The World Championships Attracts the Best
In some past years, the World Championships Men's Marathon has not attracted the best field possible - as some athletes pass on the event opting instead for one of the major Fall marathons. But 2009 marked a departure from that trend as the championships attracted arguably the deepest and best field in its history - with exceptional teams from a number of countries, especially Kenya, Ethiopia and Morocco.
Not everyone can run in the championships - each country can start at most five runners - so no matter who was entered in the field, we could comment on the absences, but in a race to crown the "world champion," there were two runners who could deserve that title who were not in attendance: world record holder Haile Gebrselassie; and Olympic Gold medalist Sammy Wanjiru. These two had announced their entry into other early Fall marathons, so we can surmise that they were not at the championships as they prepared for world record attempts at the Berlin and Chicago Marathons respectively. James Kwambai, who has begun to emerge as one of the best in the world and is expected to run the New York City Marathon, was not entered - but Kenya could not enter all of its runners in any case. Lastly, Jaouad Gharib of Morocco, the two-time defending world champion and Olympic silver medalist was entered but it was rumored that his federation required his entry although he did not want to run and/or that he was recovering from an injury (too many rumors!) and without withdrawing in advance, Gharib was marked DNS (Did Not Start).
Excepting these few absences, the competition was truly to crown the best in the world. We'll note that the American team was not representative of the best that the USA could offer the field (the top 5 or 7 Americans were not running in this championships), but it was unlikely that even the best Americans would be able to medal at this race.
The Course Favors the Fastest
The Berlin Marathon course is known for its extremely flat and fast profile and the course put together for the World Championships in Berlin was as flat and nearly as fast. The 10K loop course that was created included a number of sharp turns which runners expected would slow the field somewhat, but the flatness of the terrain was sure to favor the men with the outright fastest legs. Spoiler alert.... And at the end of the race, it turned out that the four top finishers were the four men on the starting line who had run the fastest marathons earlier in 2009 and had four of the five fastest personal bests.
The Race - The Start
The marathon began at an honest but not impossible pace, passing the 5K mark in 15:09 (equivalent of a 2:07:52 finish) and 40 men remained in the pack at that pace. The next 5K was run in 14:59 with Deribe Merga pushing the pace. The total time to that point, 30:08 equates to a 2:07:08 finish - a time that had been previously run by only 8 men in the field, yet 32 men were still in the pack - and the day was warm.
Through 20K And the Casualties
20K was reached in 59:42. The third 5K (in 14:49) and the fourth 5K (in 14:45) were the fastest of the race and the time at 20K of 59:42 was the equivalent of a 2:05:57 full marathon. Abel Kirui, the fastest man in the field was setting the pace and forcing his race with Emmanuel Mutai (KEN), Tsegay Kebede (ETH), Dieudonne Disi (RWA - running with a hand-written bib and not represented on the official starter list - we suspect that Disi who has been a pacemaker for the London Marthon was planted as such for the World Championships Marathon), Deribe Merga (ETH), Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot (KEN), Marilson Dos Santos (BRA) and Deressa Chimsa (ETH) remained with Kirui. But of that group, only Kirui and Kebede had ever run sub 2:06 and only one other, Mutai, had run sub 2:07. Kirui was running his race and knew that through attrition he would arrive victorious. Some had already succumbed by 20K - Abderrahim Goumri was nearly done and would soon drop out. The Eritrean squad: Yared Asmeron and Yonas Kifle had dropped out. Marilson Dos Santos was struggling would later drop out. Benjamin Kiptoo was seriously fading and would leave the course soon...
Two Who Ran Their Own Race
Two others who were among the fastest in the field did not fall for Kirui's ploy and held back - as the race would progress, their wisdom in not staying with the lead group would become apparent. Yemane Adhane with a best of 2:06:30 was sitting in 12th place, 31 seconds back. And Atsushi Sato with a 2:07:13 best was in 14th place, 48 seconds back of the leader.
The Second Half
Over the next 5K to 25K (in a slightly more reasonable 14:56 to 1:14:38), the brutal pace - plus the heat of the day - had taken its toll and the lead pack was down to five runners: Kirui, Merga, Mutai, Cheruiyot and Disi. Tsegay Kebede was just a few seconds back, but was off the pace for the win.
By 30K (15:07), the pace was beginning to slow as the heat was taking its pace and the pack was thinning. Disi would drop out of the race and soon thereafter Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot would fall off the pace (to be later passed by Kebede). Kirui, Mutai and Merga were the three in the lead even as the pace slowed and the trio reached 35K in 1:44:56 (15:13 for that 5K).
Kirui Alone to the Finish
Kirui maintained the same pace to the end of the race, but no one could stay with him at this point in the race. Deribe Merga slowed and soon after being passed by Tsegay Kebede, Merga dropped out. Etched in our minds (and certainly in Merga's) was the scene at the 2008 Olympics when Merga - with a virtual lock on the bronze medal - hit the wall and slowed to a virtual crawl in the final few hundred meters to be overtaken by Kebede. Merga, having run a brave and ferocious marathon for a top three finish could not reach the final few kilomters to still finish top ten and instead dropped out.
At the finish, Abel Kirui - taking advantage of his superior speed - finished alone in 2:06:54, a championships record and deserving of the title "World Champion." Emmanuel Mutai, the fourth fastest man in the field held on for second place in 2:07:48. Tsegay Kebede, the man with the second fastest personal best, finished in third place in 2:08:35 in a reprise of his third place finish at the Olympics. Yemane Adhane - the man with the fifth fastest time in the field and running most of the race alone crossed the finish line in fourth place in 2:08:42. Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot ran one of the bravest races - despite a personal best of 2:07:14, Cheruiyot stayed with the lead pack at a pace that was faster than anything he had ever run in a marathon and still held on to finish in fifth place in 2:10:46. Atsushi Sato, running his own race, finished in sixth place in 2:12:05 - and in perfect Japanese tradition turned and bowed to the course after finishing to show his respect.
Kenya and Ethiopia...
The results demonstrated the domination of the Kenyan and Ethiopian marathoners - the top five runners (and best DNF, Merga) were from one of those two countries. The results also showcased the next generation of runners as the top average age of the top four finishers was just 24 years old.
1. Abel Kirui KEN 2:06:54
2. Emmanuel Kipchirchir Mutai KEN 2:07:48
3. Tsegay Kebede ETH 2:08:35
4. Yemane Tsegay ETH 2:08:42
5. Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot KEN 2:10:46
6. Atsushi Sato JPN 2:12:05
7. Adil Ennani MAR 2:12:12
8. José Manuel Martínez ESP 2:14:04
9. José Moreira POR 2:14:05
10. Luís Feiteira POR 2:14:06
24. Daniel Browne USA 2:16:49
36. Matt Gabrielson USA 2:18:41
63. Nate Jenkins USA 2:32:16
Click for More and Larger Photos|
Kifle, Asmerom, Cheruiyot, dos Santos, Chimsa and Merga moments before race start
Kisri, Adhane, Goumri, Kebede and Kirui waiting for the start of the marathon
Merga, Sato and Kirui run to the front at the start of the marathon
Kirui leads the pack consisting of Disi, Mutai, Merga, Kebede, Kipkoech Cheruiyot, dos Santos and Chimsa as they head into 30K
Another angle of the lead pack before they pass under the famed Brandenberg Gate which is the 20K split
Olympian Browne from the USA runs strong finishing top American
Spectators cheer on the marathoners as they pass the stands four times on the criterium course
Abel Kirui running alone at 38K in the marathon.