BERLIN (22-Aug) -- Kenyan Abel Kirui won a classic race of attrition here today, winning the marathon world title and smashing the IAAF World Championships marathon record in the process.
Kirui, 27, clocked 2:06:54 on the flat, four-loop course which started and finished at the Brandenburg Gate in the heart of Berlin, the first major championships marathon not to use the stadium either for the start of the finish. His time was more than a minute and one-half faster than Moroccan Jaouad Gharib's who set the championships record of 2:08:31 in Paris in 2009.
"Berlin is my city," Kirui told reporters after the race. "I love Berlin and I enjoy running here."
Kirui came into this race with the fastest time in the field, 2:05:04, a mark he set in Rotterdam last April where he finished third. He was part of the race's lead group of eight which broke away from the field of 97 starters just past the 15 km mark when 2009 Boston Marathon champion Deriba Merga of Ethiopia surged past a fluid station. The pack included four-time Boston Marathon champion Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, two-time ING New York City Marathon champion Marilson Gomes dos Santos, Olympic bronze medalist Tsegay Kebede, and this year's Flora London Marathon fourth-placer Emmanuel Mutai.
The pack held together through halfway in 1:03:03, well below the championships record pace. Gomes dos Santos was the first to fall off the pace, then Rwandan Dieudonné Disi stopped at 27.5 km (he restarted briefly, but then quit for good). The pace stayed high and both Kebede and Cheruiyot fell back after 30 km.
At a drink station at 32 km, Kirui pushed gently, taking Mutai with him, but Merga couldn't respond. Merga began looking behind him and saw that Kebede, the man who passed him for the bronze medal in the Beijing Olympics, was closing the gap.
Looking extremely smooth, Kirui continued to power along to the finish. But Mutai had some stomach problems and vomited twice. He was now just looking to finish.
"The race was not easy," Mutai said after the race. "We agreed to work as a team and did all we could to push the pace and get the title."
Kirui passed through Brandenburg Gate for the final time and, as the large crowd cheered, broke the tape giving Kenya their second straight world marathon title.
"The spectators, especially those around the Brandenburg Gate, were doing a great job," said Kirui. "The gave me a lot of energy. They were really pushing me. When I was crossing the finish line, I did not believe what was happening to me."
Mutai held on for the silver in 2:07:48, also well under the championships record. Behind him, Kebede had overtaken Merga for third place and, for the second straight big international championship, won the bronze medal.
"I am very happy to finish third," Kebede said.
Merga dropped out past 37 km with some pain in his chest area, his manager Hussein Makke said. His teammate, Adhane Yamane, finished fourth and Cheruiyot finished fifth.
For the Americans it was a tough day. The best finisher was Dan Browne of San Diego, Calif., who came home 24th in 2:16:49.
"The race started out great," said Browne, a 2004 Olympian in the marathon. "It was an amazing field, and ran competitively in the first half, and came through the half-marathon at 1:06. I went through a bad patch of 10-k shortly afterwards, but I finished strong. I feel reasonably pleased. My placing was right in line with what I was expecting to do."
Kenya won the marathon World Cup based on the lowest accumulated team time of the top-3 finishers. Ethiopia got second and Japan, third. Japan has yet to win a medal in any event in these championships.