Four years ago in Berlin the Ethiopian runner Guye Adola showed his talent by clocking what was, at the time, the world’s fastest-ever debut marathon of 2:03:46 to finish runner-up to Eliud Kipchoge.
Since then he has struggled to fulfill his potential. He was only 17th at the 2018 London Marathon, for example, in a mere 2:32:35.
Yet on Sunday, September 26 in the German capital he once again demonstrated his ability by scoring the first marathon victory of his career against a field that included Kenenisa Bekele.
After blasting through the first half in a sizzling 60:48, Adola and most of his rivals slowed dramatically to run the second half in 64:58.
The 30-year-old survived the brutal early pace better than anyone though as he clocked 2:05:45 to beat fast-finishing surprise package Bethwel Yegon [2:06:14] and Bekele [2:06:47].
But the basic results barely tell the story of a crazily unpredictable men’s race where the leading positions see-sawed throughout and where the final positions were undecided until the closing stages by the Brandenburg Gate.
On a day when Germans were out in force to vote in their general election to find a successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, the roads of Berlin featured the race to win one of the world’s most iconic marathons on arguably the event’s fastest known course.
The race was set up for Bekele to challenge Kipchoge’s world record. Two years ago in the same event he clocked 2:01:41 to miss the mark by two seconds. Now aged 39, his team suggested he was in similar or even better form but as halfway was reached the Ethiopian veteran found himself adrift of the leaders by 12 seconds although still, remarkably, on world record pace himself.
The 13.1-mile split of 60:48 is the fastest ever seen in a marathon race but the runners would soon pay the price as temperatures in the city began to rise following the 9am start.
Adola led with Tesfaye Lencho, Abraham Kipyatich and Philemon Kacheran but by 25km Bekele was starting to rejoin the lead group and at 30km he was back in the lead. This was largely because the leaders had slowed, however, as they passed 30km in 87:58 – more than a minute outside world record pace.
As Kipyatich and Lencho were dropped, it was down to Adola, Bekele and Kacheran. But by 35km Adola was pushing the pace with a small gap ahead of Bekele as Kacheran began to fall back.
Adola forged ahead but behind Yegon was enjoying an incredible surge through the field and at 40km he joined Adola in the lead.
At halfway Yegon was 86 seconds behind the leaders in 62:14. At 30km he was 38 seconds behind and had momentum on his side. By 35km he was 17 seconds behind.
The Kenyan, whose PB prior to Berlin was 2:08:35 from the same race two years ago, breezed past Bekele and at this stage looked capable of surging past the exhausted long-time leader Adola.
But Adola rallied and surged clear again in the final mile to build up a near half-minute lead approaching the finish.
“I didn’t think I would win but I was always thinking that it would be a nice race to compete against Bekele,” said Adola, who added his feet felt scorched with the heat during the race as roadside temperatures rose.
After the furious early pace, Adola’s eventual winning time did not even make the top 60 times in Berlin history. However fans were treated to a great race.