Evolution of world marathon record shows Kipchoge is the best of them all

Eliud Kipchoge

Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge reacts after winning the Berlin Marathon race on September 25, 2022 in Berlin. Kipchoge has beaten his own world record by 29 seconds, running 2:01:10 at the Berlin Marathon.
 

Photo credit: Tobias Schwarz | AFP

What you need to know:

  • On Sunday, Kipchoge obliterated his own world record by 30 seconds in winning his fourth Berlin Marathon title in 2:01:09.
  • Kipchoge’s nearest competitor, Mark Korir, finished in 2:05:58, nearly five minutes later.
  • Kipchoge takes the trophy for his dominant displays, self-motivation, and humility.

Watching Eliud Kipchoge’s record-breaking run on Sunday, I am convinced that the two-time Olympics marathon champion will still push the limits in the sport and deliver something beyond imagination.

Although data on the world record in men’s marathon exists from as far back as 1908, the times registered were not recognised as records for reasons ranging from a disputed course (a point-to-point course, a shorter one, or one longer than 42 kilometres), to the fact that some athletes got assistance from race officials.

When Abebe Bikila, Ethiopia’s first Olympic gold medallist in the marathon, won men’s 42km contest at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, his time of two hours, 15 minutes and 16.2 seconds was deemed “the world record fastest marathon run in bare feet.”

It was not until 2002 when International Association of Athletics Federations –IAAF (now renamed World Athletics) recognised “the first world’s best time” in men’s marathon, 2:05:38 run by Moroccan-born American Khalid Khannouchi at the 2002 London Marathon.

Tergat’s record ratified

The honour of holding the first official world record in men’s marathon goes to Kenya’s Paul Tergat from his victory at the 2003 Berlin Marathon in a time of 2:04:55.

That was the first world record in men’s marathon to be ratified by World Athletics.

For running against the clock and pushing himself to the world record twice in his career, Kipchoge stands alone as a uniquely talented athlete who draws inspiration from within.

On the two occasions (in 2018 and 2022) he has broken the world record, he finished the race at least four minutes ahead of his nearest opponent.

That is no mean feat, only achieved once by Patrick Makau. Records show that almost all the previous holders of the world record in men’s marathon were spurred on by strong opponents who pushed them all the way to the new mark.

I will explain.

When Tergat set the first world record in men’s marathon of two hours, 04 minutes and 55 seconds at the 2003 Berlin Marathon, he was pushed by his fellow countryman Sammy Korir (2:04:56) who finished just a second later.

Korir chased Tergat down the course to the last second of the race, pushing the Kenyan track and road-running legend to the world record.

Kenya’s Titus Munji came third in 2:06:15, highlighting the fact that the top two were in their own contest.

In 2007 when Ethiopia’s athletics legend Haile Gebrsellasie broke the world record, he was spurred on by strong opponents, among them Abel Kirui of Kenya.

Gebrselassie timed 2:04:26 to win, breaking Paul Tergat’s record. Kirui was not too far behind, coming home second in 2:06:51, a minute and 25 seconds later.

In 2008 when Gebrsellasie ran 2:03:59 in Berlin Marathon to break the world record he had set in 2007, Kenya’s James Kwambai (2:05:36) finished two minutes and 37 second behind him.

It is instructive to note that Kwambai and Gebrselassie had engaged in a two-man contest for the better part of the race until after one hour, 47 minutes and 17 seconds when the Ethiopian broke away, perhaps motivated by the sight of the Brandenburg Gate further ahead, to win in 2:03:59.

He shaved off 29 seconds from his old record, becoming the first person to run the marathon in under two hours and four minutes.

Kenya’s Charles Kamathi came third in 2:07:48, suggesting that although Gebrselassie dominated the final part of the race, it was in many respects a two-horse contest between him and Kwambai.

Three years later, Kenya’s Patrick Makau broke Gebrselassie’s world record, again at the Berlin Marathon. Makau won in 2:03:38 to break the record by 21 seconds, followed by Stephen Chemlany (2:07:55) from Kenya.

Interestingly, reigning record holder Gebrselassie dropped out of the race, and Makau won by four minutes and 17 seconds.

Come the 2014 Berlin Marathon, Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang clocked 2:03:23 to break Makau’s world record by 15 seconds, followed by Kipchoge (2:04:05).

Here again, Kipchoge pushed Makau to the record, finishing just 42 seconds behind his fellow countryman.

Kipchoge lowers mark

A year later, Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto took over the record after winning the 2014 Berlin Marathon in 2:02:57 ahead of his compatriot Emmanuel Mutai (2:03:13).

He lowered Kipsang’s record by 26 seconds but it is instructive to note that in finishing 16 seconds faster than the second-placed Mutai, he was pushed every step of the way to the world record.

Kipchoge then took over, breaking Kimetto’s record in winning the 2018 Berlin Marathon in 2:01:39 ahead of his compatriot Amos Kipruto (2:06:23) whom he beat by a whopping five minutes and four seconds.

He ran the marathon for the first time in under 2 hours and two minutes, taking one minute and 20 seconds off Kimetto’s old record.

On Sunday, Kipchoge obliterated his own world record by 30 seconds in winning his fourth Berlin Marathon title in 2:01:09.

Kipchoge’s nearest competitor, Mark Korir, finished in 2:05:58, nearly five minutes later.

Kipchoge takes the trophy for his dominant displays, self-motivation, and humility.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.