BERLIN – As far as marathons go, Berlin has to be one of the most prestigious in terms of the world class performances it churns out on a consistent basis. Since 1998, the world record has been broken nine times on its course. Among its all-time top ten finishers, Berlin is the fastest of any major marathon, with an average of 2:03:58. The current world record of 2:02:57 was set by Dennis Kimetto in Berlin back in 2014. That’s a pretty decent pedigree.
And that brings us to 2018. The men’s race is slated as a showdown and potential world record battle between two of the event’s most consistent stars in recent history: Eliud Kipchoge and Wilson Kipsang. On the women’s side, organizers are claiming that this is the strongest field since the races inception in 1974.
With two incomprehensible fields assembled, we decided to break down some things to watch for come race day on Sunday, September 16th.
WORLD RECORD WATCH
Kipchoge hasn’t directly said he’s going for the world record. Instead, he’s opted to remain coy about it, saying he’s looking to walk away with a new personal best. Considering his personal best is a cool 2:03:05, just eight seconds off the world record, the CITIUS MAG newsroom is operating under the assumption that he’s just trying not to jinx himself by putting his intentions out in the open.
A probable boon to his aspirations will be the presence of a strong, but not overwhelming, field in Berlin and a reported pace job of 61 minutes through the half.
Wilson Kipsang is the other man on the bill with a resume almost as impressive as Kipchoge’s. Sure, Kipchoge has gotten a lot of the press in the past two years, especially with an Olympic gold medal and a beautiful 2:00:25 Nike Marketing Stunt under his belt. But since 2010, Kipsang has finished 15 marathons, won 10 of them, finished sub-2:04 four times, and among his top-10 fastest ‘thons, he’s averaged 2:04:40.
Last year, when Chris Chavez was in Berlin, he asked Kipsang whether he thought the 2017 showdown would determine who is the greatest marathoner of all-time. He said no because he valued the number of times that he’s run sub-2:05 (8 times) more than a world record. It’s a good thing that he said that because he ended up dropping out of the race and a world record wasn’t set.
Aside from Kipsang, the field features half marathon world record holder, and fellow Nike sub2 finisher, Zersenay Tadese. The other’s that might be able to help with a hot pace, at least for a bit, are the only other sub-2:06 men in the field, Eliud Kiptanui (PB: 2:05:21), Amos Kipruto (2:05:43) and Abera Kuma (2:05:50). It feels odd to throw those three runners in there as a footnote, but in an age when 2:03 and 2:04 marathons are commonplace, a 2:05er feels like it lacks the chops.
Aside from the field, the uncontrolled variables of the day play a central role in a world record attempt. Yeah buddy, I’m talking about the weather. Here’s your forecast and it doesn’t look awful:
The absolute last factor, but certainly not one to sneeze at, are the intangibles. Does Eliud have his mind right? In a recent LetsRun interview with Kipchoge’s agent, he had this to say, “So far, I think with most athletes, the length of a career is not maybe so much physical but is much more mental and at the moment, Eliud is extremely focused and is hungry for the top level in athletics. And I don’t see that changing very soon.”
My prediction? No world record. But it’ll be a hell of a race.
Tirunesh Dibaba vs. three sub-2:20 performers
With her 2:17:25 in London last year, Tirunesh Dibaba became the 3rd fastest woman in history. The 5,000m world record holder and three-time Olympic gold medalist will look to assert her dominance over a very exciting field.
She’s the clear favorite, but she’ll have a host of 2:19/2:20 performers nipping at her heels.
Among those to watch are last year’s Berlin champion, Gladys Cherono, who owns a personal best set on this Berlin course, of 2:19:25; Ethiopia’s Aselefech Mergia (2:19:31); and Edna Kiplagat (2:19:25).
Of those three headliners, it will be interesting to see who shows up. Cherono should be a factor, but Mergia has DNF’d her last two marathons, and Kiplagat’s only two races this year have been a disappointing (but understandable) 2:47 at Boston and a 1:13 half in Tokyo.
If we’re looking for an underdog in this race, it could be Ruti Aga. Only 24-years old, she’s entering Berlin with two impressive performances this year already: 2:21:19 in Tokyo and a 1:06:39 half in Houston.
Anyway this one shakes out, we should see someone go sub-2:20, which seems to have become the gold standard for women’s marathoning over the last couple years.
THE UNSTOPPABLE STABLE OF JAPANESE MARATHONERS
If you’re a reader of the Mag, then you know we are big fans of the Japanese Marathon Culture. We’ve interviewed the man behind Japan Running News, Brett Larner, and profiled eventual Boston Marathon champion Yuki Kawauchi.
The sparknotes for both of those articles is this: the Japanese are very, very good at running the marathon. How good? Well, at this year’s Tokyo Marathon, nine Japanese marathoners ran sub-2:10. It should also be noted that only 17 Americans have ever gone sub 2:10 and the only person to do so since 2013 is Galen Rupp. Fart noise.
The Japanese contingent in Berlin will be lead by Yuki Sato, a newly minted 2:08 marathoner who has a 62:33 half marathon under his belt this year as well.
He’ll be joined by three 2:09:xx guys Hiroaki Sano, Daisuke Uekado, and Kohei Ogino.
In the past, a sub-2:10 performance in Berlin has been good enough for close to top-5. And with Japan making their presence known in Marathon Majors since Yuki’s win in Boston, expect all eyes to be on the top Japanese finisher in Berlin.