Ethiopian great Kenenisa Bekele returned to form in stunning fashion yesterday when he narrowly missed the world record in winning the Berlin men's marathon.
The 37-year-old ran 2 hours, 1 minute and 41 seconds, just two seconds outside the record set by Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge in the German capital last year. Birhanu Legese was second in 2:02:48, becoming the third fastest marathon runner ever. Fellow Ethiopian Sisay Lemma was third.
There was more success for marathon powerhouse Ethiopia in the women's race with Ashete Bekere triumphing in 2:20:14 after a thrilling finish with compatriot Mare Dibaba. Kenya's Sally Chepyego was third.
Kenyan favorite Gladys Cherono dropped out after 32 kilometers looking unwell. The defending champion had been seeking a record fourth victory in the race. Britain's Paula Radcliffe holds the women's best of 2:15:25 from London in 2003.Bekele announced a surprise entry to the race just this month. The multiple Olympic, world track and cross country champion is widely recognized as one of the greatest runners ever, but he has struggled with injury and form in recent years. He was roared on by fans as he passed through the Brandenburg Gate with a real chance of the record but just could not reach the tape in time as tiredness struck.
"I'm very sorry. I'm not lucky. But I'm very happy running my personal best. I know my potential. I can do this. I don't give up. It encourages me for the future," he told Germany's ARD television.
Bekele was involved in an enthralling battle with compatriot Legese before his late burst away. The 2016 winner said the world record would have been possible if he was fully fit. "I feel a little bit hamstring pain, that's why I was behind," he said.
"Of course I came back from injury, I had an operation two or three months ago."
Kipchoge, who set the men's world record of 2:01:39 when he won for the third time in Berlin in 2018, was absent with the Kenyan preparing for another crack at breaking the two-hour barrier in an unofficial sponsor's event in Vienna next month.
Berlin was missing other top names this year because it took place in the middle of the athletics world championships in Doha. The women's race in sweltering Qatar had a midnight Friday start and was won by Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich. The men's Doha race is next Saturday.
In contrast to Doha, conditions in Berlin were mild and almost chilly, with a smattering of rain in the air – perfect conditions for marathon running and Bekele almost took full advantage on the undisputed fastest course in the world.