Kenenisa Bekele returns to Germany this Sunday looking to become the fifth man to win back-to-back Berlin Marathon titles. And he is going to do it.
Why? Because I’m inclined to believe that Bekele has finally figured out this whole marathon thing and he’s playing us right now. If you watch the video interview that was posted here yesterday, it’s all a sham!
He experienced so much success on the track that many assumed the transition to the marathon would be relatively easy for him. But no matter who you are, the marathon is not easy.
In 2017 however, a healthy, more experienced and scorned Bekele, with tactical and fast marathons under his belt, is a dangerous Bekele.
At this point, it’s hard to imagine Bekele (who now that I’ve come to think of it – has been running competitively at the highest of levels for almost two decades) as a relative marathon novice. He’s completed five marathons and the most impressive remains his Berlin Marathon victory last year in 2:03:03, just six seconds off the world record. Despite limited preparation, he managed a third place finish at the 2016 London Marathon.
Many will point to his two DNFs at Dubai and a somewhat disappointing fourth-place finish at Chicago in 2014 as reasons why the marathon may just not be the distance for him. Chicago was so long ago and even Eliud Kipchoge, who won that race, is a much different marathoner than that race. Maybe he just isn’t suited for the totally flat and boring Dubai course isn’t suited for him. Those are perfectly valid points. Remember that if you take a gander at the all-time marathon list, Bekele’s 2016 Berlin time is still sitting and smiling at you from the No. 3 spot.
Now we go to the simplest approach to numbers…you know who hasn’t run faster than Bekele in the marathon? His two biggest competitors this weekend: Wilson Kipsang and Eliud Kipchoge. With all due respect, I’m not saying that they haven’t had stellar careers because they totally have. Kipsang just dropped a 2:03:58 in Tokyo this year for his ninth career marathon victory. And if you don’t count the Olympic Marathon, Kipchoge has never run slower than 2:06.
Those two have a lot of miles on their legs. Berlin will be Kipsang’s 15th marathon. And while respect must also be shown for Kipchoge’s 2:00:25 in May, no one really knows the toll of running that fast for that long took on him both physically. Mentally that time trial is different than a race, where he has to read body language and sounds from Kipsang or Bekele to know when to make his move.
There’s also got to be a little bit of Bekele’s underlying motivation from being snubbed off Ethiopian Olympic team last year. He never got that match-up against Kipchoge in his marathoning prime and now is the time.
The main reason so many runners choose to run the Berlin Marathon is its reputation of being the model of ideal marathon conditions: flat course, nice weather, raucous spectators. I think it’s time for Bekele to show that he’s the model for an ideal marathon winner.