© Copyright – 2023 – Athletics Illustrated

All attention leading up to the 2023 Berlin Marathon was on Eliud Kipchoge. The Kenyan has won the event four times and set two world records on the course at 2:01:39 in 2018, then last year 2:01:09. But it was Ethiopia’s Tigst (sometimes spelt Tigist) Assefa who stole the show by smashing the women’s world record with a two-hour, 11 minutes and 53-second performance.

Tigst Assefa

The previous women’s world record was 2:14:04 by Kenyan Brigid Kosgei in Chicago in 2019. She had bettered the 16-year-long record held by Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain which was set at 2:15:29 on the streets of London.

Assefa dropped to her knees after crossing the line and was soon draped with the flag of Ethiopia.

The 26-year-old finished more than five minutes clear of second-place finisher Sheila Chepkirui of Kenya who clocked a 2:17:49. Tanzania’s Magdalena Shauri took third in 2:18:41. She covered the final kilometres of the race nearly as fast as the Kipchoge. Her half-marathon splits were 66:20 and 65:33.

The 26-year-old former middle-distance runner barged onto the marathon scene last year with a win in Berlin in 2:15:37. It was her debut (she ran a 2:34 injured once). Prior to that, she had run a handful of 10K and half-marathon races, but not at this level. Her personal bests are, 800m: 1:59.24, 10K 31:45 and half-marathon 1:08:24 ending in year 2019, where she seemed to shut down racing due to the pandemic.

She emerged out the other side as a new and different athlete in 2022, with the Berlin win, a 1:07:28 half-marathon and a 30:52 10K. Her 2023 Berlin performance is at yet another new level.

Canada’s Malindi Elmore finished in 13th position in a new personal best time of 2:23:30. Elmore narrowly missed Natasha Wodak’s national record set in Berlin last year in the time of 2:23:12. Elmore’s training experienced an interruption when the wildfires near her home in Kelowna, BC neared her back yard and she fled with her husband and two sons. The home was saved, but it was close.

Great Britain’s Charlotte Purdue ran a new personal best of 2:22:17 finishing in ninth place.

Eight women finished under the 2:18 benchmark.

Eliud Kipchoge

The men’s race going in was all about the four-time winner, world record holder and two-time Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge. In terms of superlatives, there are few athletes in other sports who are comparable from a cultural perspective. Wayne Gretzky, the only National Hockey League player to break the 200-point mark in a single season did it four times, won four Stanley Cups and at one time held something like 63 NHL records.

Muhammad Ali, or Mike Tyson the Beauty and the Beast, Michael Jordon, and Pele in football (soccer). Kipchoge’s notoriety, as they say, transcends the sport.

The 38-year-old has sometimes been referred to as Buddha because of his soft, philosophical approach to conversation and interviews. He lives simply and trains hard but not in a complex way. Kipchoge eats pretty much like any other Kenyan but breathes with a special pair of lungs that supply a very powerful heart.

Kipchoge’s 2:02:42 is fast. It wasn’t that long ago that the Emporer Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia set the world record at 2:03:59, which was improved by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto at 2:02:57 since then it has been pretty much the Eliud Kipchoge show.

Perhaps that is about to change on the streets of Chicago on Oct. 8, when fellow Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum, similarly to Assefa, busted onto the marathon scene as the third ever to break 2:02, running 2:01:53 last December in Valencia. He followed that up with a 2:01:25 in London in April.

Just wait for Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei. Cheptegei currently holds world records in the 5000m and 10,000m distances at 12:35.36 and 26:11.00, respectively. Although Kiptum did not specialize in the distances his personal bests are not even in the same ballpark. Kipchoge’s were at 12:36.53 and 26:49.02.

Kenenisa Bekele previously held the 5000m and 10,000m world records. His relationship with the marathon has been strong, but by his standards hit and miss. He did hit it well by running two seconds off of Kipchoge’s previous world record in Berlin in 2019 at 2:01:41, in poor weather. It is arguably a better performance than Kipchoge’s the previous year. If Bekele moved to the marathon earlier in his career or if Kimetto, Gebrselassie and others ran in super shoes, there would, in theory, be a whole cluster of 2:01s on the record books.

