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Bekele to attempt marathon world record after COVID scare

By AFP - Sep 25,2021 - Last updated at Sep 25,2021

BERLIN — Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele has vowed to attack the men’s world marathon record in Berlin on Sunday, just nine months after recovering from COVID-19.

The 39-year-old Ethiopian came within just two seconds of Eliud Kipchoge’s current men’s world record of two hours, one minute and 39 seconds when he won the 2019 Berlin Marathon, the last time the race was held in Germany’s capital due to the pandemic.

“I had COVID nine months ago, it took about a month to get over it, but I am fine now,” Bekele told AFP on Friday.

“When I come to Berlin, I am trying for a personal best and the world record.”

Bekele is one of the greatest distance runners of all time, having won world and Olympic gold medals over both 5,000 metres and 10,000m.

Despite catching the coronavirus at the start of the year, Bekele says he is now in peak condition and ready to attack his 2019 personal best marathon time of 2:01:41, as well as the world record, on Sunday.

After the pandemic decimated the 2020 marathon calendar, Bekele is ready to test himself over 42.195 kilometres in Berlin. 

“I am very happy to come here again after COVID. It has been a really tough time for me,” Bekele said.

“I have prepared well, even though it’s been difficult after two years without races.”

In the absence of Kenya’s Kipchoge, who won the Olympic title in Japan in August, Bekele leads a strong field as he attempts to win the Berlin title for the third time after his 2016 and 2019 triumphs.

The Ethiopian confessed that two years ago he was unaware how close he was to the world record pace in Berlin until he saw his time in the final stages. 

“I wasn’t sure two years ago [of my time] and I just came to try to beat my personal best,” he said.

“I have a bit of a feel for the world record pace, I am full of confidence.”

Sunday’s race is the first of the world’s six major marathons to take place with a mass start since the pandemic.

Bekele also intends to run the New York Marathon on November 7, just six weeks after Berlin. The predominantly flat and fast course in the German capital has produced men’s and women’s world marathon records 11 times.

“I am registered for New York as well, both races have a different strategy and are different courses,” said Bekele.

“There has been no races for me for two years because of COVID, so I wanted to take this chance to race again within six weeks.”

Mark Milde, the race director of the Berlin Marathon, says the priority is on safety — rather than world records — for this Sunday’s race to ensure the expected field of 25,000 elite athletes and hobby runners make it to the finish line free of COVID-19.

“The focus remains on the sport, we have someone who will start who can run fast, in Kenenisa Bekele, but our main concern is delivering a safe marathon and we believe we are very well prepared,” Milde tells AFP.

The 48-year-old has been the Berlin Marathon’s race director since 2004, when he inherited the role form his father, having first helped out as a child. 

“The event is in our DNA,” Milde says.

The former long-distance runner admits this year’s race — the 47th Berlin Marathon — was “probably the most complicated to organise in more than 20 years since I have been doing this job”.

Milde and his team had to come up with a hygiene concept to meet the approval of city officials and ensure the safety of the 25,000-strong field.

 

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