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Marathon greats and their debuts

Wilson Kipsang, world marathon record holder

Kenenisa  Bekele made his marathon debut in Paris last weekend and two (yes, two) other track greats will be debuting in London on Sunday. Bekele ran a 2:05:03 for his debut in Paris, a time that only eleven years ago would have been a world record. Mo Farah, double world champion and double Olympic champion, and Ibrahim Jeilan, who won the world 10,000m championship in 2011, will likely be looking to run similar times.

So, how does Bekele’s debut stack up to some of the other greatest marathoners the world has seen?

Wilson Kipsang

Paris was also the marathon launching point for the current world record holder in the marathon. In 2010, Wilson Kipsang ran 2:07:13 to finish second in Paris, more than two minutes slower than Bekele’s course record debut.

Kipsang’s 2:03:23 is the standing world record in 42.2K distance.

Haile Gebrselassie


Technically not his debut, Gebrselassie ran 2:06:35 to finish third in 2002 at the London Marathon after dominating on the track over 10,000m in the late-1990s.

He ran a marathon as a teenager in Ethiopia before going on to dominate the world track and cross-country scene as a professional. After moving up to the marathon professionally he broke Paul Tergat’s world marathon record by running 2:04:26 in 2007 and in 2008 bettered the record to 2:03:59.

He was the first and is still one of only five people to ever run under 2:04.

At the time of moving up to the marathon, Gebrselassie held a track and cross-country resume similar to Bekele and Farah’s current achievements. He’s widely regarded as the greatest distance runner of all time.

Paul Tergat

Paul Tergat briefly held the world marathon for four years between 2003 and 2007 and was a fierce rival of Gebrselassie’s. Tergat is the owner of two world championships and two Olympic 10,000m silver medals, all of which Gebrselassie holds the matching golds to.

He debuted at the marathon distance in London in 2001, finishing second in 2:08:15 before breaking the world record by running 2:04:55 in the 2003 Berlin Marathon.

Tergat finished second, one spot ahead of Gebrselassie during his debut, at the 2002 London Marathon.

Like Gebrselassie and Bekele,  Tergat also had a long and dominating career on the world cross-country circuit and at one point held the world 10,000m record.

Sammy Wanjiru

Sammy Wanjiru won the 2006 Fukuoka marathon in 2:06:39 in his debut at the distance. He went on to win the 2008 Olympic marathon, shattering the Olympic record, by running 2:06:32.

In 2009, he ran 2:05:10, his personal best, before his death in May 2011 at the age of 24. He died leaping off his balcony when police and his wife found him in bed with another woman.

Wanjiru also held the world half-marathon record of 58:33.