It was Kipchoge-Assefa Mark 2 at the BMW BERLIN-MARATHON: a year ago Eliud Kipchoge led the way with 2:01:09 for the world record and Tigst Assefa won in what was then the third fastest performance in history of 2:15:37. On Sunday the outcome was reversed beside the Brandenburg Gate. The Ethiopian triumphed in world record style with 2:11:53 and the Kenyan achieved the eighth fastest time ever of 2:02:42. Their combined winning times gave Berlin the fastest ever aggregate in a marathon for two champions for the second year in succession. Last year it was 4:16:46, this this year even faster with 4:14:35.
Tigst Assefa’s path to the marathon world record was unusual, to say the least. Having begun as an 800m runner, achieving a best of 1:59.24, this was admittedly quick but not quick enough to register a genuine challenge at international championships. In 2018 Assefa switched from the track to the road.
After the Covid Lockdown she made her marathon debut in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia where she finished seventh in 2:34. “That time did not reveal my real level. Before the race I had an injury which hampered me but I didn’t want to pull out. It was about gaining experience in the marathon. It was a lesson for me, I knew I had to train more,” explained Tigst Assefa. She is based in Addis Abeba among the training group led by Gemedu Dedefo. Other members include the 2021 World Champion Tamirat Tola, Guye Adola, the Berlin men’s champion two years ago, and Amane Beriso, whose Ethiopian record Assefa broke on Sunday.
Berlin last year marked Tigst Assefa’s breakthrough but here on Sunday she broke the world record and what a world record. “I hope that my performance will be motivation for young women athletes in Ethiopia and that the world record one year before the Olympic Games gives our country a boost for Paris. I think this should be enough to ensure I am selected for the Games,” added Assefa.
At the end of the press conference Tigst Assefa did something unprecedented in the history of the race for the second time that day. Never before had an Ethiopian woman champion asked to be allowed to make a statement. In emotional tones, Tigst Assefa explained through an interpreter: “I dedicate my medal to Christoph Kopp.” The well-known and influential German manager died at the end of April at the age of 75. “Without Christoph I might not have been here. He helped me develop and motivated me, even though I wasn’t one of his athletes. He was like that with other athletes as well, always providing lots of motivation, was on the lookout for talent and supporting them. He said to me, I should try the marathon. Christoph is the father of my success.” Tigst Assefa not only ran a fantastic world record but also showed her generous personality with this statement.
The subject of the world record in the women’s marathon also came up in conversation with Eliud Kipchoge as he reflected on winning a record fifth Berlin men’s title but missing out on emulating his own world record of a year ago. “I always say, no human is limited, that’s why women are not limited at all and why 2:11 is now the world record. Assefa has shown the way and I trust the rest of the women will change their mentality in thinking 2:11 is fast. They can train hard and break the world record.”
More than once in recent comments, Kipchoge has emphasized how he believes marathon racing as well as preparation for the event is a team effort. After his victory on Sunday, he reflected on how in his first BMW BERLIN-MARATHON victory in 2015, it felt much more like an individual success but now his philosophy and that of the NN Running Team is collective; “It’s really teamwork. When I began, it was about the individual, now it’s teamwork. I’m managed by the team, I’m inside it and that’s the way the world is going, team events.” Interesting also were his thoughts about handling pressure. He accepts that his achievements make him the focus of media attention but this approach of teamwork appears to ease the burden brought by the spotlight: “The pressure is actually shared by all of us. We share pressure, I have pressure on my shoulders but we share it, we are a team and we speak with one language, we see things with two eyes and hear with two ears and move on.”
Some 60 years ago, Bob Dylan sang about “The Times They are A-Changing.” Witnessing Tigst Assefa’s astounding world record and hearing Eliud Kipchoge speak of how the marathon is moving towards a team event, those lyrics of social commentary apply to this foot race as well.
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