Cross Challenge on 24 October 2021

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Berlin proves its reputation and sees superb times by Kipkoech and Takahashi

three men crossing the finish line sub 2:07:00


Once again Berlin has proved its reputation as one of the fastest marathons in the world. For the first time in its history the real,- BERLIN MARATHON saw three men crossing the finish line sub 2:07:00. The surprise winner was the 23-year-old Raymond Kipkoech from Kenya. He was ahead of four more countrymen and improved his personal best by 4:05 minutes, clocking 2:06:47. With this result the young Kenyan equalled the tenth fastest time of all times. In a sprint finish Kipkoech beat Simon Biwott by just two seconds. Vincent Kipsos was just another three seconds behind, making it the closest finish of the top three in Berlin’s marathon history. Kenyan runners took the top five places in Germany’s most spectacular road race. The women’s race was once more dominated by Naoko Takahashi. In her first race since beating the 2:20 barrier a year ago in Berlin, the Olympic Champion from Japan ran a very good 2:21:49. Suffering muscle problems in the second part of the race, Adriana Fernandez came in second in 2:24:11.

Kathrin Weßel (2:36:36) and Martin Beckmann (2:16:07) won the German Championships. With 32,752 runners entered from 90 nations Germany’s greatest road race set yet another record. 25,278 runners reached the finish line. Another 7,098 skaters, 91 wheelchair athletes and 97 walkers participated in the event. Police estimated that more than a million spectators lined the streets of Berlin, making the marathon the biggest festival in German sport. Tragically one runner died after he collapsed about one kilometre from the finish line, while another was successfully rescued after collapsing.

The skaters’ race has seen another dramatic sprint finish. But winners’ times were not quite as fast as expected. While conditions were perfect for the skaters, tactical races often don’t allow very fast times. At the end Juan Carlos Betancur (Columbia) won the event in 1:04:44,4 hours, crossing the finish line just one tenth of a second ahead of Kalon Dobbin (New Zealand). While for Betancur it was the first win in the real,- BERLIN-MARATHON Angèle Vaudan (France) won the event for the second time. It was two years ago that she had set the course record of 1:08:29. That still stands. And this time Vaudan was five and a half minutes slower, winning in 1:13:59,7. She also was the best sprinter at the end. Just two tenths of a second behind was Silvia Nino (Columbia).

It was business as usual in the wheelchair race. For a record 15th time the winner of the event was Heinz Frei. It was back in 1985, when the Swiss athlete won for the first time in Berlin. And meanwhile he is unbeaten since 1991 in Berlin. Frei himself was quite surprised that he is still able to dominate the wheelchair race as he did. Winning in 1:28:28 this time he was much slower than five years ago when he set the course record of 1:21:39. But he still was half a minute clear of Jun Hiromichi of Japan. The women’s race did also not produce a first time winner in Berlin. As last year Edith Hunkeler (Switzerland) was again number one, crossing the line in 1:45:53. Edith Hunkeler, who had triumphed in Berlin in 1998 for the first time, managed to finish in the fourth fastest time ever in Berlin. And it was only in 1992, when the first three women were faster than Edith Hunkeler was now.

It was not until a couple of days ago that Raymond Kipkoech entered the men’s race. Just ten days before the real,- BERLIN MARATHON he did a training run back home in Kapsait. At an altitude of 3,000 metres Kipkoech ran 35 k. “He then persuaded me to let him run Berlin. I was sceptical about this because of his 35 k run just ten days before. But he looked very good and said he felt absolutely fit for Berlin. He convinced me saying that if he would realise that it does not work for him he would drop out”, his manager Dr. Gabriele Rosa, who was in Kenya at that time, said. So Rosa entered him into the Berlin race and Kipkoech got the bib number 61 – but at the end he was number 1. In the last part of the race especially Kipkoech and Biwott pushed the pace. Just before 35 k last year’s winner Joseph Ngolepus could not follow, then Jimmy Muindi and Boniface Usisivu, who ran a great debut marathon finishing fourth in 2:07:50, lost contact to the leaders. Kipsos, Biwott and Kipkoech were running together until the race was decided by a sprint finish on Tauentzienstraße.

