he ran a 2:00:25 on a racetrack in Monza, Italy. Though it remains the fastest time ever for 26.2 miles, it didn’t count as an official record because of the tactics used, such as the team of rotating pacesetters who aided his attempt to break two hours.
The world record is still on Kipchoge’s radar and he said he plans to return to Berlin.
“For now, I am going back to plan more,” he said. “But the world record is still in front of my head.”
In the women’s race, Gladys Cherono of Kenya won in 2:20:23, Ruti Aga from Ethiopia was second in 2:20:41, and Valary Ayabei of Kenya placed third in 2:20:53.
Erin Strout & Cindy Kuzma