NOTE: This story was written remotely --Ed.
(23-Sep) -- For Sunday's BMW Berlin Marathon, double Olympic Marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge has nothing to prove. He's already the world record holder, and in his four previous runs in Berlin he's won three times and finished second once. He's the only human to have run a sub-two hour marathon (in an exhibition event, it should be noted), and his place in history as one of the greatest male marathoners is already assured. Indeed, he may be the greatest ever.
PHOTO: Some of the top men who will be racing the 2022 BMW Berlin Marathon (left to right): Guye Adola (ETH), Eliud Kipchoge (KEN), Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (ERI) and Johannes Motschmann (GER). Photo by Petko Beier for SCC EVENTS; used with permission
Nonetheless, Kipchoge remains obsessed with honing his craft to an even higher degree. Being great doesn't mean that he can't be better, and for Sunday's event he's focused on executing his best possible race regardless of the result. He did his preparations at his usual training camp in Kaptagat under coach Patrick Sang, the 1992 Olympic steeplechase silver medalist, and today showed his usual quiet intensity.
"I'd like to thank the organizers for letting me race again in Berlin after four years and expect a very good race," said Kipchoge who set the ratified World Athletics record of 2:01:39 when he last raced in Berlin in 2018. "I've trained well as usual; every training day is a challenge."
But the words "world record" were not spoken by Kipchoge today. Instead, when asked what a "good race" would mean for him on Sunday, he deflected.
"A very good race is a good race," he said. "I want to inspire people and if a course record comes out of this at the end, I will appreciate it."
Naturally, a course record would be a world record, something that has happened eight times at Berlin on the men's side from when Brazil's Ronaldo da Costa ran 2:06:05 in 1998.
Lost in today's conversation was the fact that the Berlin organizers, led by longtime race director Mark Milde, have assembled a deeper-than-normal field with 18 men boasting personal best times under 2:08. Kipchoge's key rival looks to be Ethiopia's Guye Adola, who ran 2:03:46 in his very first marathon in Berlin in 2017. Kipchoge won that year, but only by 14 seconds over Adola who was only 26 at the time. Adola's fastest time since then was 2:04:42 (Valencia, 2019).
"I have prepared well and look forward to the race," Adola said today, calling Kipchoge a "hero."
Also in the field is the 26 year-old Eritrean Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, the surprise 2015 World Athletics Marathon champion. He has had some tough years, dropping out of both the London and Fukuoka Marathons in 2018, for instance, but showed a good return to form last February when he ran 2:05:34 in Sevilla. He's never competed in Berlin before.
"It's a big challenge to run in such a field and against Eliud Kipchoge," Ghebreslassie said today. "I'll do my best and my aim is a place on the podium."
Under the prize money scheme in force this year, the men's winner will receive EUR 30,000 regardless of his finish time. Should he break 2:02:30, he'll be eligible for another EUR 30,000 time bonus, and breaking the world record is worth an additional EUR 50,000. For Kipchoge, he surely has world record incentives in his personal endorsement contracts with Nike and the NN Running Team, his principal sponsors. As is customary for a top marathoner, he also received an appearance fee from the Berlin organizers and was likely offered personal bonuses. In total, setting a new world record on Sunday would surely be worth more than EUR 500,000 to the 37 year-old Kenyan (perhaps even double that), but only a handful of people would know the true number which will never be disclosed publicly.
Organizers said that 45,527 runners from 157 nations had registered for the event which was founded in 1974. It has been held every year since then, except for 2020 when it was cancelled due to the pandemic. The 2021 edition had a total of 23,097 finishers.