Once more beaten by a very thin margin, Simon Biwott, who had lost gold in the World Championships last year by just one second, said afterwards: “I had two aims: to win the race and to run a personal best – so at least I managed one. But although I am not the winner I am happy for my friend Raymond, with whom I trained in former years.” Before Simon Biwott changed his manager he as well belonged to Rosa’s group. So he knows Raymond Kipkoech since he joined the group in Kapsait in 1999. It is there where the former world-class marathoner Erick Kimaiyo works as a coach for Dr. Rosa. “Erick and me, we were both convinced of Raymond’s talent when we saw him back in 1999”, Dr. Rosa said. That also applied to Biwott: “His talent was so obvious. It was just a matter of time when he would break through. Now his time has come – and today was his day. But I believe he will be even stronger in future”, Biwott said, while Raymond Kipkoech was more than happy with his performance. “Before the start I was thinking of something like 2:08 or 2:09. And in the first part of the race I only thought about a good performance, but never about winning. Originally I wanted to improve bit by bit, but now I managed a big step forward.” With the flat course and very good weather conditions (temperatures between 12 and 14 ° Celsius, no wind) Berlin helped him doing so.

Who knows what would have been possible for Raymond Kipkoech if the pacemakers had run a bit faster in the first part of the race and more constant. Indeed the first kilometre of the race was the slowest (3:13 minutes). Even in the late stages of the race Kipkoech looked relaxed and was pressing the pace. “He is still very young, so there is more potential. But he is not my best runner”, Dr. Rosa said and announced that another of his young athletes will run the New York Marathon on 3rd November. “22-year-old David Rutto will run New York. And in training he was even stronger than Raymond.”

Raymond Kipkoech, whose parents are said to be farmers, has two brothers and three sisters. “They are younger than me, and up to recently they did not run. But now my 16-year-old brother and my 14-year-old sister have started training as well.” Raymond Kipkoech built up his form in Kapsait. “Training is really hard up there. It needs a lot of discipline if you want to be successful. But Erick Kimaiyo is doing a great job with these runners”, Gabriele Rosa said and added: “Even driving up there by car is not easy, since it is a 40 k long winding mountain road.”

While there was a question mark behind Naoko Takahashi’s form, there was no question who would win in Berlin after 25 k were reached. It was until that point that the Japanese ran in a more cautious manner. “My form was not as good as last year, since I could only train for this race for three months. Last year I had two more months. Additionally I had not had any race since Berlin last year. That was why I was careful during the first half. But during the race I felt better. So I attacked at 25 k”, Naoko Takahashi said. Running just one step behind Mexican Adriana Fernandez and surrounded by men before, Takahashi broke away and was on her own soon afterwards. The Mexican could not respond because she felt a muscle problem in her right leg. Reaching the finish in second place and clocking 2:24:11, Fernandez missed her personal best by just five seconds.

When Naoko Takhashi had become the first woman to break 2:20 a year ago she had pacemakers, but this time she had turned down the possibility. Although the first part of the race was very fast with split times of 16:33 (5 k), 33:27 (10 k) and 50:07 (15 k) the Olympic Champion did not bother about time. “I have never thought about the world record during my race. For me it was about winning the race. I have trained less, so I am happy that it was enough to win. On the other hand I am of course a bit disappointed not to haven been able to attack the world record this time. But this result is very important for me on my way to the Olympic Games in Athens. Because I know I will be able to run much better and faster than today in future”, Naoko Takahashi explained. Taking into account that she did not compete for one year, the Olympic Champion ran a perfect race.

Concerning her next marathon, which she will run already on 17th November in Tokio, Takahashi said: “Tokyo gives me the chance to qualify for the World Championships next year in Paris. But even if I qualify, we will decide at a later time if I run the World Championships. I would also like to come back to Berlin once more.” Her coach, Yoshio Koide, sees no problem in the short time between the two races: “Naoko had first opted for Berlin and then later decided to run Tokyo as well. Originally last year she wanted to run Berlin and Chicago – and that would have been just seven days in between. We had trained in a way to make it possible to run both. But in the end she didn’t go to Chicago. I think with 50 days in between this time it should be no problem for Naoko.”

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