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Can Kenenisa Bekele break the world record in Berlin?

An in-depth preview of the elite field ahead of Sunday's Berlin Marathon

Berlin Marathon

The first Abbott World Marathon Major gets underway this Sunday, with high-quality elite fields headlining the 2021 BMW Berlin Marathon. The biggest name in the field, Ethiopian superstar Kenenisa Bekele, was two seconds away from the marathon world record in 2019, running the second-fastest time ever, 2:01:41. Berlin is known for being a flat and fast course, and it is where the last three marathon world records have been broken. Could this year be his last crack at the world record that he has been enviously chasing for the last seven years?

In terms of his achievements, Bekele is one of the greatest distance runners of all time. He is a multiple world record holder, who has won the 5,000m at the 2008 Olympic Games, and the 2009 World Championships. He has also won two 10,000m gold medals in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008, in addition to the four 10,000m gold medals at the World Championships in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009.

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His marathon career hasn’t been as glorious. He has failed to finish three of his last six marathon races, including his attempt at the world record in Dubai in 2017 and Berlin later that year. This will be Bekele’s fourth appearance in Germany’s biggest marathon. In 2016, he missed Dennis Kimetto’s previous world record time by six seconds (2:03:03). The 39-year-old is fighting father time as he continues to chase Eliud Kipchoge’s record of 2:01:39.

Kenenisa Bekele winning the 2016 Berlin Marathon

Outside of Bekele, who is the race favourite, Adola Guye of Ethiopia has caused Bekele some trouble in their previous races. Guye ousted Bekele at the Berlin Marathon in 2017, finishing behind Kipchoge, in a personal best time of 2:03;46. Guye tends to front-run and should be in the mix to go sub-2:05 on this course. Kenya’s Eliud Kiptanui has run the Berlin Marathon five times and has run under 2:08 in four of his five races. But Kiptanui’s performances have been subpar recently, not finishing his two most recent marathons, and finishing above 2:10. The last athlete to watch is a young Kenyan athlete making his marathon debut. Benard Kimeli is newer on the long-distance scene but has had some early success at the World Half-Marathon Championships, finishing in the top 10 and winning the 2019 Prague Half Marathon (59:07).

Ethiopia hopes to own the podium in Berlin with Hiwot Gebrekidan, who will run in Berlin’s women’s elite field for the first time. Gebrekidan holds the world lead for the fastest marathon this year, clocking 2:19:35 at the Milan Marathon in May. Shure Demise will be looking for a breakthrough performance, finishing third at Chicago in 2019, and fifth at the World Championships in 2017. Demise is in her prime at 26 years old and is destined for a personal best sub-2:20 performance on the fast streets of Berlin. Ruth Chebitok, who was sixth at Toronto’s Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon in 2019, comes into the event with a personal best of 2:24 and could threaten for a podium position.

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If you are looking to watch or stream the Berlin Marathon, you can follow all the action on FloTrack, starting Sunday, Sept. 26 at 3 a. m. E.T.