Why Sunday’s Berlin Marathon will be a must-watch

Tuesday September 19 2017

Members of the NN Running Team led by (front, left) Olympic marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge and former world marathon champion Abel Kirui (right) training at the Kaptagat Forest on July 17, 2017. PHOTO | DAN VERNON |

Members of the NN Running Team led by (front, left) Olympic marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge and former world marathon champion Abel Kirui (right) training at the Kaptagat Forest on July 17, 2017. PHOTO | DAN VERNON |  GLOBAL SPORTS COMMUNICATION

By ELIAS MAKORI
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Mouthwatering prospects await athletics lovers this weekend when the cream of global marathon running comes head-to-head at the 44th BMW Berlin Marathon.

The elites have never been as confident as this time round, all vowing to dip under the world record two hours, two minutes and 57 seconds on the streets of Germany’s political capital.

Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, Tokyo Marathon winner and course record holder Wilson Kipsang and defending champion, Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele, are all angling to improve on this fastest time set in 2014 by Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto on this very course.

SIX WORLD RECORDS

Over the years, Berlin race director Mark Milde has done everything possible to make the course fast, and his reward has been that the last six world records (since 2003) have fallen on his course.

That the marathon is also held at a time of the year when Berlin enjoys the best weather — with little or no wind and great temperatures — makes it a perfect course to clock fast times.

And as Kipsang, Kipchoge and Bekele shadow box ahead of Sunday’s race (I wonder why no one is talking about Patrick Makau who will also be in the mix, and could be the dark horse!) the emergence of a new distance running team will also be very much the talk of Berlin.

NN Running Team member Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, who is also the defending Berlin Marathon champion, at his training base in Sululta, Ethiopia. PHOTO | DAN VERNON | GLOBAL SPORTS COMMUNICATION

NN Running Team member Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, who is also the defending Berlin Marathon champion, at his training base in Sululta, Ethiopia. PHOTO | DAN VERNON | GLOBAL SPORTS COMMUNICATION

Jos Hermens and Netherlands’ Global Sports Communications (GSC) recently unveiled the “NN Running Team” which has enlisted about 60 top runners competing in various top races globally.

The idea behind this partnership between GSC and NN Group, a Dutch insurance and asset management company, is to inject some excitement into distance running and make the sport more appealing.

This means, therefore, that Bekele and Kipchoge, both members of the NN Running Team, will be working closely together on Sunday under the watchful eye of Hermens, GSC’s athletes’ manager Valentijn Trouw and the GSC team, rather than Kipchoge and Kipsang operating in tandem as Kenyans to lower the mark.

It will, therefore, be the first time for an Ethiopian athlete to work closely together with a Kenyan arch-rival, wearing the same team colours, towards a common goal at a major competition, the IAAF Continental Cup — which pits continents against one another in track and field competition — perhaps the closest to such unholy alliance.

And while Kipchoge and Bekele will also be in the Nike strip, Kipsang will line up in Adidas apparel, providing another interesting side-clash between two of the world’s leading sportswear giants.

The NN Runnning Team concept should offer a turning point for athletics, a sport that will struggle, in the post-Usain Bolt era, to attract the massive following other sports such as football, tennis, rugby and basketball enjoy, and innovation the sure way out.

Such innovation as we saw in May when Nike put together their “Breaking2” show on the Monza Formula One race track where Kipchoge, Eritrea’s Zersanay Tadese and Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa were lined up under perfect conditions, and backed by a retinue of pacemakers, in an attempt to run the marathon in under two hours.

Kipchoge stood tall, clocking 2:00:25 to fall agonizingly short of the sub-two target. With this amazing time not recognised by the International Association of Athletics Federations, Kipchoge was inspired to go for the “legal” record in Berlin this Sunday.

His “legal” personal best time standing at 2:03:05 against Bekele’s 2:03:03 and Kipsang’s 2:03:13 is a factor that whets the appetite of athletics fans this week in the build-up to the big race.

While in his eight marathons, Kipchoge hasn’t finished beyond second place, winning all but one, Kipsang is the only human being to have run four times under 2:04, making him the most consistent marathoner.

WOMEN'S RACE

Half marathon specialist Geoffrey Rono and Sammy Kitwara, a 2:04 marathoner and Lisbon Half Marathon winner, lead a stellar cast of pace-makers who should ensure the lead pack clocks 61 minutes in the first half and chases negative splits in the second half to lower the world mark.

So eagerly awaited is this world record attempt that little has been said of the elite women’s division of the Berlin Marathon where Kenya will field two exciting prospects — Prague Marathon champion and course record holder Valery Aiyabei (2:21:57) and Gladys Cherono (2:19:25), winner of the 2015 BMW Berlin Marathon.

Sunday’s Berlin race will be televised live on SuperSport 7, 9 and Maximo 1 from 9.30am.

May the best athletes win!