While 2019 will always be remembered as the year when Eliud Kipchoge broke the two-hour barrier for the marathon, there was another marathon performance that raised eyebrows without necessarily making headlines. Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele ran 2:01:41 at the Berlin marathon, narrowly missing out on Kipchoge’s marathon world record by just two seconds.
Thrillingly, the two are currently on their way to London ahead of this weekend's, elite-only London Marathon - and Bekele could win. Here’s why:
He has the pedigree
Guess who holds the track world records for 5,000m and 10,000m? Mo Farah? Haile Gebrselassie? Actually, they are both held by Bekele. No one on the starting line in London - Kipchoge included - has a better track pedigree than Bekele, who has won 17 world titles over cross-country and track.
He has the leg speed
If Bekele is still with Kipchoge with two miles to go, the Kenyan should be worried. Bekele can close races like no other (witness the way he pulled away from Sir Mo Farah at the Great North Run in 2013). If Kipchoge can’t shake him off, Bekele will surely outsprint him on the final lap of St James's Park.
He’s (almost) as quick as Kipchoge
Leaving to one side Kipchoge’s barrier-breaking run in Vienna - a time achieved with the help of pacers and while wearing shoes that could well be banned - their marathon bests are basically identical (Kipchoge: 2:01:39 Berlin 2018 and Bekele: 2:01:41 Berlin 2019). That matters, because in previous years Kipchoge’s PB has been so much better than the rest, he could have a bad day and still triumphed. By contrast, he’ll have to be at his very best to beat Bekele.
Bekele’s beaten Kipchoge many times before
While Kipchoge has beaten Bekele on their four previous marathon head-to-heads, it’s actually Bekele who has the better record across all distances and surfaces. Sure, Kipchoge rightly starts as favourite, but he holds no fear for Bekele, who has beaten him many times previously and will believe he can do so again.
Kipchoge’s due an off day
Kipchoge is Mr Consistency over the marathon distance, winning 12 of the 13 marathons he’s entered. But at some point, he’s going to have an off day. Who knows what toll breaking two hours took on him mentally and physically. Is winning the London Marathon again a big enough priority? Or does he have half an eye on Berlin, the faster course, in September? Either way, with Bekele in the line up, this is no longer a procession for Kipchoge. It is a race - and it’s one Bekele can win.
How can I watch the elite race?
Unfortunately, you won't be able to head to St James's Park and watch the drama unfold on 4 October. The course for the elite races will be enclosed within fencing with no access or viewing points for the public. Your best chance of watching is to tune in to BBC Sport, who will be broadcasting eight hours of coverage.
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