News25 Sep 2011

Makau stuns with 2:03:38 marathon world record in Berlin


The numbers say it all! 2:03:38 World record by Patrick Makau in Berlin (© Getty Images)

Berlin, Germany - The 38th BMW Berlin Marathon lived up to all expectations, with the seventh World record in 13 years, this time for defending champion Patrick Makau of Kenya, who first broke Haile Gebreselassie, then took the Ethiopian legend’s World record from him, with 2:03:38*.

Such was the damage done behind him when Makau streaked away after 27 kilometres, that one of the pacemakers, also a Kenyan, Stephen Chemlany hung in and finished second, in 2:07:55; with another Kenyan, Edwin Kimaiyo third in 2:09:50 at this IAAF Gold Label Road Race.

Gebrselassie, who stopped in discomfort when Makau surged away, recommenced and briefly reclaimed second place, but eventually dropped out at the 35 kilometre point.

There was another Kenyan success in the women’s race. Florence Kiplagat, the 2009 World Cross Country champion, who had dropped out of her only previous Marathon, in Boston in April, was never headed.  

World record holder, Paul Radcliffe, returning from childbirth and a barren two years competitively, stayed with Kiplagat for 12 kilometres, before gradually dropping away. Kiplagat won by almost as big a margin as Makau, with her 2:19:44. Radliffe was passed by the steady starting local hero, Irina Mikitenko at 33 kilometers, and the German went on the take second, in 2:22:18, with Radcliffe a creditable third in 2:23:46.

Makau makes the break in 27th kilometre - Men's race

The men’s race was forecast to be a duel between the elder statesman Gebrselassie, aged 38, and the young pretender, 26 year old Makau; so it turned out, briefly, but not before an intriguing prelude to halfway and beyond, when the pair were led by half a dozen (Kenyan) pacemakers, and accompanied by Kimaiyo, John Kyui and Emmanuel Samal, also all Kenyan.

Setting out with the intention to pass halfway in 62 minutes, the group prepared the path for Makau’s eventual double triumph by going through the ‘half’ in 61:44. Gebrselassie was always at the head of the group in the lee of the pacers throughout this early stage. He only began to concede the ‘lead’ between 24 and 25 kilometres, and that proved to be a sign of things to come.

At 26 kilometres, Makau decided he’d had enough of the procession. His initial acceleration dropped his trio of colleagues- Kyui, Kimaiyo and Samal – and then he got to work on Gebrselassie. Makau spurted past the pacemakers, and began weaving across to the road, in an obvious attempt to unsettle the Ethiopian master.

It worked almost immediately. Barely 200 metres later, Gebrselassie dropped back, veered to the right side of the road, and stopped. He was joined by race director, Mark Milde, following on his customary bicycle. While Makau continued his relentless assault on Gebrselassie’s record, the man himself was bent double, shaking his hand to indicate breathing difficulties. However, within a minute, he straightened up, and began pursuit.

Makau was gone, but the Ethiopian successfully passed Kimaiyo, and went back into second place. But he was running on borrowed time. Though still second at 35 kilometers, he dropped out shortly afterwards.

The measure of how difficult it would have been to combat Makau is that the Kenyan ran his second half in 61:54, that’s to say, just ten seconds slower than the group had run the first half.

It was an extraordinary demonstration of his strength and talent. Added to which, he finished with a flourish. Heading towards the parallel women’s finish, he had to jump a temporary kerb, separating it from the men’s finish, before he grabbed the finish tape in exultation, having shattered Gebrselassie’s previous world record of 2:03:59, set here in 2008, by 21 seconds.

Of the moves which disposed so successfully of Gebrselassie, he said afterwards, “It is one of my tactics. I did some zig-zags, to confuse him. I had a lot of energy, and wanted to tire him. He was trying to use me, to maintain the pace, and I wanted to run alone, either behind him or to the side, so I did a zig-zag to one side and he followed, I did it to the other side, and the next time, I couldn’t see him."

“This (World record) is very special for the Kenyans, especially beating the Ethiopians. Everyone in Kenya will be happy for me. My manager is getting a lot of calls from Kenya, and I hear there were lots of people watching TV in bars, and breaking bottles when they saw the World record.”

Temperatures rose from a perfect 10C at the start to around 16C by the men’s finish, but Makau indicated that the bright sunlight in his face made it seem hotter, and said he thought he (and others) could go even faster.

“I only had a pacemaker until 32k, so I had to do the last 10k alone. I think if someone was with me, I can run faster, but I think someone else can run faster also."

“But I knew at 32k that I could win and break the world record, even though I had to do the last part by myself. Today was my day.”

There was no gainsaying that, nor that this should make him an early choice for the Kenyan squad for London 2012. It also helped put another nail in Ethiopian aspirations to distance running domination.

At Friday’s press conference, Gebrselassie had talked about the relative demise of his compatriots at the recent World championships, in contrast to the Kenyan successes. “We are going to have to work harder,” said Gebrselassie. Well, that task is even more demanding now, following this Kenyan double-header, with the added zest of Makau’s World record.

