Born 15 days apart in 1984, Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge and American Keira D’Amato have shown there are multiple routes to marathon success. Their paths converge somewhat as the top seeds at Sunday’s Berlin Marathon, where Kipchoge might break his world record while D’Amato could lower her American record.
Kipchoge, a 37-year-old who ran a few miles to and from school as a kid, took a more conventional route to 26.2-mile stardom. A standout on the track (world 5000m champion at age 18), he transitioned to the roads after missing Kenya’s Olympic team in 2012.
Over the last decade, he became the unquestioned greatest of all time: wins in 14 of his 16 marathons, the first person to break two hours over the distance (in a non-record-eligible event) and, at his last appearance on the pancake-flat course at the German capital in 2018, took the world record down from 2:02:57 to 2:01:39.
Kipchoge no doubt returned to Berlin — rather than enter November’s New York City Marathon for the first time, which he plans to do in the coming years — because he feels he can bring the record down even further. New York City is too hilly for fast times. The last seven instances the men’s marathon world record has been broken, it has come in Berlin.
In press conferences last Saturday and again on Friday, the philosophical Kipchoge declined to issue a world record-or-bust objective.
“I always say I don’t call a world record, but I aim to run a good race, be it a world record, be it a personal best, be it a good race,” he said. “But let us call it a good race.”
To Kipchoge, a good race isn’t merely about the time or the victory. It is, as has become somewhat of a motto, to inspire people to be active and to show “no human is limited.”
Kipchoge is just as fit as he was when he broke the world record in 2018, said his manager, Valentijn Trouw. The weather, as in 2018, is expected to be ideal for running. He will wear similar, but not the same model, Nike shoes. If anything external can be improved on that special day four years ago, it is the pacemaking, Trouw said.
One thing that is guaranteed to be different this year is Kipchoge’s seed time. Back then, his personal best entering Berlin was 2:03:05. He was a year away from his breaking-two-hours event.
“So he’s a little bit more experienced with running on that kind of pace,” Trouw said.
That Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele ran 2:01:41 in Berlin in 2019 at age 37 — two seconds shy of Kipchoge’s world record — is also a plus. Kipchoge is considered the greatest marathoner in history by a significant margin. If the times back that up, his personal best should be well clear of Bekele, who is arguably the greatest runner in history over all distances as the former world record holder at 5000m and 10,000m.
Bekele is not in Sunday’s field to rival Kipchoge. Other top challengers are racing at next week’s London Marathon, though Ethiopian Guye Adola stands out among Berlin’s supporting cast. In 2017, Adola finished 14 seconds behind Kipchoge in Berlin in his 26.2-mile debut, but did little the next four years before winning Berlin last year in 2:05:45.
Trouw said that he’s had zero conversations with Kipchoge about his remaining shelf life as a marathoner. Haile Gebrselassie, the former world record holder from Ethiopia, earned his last marathon win at 36. Bekele, now 40, hasn’t been within five minutes of that 2:01:41 since he ran it.
“On a bigger scale, the Paris 2024 Olympics is absolutely in the front of his mind,” Trouw said of his client, who can become the first person to win three Olympic marathons. “The World Marathon Majors, he has won four out of six of the races. There are still two races remaining that he hasn’t been yet [Boston and New York City]. So that’s absolutely also one of the targets in the coming years.”
Then there is D’Amato. While Kipchoge built his marathon career, she went nearly a decade between competitive races after a middle-distance stint at American University. She got married, had two kids and worked in real estate before returning to running to lose baby weight.
She has chipped away since finishing the 2017 Shamrock Marathon in the sleet, hail and wind of Virginia Beach in 3:14:54. On Jan. 16, she broke the 16-year-old American women’s marathon record by clocking 2:19:12. That makes her the fastest woman in the Berlin field by personal best times.
No American male or female runner has won Berlin, one of six annual races designated as a World Marathon Major. Like Kipchoge, she entered this race, rather than New York City or even Chicago, to bolster her shot at a fast time.
No active American woman has run within 80 seconds of D’Amato’s national record, but they are accomplished. Sara Hall, the third-fastest American in history, was second in London and third in Chicago the last two years. Molly Seidel took third at the Olympics and fourth in New York City last year. Emily Sisson and Emma Bates are young talents who broke into the U.S. all-time top 10.
Of that group, only D’Amato is running Berlin, the first in a series of four major marathons over the next six weeks.
“There’s a number of American women that I think are also gunning for that record, so if I think if I don’t lower it myself, it’s not going to be mine for very much longer,” she said.
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