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Posted: September 26, 2021:  

(RRW) Athletics: Ethiopians Adola, Gebreslase Win BMW Berlin Marathon

From David Monti, @d9monti
© 2021 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved.

(26-Sep) -- Like a sparkler on the Fourth of July, the pace at today's BMW Berlin Marathon started white-hot but ultimately fizzled. The men's race, where expectations were high for a potential world record by Kenenisa Bekele, instead saw another Ethiopian, Guye Adola, get the win in 2:05:45, the slowest winning time in Berlin since 2009. The women's champion was another Ethiopian, Gotytom Gebreslase, who ran a strong debut in 2:20:09, although she was on pace to run sub-2:19 at the halfway mark. Athletes had to contend with too-warm conditions, about 20C/68F with 80% humidity.

PHOTO: Guye Adola wins the 2021 BMW Berlin Marathon (photo by Sebastian Wells for SCC Events)

Bekele, 39, was Berlin's headline act. He had run 2:01:41 at this race two years ago, and the event was set-up for him to challenge Eliud Kipchoge's World Athletics record of 2:01:39 set on the same course in 2018. Behind three pacemakers --Cybrian Kotut and Alexander Mutiso of Kenya and Stephen Kissa of Uganda-- the leaders bolted through 5-K in 14:22 and 10-K in 28:47, on pace for a 2:01:27 finish time. Five contenders were in the lead pack: Bekele, Adola, Kenyans Abraham Kipyatich and Philemon Kacheran, and Ethiopian Olika Adugna.

The torrid pace continued through 15-K (43:12), but soon the trouble started for Bekele. Looking repeatedly at his watch, he dropped back in the 18th kilometer while his back bib --which had broken free from one of the safety pins-- flopped behind him. Bekele was 11 seconds back at 20-K and 12 seconds behind at the half-marathon point where the leaders were timed in a sizzling 1:00:48. During his world record run, Kipchoge hit halfway 18 seconds slower in 1:01:06 Among the original leaders, only Adugna had dropped back.

Mutiso was the last pacemaker left, and he had gotten so far ahead of the contenders by the 24-K mark, he had to slow down to a jog and wait for them to catch up before leading the group again. The 20 to 25-K segment was covered in 15:04, and the projected finish time increased to 2:02:41. There would be no world record today.

But the lapse in pace provided Bekele with an opportunity. By 25-K he closed the gap to just five seconds, and in the 27th kilometer he took the lead again. It was a three-man race at that point with Adola, Bekele and Kacheran all still in contention.

The pace continued to slow. From 30 to 35-K, Adola only ran 15:21, but that was fast enough to put a three-second gap on Bekele and a 16-second gap on Kacheran. Another Kenyan, Bethwel Yegon, had moved up from sixth place at halfway (he had been 86 seconds back) and was now just a step behind Kacheran. Yegon was full of running, and by 38-K he had not only passed Kacheran and Bekele but had caught Adola! Adola, who had made his marathon debut in Berlin in 2017 in 2:03:46 wearing old-style racing flats, had seen enough and decided to take control of the race. He eased away from Yegon, cruised through the Brandenburg Gate alone, and won by 29 seconds, 2:05:45 to Yegon's 2:06:14. Bekele had to settle for third in 2:06:47. Kacheran slipped to sixth in 2:09:29.

"The big problem for me was the lack of training because of the pandemic," Bekele said. "I just couldn't do as well as I hoped. That does not mean my career is over."

Adola felt confident about his chances today, but he didn't expect it to be so warm.

"I thought before the race that I could beat Kenenisa," Adola said. "It was so hot, my feet were burning in my shoes."

The women's race went from a four-athlete battle at halfway (1:09:19) between Ethiopians Gebreslase, Hiwot Gebrekidan, and Helen Tola, and Kenyan Fancy Chemutai, to a two-athlete contest by 30-K (1:38:26). Only Gebreslase and Gebrekidan remained in contention.

PHOTO: Gotytom Gebreslase wins the 2021 BMW Berlin Marathon (photo by Sebastian Wells for SCC Events)

By 35-K, Gebreslase had a 13-second lead on Gebrekidan which grew to 31 seconds by 40-K. In her debut run at the distance, Gebreslase shot several glances behind her in the final kilometers, but she was in no danger of losing. She broke the tape in 2:20:09, more than a minute up on Gebrekidan (2:21:23). She punched the air as she broke the tape, then fell to her knees to give thanks. Tola made it an Ethiopian sweep, taking third in 2:23:05.

Both winners earned 20,000 euros in prize money, half of what the race winners received in 2019. No athletes made the minimum times for time bonuses (sub-2:03:30 for men and sub-2:19:00 for women).

The top domestic finishers were Philipp Pflieger in 16th place (2:15:01) and Rabea Schöneborn in ninth place (2:28:49). American Shalane Flanagan, 40, who plans to run all five Abbott World Marathon Majors this fall, finished 17th in 2:38:32.

"Felt good!" Flanagan told Race Results Weekly in a text message. "Fast course and good conditions!"

Today's race, which was not held in 2020 due to the pandemic, featured 24,796 entrants.

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