Kiplagat: 'I'm a marathoner now' - Women's race

For a first-time Marathon finish, Kiplagat’s performance was equally laudable. The way she headed the field from the start contradicted her assertion at the post-race press conference that she had only hoped, “of finishing, and not winning”.

By the time Radcliffe relented at 12 kilometers, admitting afterwards that she had started too fast in an attempt to match the 24-year-old Kenyan, it was only a matter of Kiplagat’s margin of victory. It turned out to be over two and a half minutes.

A decade and more older than the Kenyan, Mikitenko and Radcliffe both opined that Kiplagat needed to prove herself in other marathons before she could consider herself a marathoner. They might have been hoping that she returns to the track and Cross Country, where she has enjoyed much success.

But that’s not going to happen. Kiplagat said, “I have some problems wearing spikes (spiked running shoes), so I won’t be running on the track or doing cross country anymore. I’m a marathoner now.” And the latest addition to the elite sub-2.20 club.

Mikitenko had plenty of reason to be overjoyed. She has had her share of injury problems in the last 24 months, since her second successive London Marathon victory. She had said she wanted to run 2:22 here, and set out accordingly calmly, letting Kiplagat and Radcliffe go. Her plan worked perfectly: she reeled Radcliffe in at around 34 kilometers, and finished in 2:22:18.

“I’m really happy,” she said at the press conference. “After all the months of hard training, everything worked as well as I hoped. I can now look forward to London 2012.”

Radcliffe was more circumspect. “I’m not particularly happy, either with my time or my place. I came here wanting to win; I didn’t really have a time in mind, although I thought I was in 2:22 shape. I probably went out too fast, and I had a bad patch  between 37 and 38k."

“I could see the Ethiopian (Habtamu, who finished fourth) coming back to me, and people were telling the gap was getting closer, ‘ten seconds, eight seconds, etc,’ . So I’m not particularly happy, but there are a lot of positives to take out of it. The foot I had operated on two and half years ago gave me no problems at all today.  I need to race more, get back into racing mode.”

Manager on Gebrselassie: 'It may be end of an era, but not end of his career'

So, for time being, Radcliffe avoids the Wagnerian ultimatum, Twilight of the Idols, but what of Gebrselassie, after the second drop-out in his last two marathons?

Uncharacteristically, he declined to attend the press conference, to explain his forfeit, but his manager Jos Hermens said that, while it may be, “the end of an era, of record breaking for Haile, it’s not the end of his career".

“He had a breathing problem, like he had in London (in the past)," Hermens said. "It’s exercise-induced asthma. He has a ‘puffer’, but he hasn’t used it in ages, and he didn’t use it this morning. He’s back in the hotel now and he’s fine."

“He needs to find a fast course now, to do 2:04, 2:05, and qualify for London (Olympics). We originally planned to run a fast time here, then go to Tokyo (Jan/Feb), but Tokyo is not a fast course. He might have to run Dubai (third week in January)."

“He can still run 2:05, but maybe by then, others will be running 2:02. He’s has a great career, 20 years at the top, but age is eventually going to catch up. But it’s his dream to run in a fifth Olympics.”

And if this is the endgame for Gebrselassie, Radcliffe, still the women’s World record was on hand to provide an epitaph.

“Whatever happens,” said Radcliffe, “he’s the greatest male distance runner in history, taking track, cross country and road into consideration. And with the Olympics as well."

“I don’t know how he does it. When you hear he employs 630 people, and has all that administration, as well as training. In contrast, I get up and get two kids off to school. It’s amazing what he’s done; I hope he doesn’t retire, but at some point you have to say, my body’s had enough.”

Leading Results:


1. Patrick Makau, KEN             2:03:38 WR*

2. Stephen Kwelio Chemlany, KEN  2:07:55

3. Emannuel Kimaiyo, KEN         2:09:50

4. Felix Limo, KEN                 2:10:38

5. Scott Overall, GBR             2:10:55

6. Ricardo Serrano, ESP           2:13:32

7. Pedro Nimo, ESP               2:13:34

8. Simon Munyutu, KEN             2:14:20

9. Driss El Himer, FRA             2:14:46

10. Hendrick Ramaala, RSA         2:16:00


1. Florence Kiplagat, KEN  2:19:44

2. Irina Mikitenko, GER     2:22:18

3. Paula Radcliffe, GBR     2:23:46

4. Atsede Habtamu, ETH       2:24:25

5. Tatyana Petrova, RUS     2:25:01

6. Anna Incerti, ITA       2:25:32

7. Rosaria Console, ITA     2:26:10

8. Valeria Straneo, ITA     2:26:33

9. Eri Okubo, JPN           2:28:49

10. Miranda Boonstra, NED   2:29:23

* pending the usual ratification procedures

Pat Butcher (organisers) for the IAAF