The Kenyan icon of the sport added to his previous victories in the German capital in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2022 to move one clear of Haile Gebrselassie with yet another imperious display. Passing halfway in a blistering 1:00:22 Kipchoge kicked clear of the opposition just after 30km and successfully repelled the late-charging Vincent Kipkemoi to clinch a 31-second victory and a place in the history books.

An elated Kipchoge said, “I came here to make history and I am proud to be the first athlete to win Berlin Marathon 5 times. It is a special place for me and I want to thank all the spectators for the amazing support, I hear it all and it drives me to push myself. I get inspired to see so many people from around the world run together, let’s all unite through running.”

Adding a super fast time of 2:02:42 to his list of accomplishments, Kipchoge now holds five out of ten fastest marathon times ever run, including a world record of 2:01:39 in 2018 and a world record of 2:01:09 in 2022.

However, Assefa’s performance is at a whole new level; a veritable (and proverbial) paradigm shift to use an oft-repeated phrase. The difference between 2:02:42 and 2:11:53 is less than eight per cent. It is now less than nine per cent between the male and female world records. Just like that, the world of athletics has found the female equivalent to Kipchoge, or even better.

Women’s results

1. Assefa, Tigist (ETH) – 2:11:53  World Record
2. Chepkirui, Sheila (KEN) – 2:17:49
3. Shauri, Magdalena (TAN) – 2:18:41
4. Yimer, Zeineba (ETH) – 2:19:07
5. Teferi, Senbere (ETH) – 2:19:21
6. Dida, Dera (ETH) – 2:19:21
7. Edesa, Workenesh (ETH) – 2:19:40
8. Bekele, Helen (ETH) – 2:19:44
9. Purdue, Charlotte (GBR) – 2:22:17
10. Wereta, Fikrte (ETH) – 2:23:01
11. Niiya, Hitomi (JPN) – 2:23:08
12. Meringor, Delvine (ROU) – 2:23:25
13. Elmore, Malindi (CAN) – 2:23:30
14. Mayer, Domenika (GER) – 2:23:47
15. Schlumpf, Fabienne (SUI) – 2:25:27
16. Orjuela, Angie (COL) – 2:25:35
17. Frisbie, Annie (USA) – 2:27:02
18. Gaughan, Jacqueline (USA) – 2:27:08
19. Schöneborn, Debbie (GER) – 2:27:35
20. Prokofieva, Yevheniia (UKR) – 2:28:59

Men’s results

1. Kipchoge, Eliud (KEN) – 2:02:42
2. Kipkemoi, Vincent (KEN) – 2:03:13
3. Takele, Tadese (ETH) – 2:03:24
4. Korir, Ronald (KEN) – 2:04:22
5. Teklu, Haftu (ETH) – 2:04:42
6. Shiferaw, Andualem Belay (ETH) – 2:04:44
7. Kipruto, Amos (KEN) – 2:04:49
8. Kiplimo, Philemon (KEN) – 2:04:56
9. Petros, Amanal (GER) – 2:04:58
10. Kiplimo, Bonface Kimutai (KEN) – 2:05:05
11. Abraham, Tadesse (SUI) – 2:05:10
12. Tsegay, Okubay (ERI) – 2:05:20
13. Boit, Josphat (KEN) – 2:05:42
14. Abate, Tadu (ETH) – 2:05:44
15. Kangogo, Justus (KEN) – 2:05:57
16. Somers, Michael (BEL) – 2:08:09
17. Chirchir, Denis (KEN) – 2:08:22
18. Fitwi, Samuel (GER) – 2:08:28
19. Nyairo, Dominic (KEN) – 2:08:47
20. Pfeiffer, Hendrik (GER) – 2:08:48

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