In a city defined by its own reinvention, Tigist Assefa created an entirely new era in women’s marathon running at the 2023 BMW BERLIN-MARATHON.
The reigning champion, who won in a course record 2:15 here last year after registering 2:34 on her debut in Saudi Arabia earlier in 2022, was favorite to keep her crown on a sunny, still Sunday.
But no one saw a world record by more than two minutes coming our way.
It was on the cards from the very earliest stages of a race that will be remembered for a very long time.
Assefa reached the 10km mark in a large group in a time that projected them to finish some 24 seconds below Brigid Kosgei’s 2:14:04 set in Chicago in 2019.
From there, the pace continued to quicken. By 20km Assefa was beginning to distance herself from the rest of the field, and at halfway, a split of 1:06:21 was pointing to something in the 2:12 range. The question remained whether Assefa still had enough in the tank to keep this up.
The answer was that she had plenty.
By the 40km mark, her projected finish was hovering just outside 2:12, and her final push got her under that barrier to stop the clock at a scarcely believable 2:11:53.
Assefa adopted an almost identical pose to last year, on her knees looking to the heavens, after crossing the line, but it was to her feet she looked next, yanking off one of her new running shoes to hold aloft the new model she had just made history in.
The sport was moved on by an almighty margin in a race that has a long and storied relationship with game-changing performances. Assefa’s may just be the most revelatory of them all.
If her course record last year was overshadowed by the world record set then by Eliud Kipchoge, it was the great Kenyan who had to hand over the spotlight on this occasion.
Kipchoge was on pace to lower his mark of 2:01:09 as he passed halfway, but a gradual slow-down in the second half of his race meant that he had to settle for his fifth win in Berlin with a time of 2:02:42.
It comes to something when a sub 2:03 time leaves the victor feeling a little deflated, but such is the standard Kipchoge has set for himself and others over the past few years.
As for Assefa, she explained that she had been hopeful of the world record based on her training, but not by that much. Not by more than two minutes.
Assefa has catapulted herself to the very top of women’s marathon running by such a long way that she would have to squint to see the next contenders, far back down the road.
It will be the turn of Ruth Chepngetich at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon to see if she can narrow that gap on October 8, and she will have the enigmatic Sifan Hassan for company.
As for Kipchoge’s crown, it remains in place, but in Chicago, Kelvin Kiptum, who ran 2:01:25 at the TCS London Marathon in April, will have his sights firmly trained on it.
The Abbott World Marathon Majors fall season is up and running in the most spectacular of fashions. On to Chicago we go.