BERLIN (REUTERS, AFP) - Ethiopian Guye Adola survived a midway comeback from race favourite Kenenisa Bekele and a late surge from Kenyan Bethwel Yegon to power to victory in the Berlin Marathon on Sunday (Sept 26).
Yegon finished in second place ahead of Bekele, who was competing for the first time in 18 months and struggled with a Covid-19 infection nine months ago, in third.
In an Ethiopian treble, Gotytom Gebreslase won the women's race in her debut marathon in 2hr 20min 9sec, leaving Hiwot Gebrekidan in second place and Helen Tola in third.
There was no world record this time at the flat inner-city course but there was enough suspense and excitement before Adola crossed the finish line in an official time of 2:05:45 for the biggest win of his career.
Adola, who was second in Berlin in 2017, was made to work very hard from the start as part of the leading group of runners who set off at a dizzying pace with Bekele, a multiple Olympic and world champion over 5,000m and 10,000m, in the lead.
The Ethiopian, along with countrymen Adola and Tefsaye Lencho, was three seconds quicker than the world's best mark set after the opening 7km on a sun-drenched and warm autumn day.
The 39-year-old Bekele, who was two seconds off the world record in 2019 in Berlin for the second fastest-ever marathon run, was still on world-record pace after 15km before dropping some 100m behind.
While Bekele refused to continue at that pace, Adola stayed with the group of four runners that included Kenyans Abraham Kipyatich and Philemon Kacheran.
The high speed and warm temperatures gradually took their toll as the pace dropped considerably, and Bekele managed to claw his way back into the leaders' group.
One by one, Adola's rivals then started to peel off, leaving the 30-year-old in charge and Bekele in second.
After 35km, Bekele could no longer keep up but Adola still had to survive a late surge from outsider Yegon with 4km left as the Kenyan tried to surprise him with a strong finish.
But Adola pulled away to cruise to victory, leaving Yegon in second place and Bekele, who had contracted Covid-19 nine months ago and had not run competitively in 18 months, in third.
After the race, Bekele said he plans not only to break the men's marathon world record, but also to emulate Eliud Kipchoge by covering the distance in under two hours.
"My plan is not only to break the world record before I retire. Everybody is talking about sub-two hours, so why not?," said Bekele, 39.
"One day I will try this, I know it's hard work. I feel confident, so let's do it and see."
Kenya's Kipchoge, 36, won the men's marathon Olympic title in Tokyo having made history by dipping under the mythical two-hour mark when he ran 1:59:40 in a Vienna experiment run in non-competitive conditions two years ago.
That time is never likely to be ratified but Kipchoge also already holds the official world record having clocked 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon.
Bekele was two seconds short of Kipchoge's time when he won in Berlin two years ago and plans to perfect his preparations.
"I need some time to prepare, to be honest, I never take a long preparation for the marathon," said Bekele, a two-time former winner of the Berlin Marathon.
"Even two years ago, I prepared for three months. It's not enough, I have to train for longer.
"If everything goes well, I want to do better things in the future, so I am really confident in my capacity.
"I know my problems, like short preparation because of injury. I want to take more time and see."