Ethiopians Sefir and Lilesa chase victory
Kenyans have dominated the autumn marathon season so far, clocking the six fastest times in this period and taking the major races in Berlin and Chicago as well as in Amsterdam. For good measure, all three women’s winners in these marathons were from Kenya as well. But on Sunday the Ethiopians hope to hit back in the BMW Frankfurt Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Race. The second fastest marathon course in the world, where Wilson Kipsang (Kenya) clocked a course record of 2:03:42 in 2011, offers the chance to claim significant victories.
With Dino Sefir (2:04:50) and Feyisa Lilesa (2:04:52) the two fastest runners in the field are Ethiopians. However Kenyans will of course also challenge for victory. And they intend to extend an impressive win streak that started back in 2002 and produced eight course records. Kenyans Vincent Kiprutu (2:05:13), Levy Matebo Omari (2:05:16), Albert Matebor (2:05:25), Eric Ndiema (2:06:07) and Gilbert Kirwa (2:06:14) are likely to be the toughest opponents for the Ethiopians. It is unprecendented for German speaking territory that five runners with PBs of sub 2:05:30 will be lining up for a marathon.
Dino Sefir and Feyisa Lilesa both name one athlete as their idol and the identity is no surprise: Haile Gebrselassie. “His success and his mental strength are both unbelievable. I have never met Haile, but I know exactly how he trains. I want to be better than him,” said Dino Sefir while Feyisa Lelisa explains: “When I was going to school I heard about Haile and his success. I remember that even in our exercise books at school there was a photo of Haile Gebrselassie. He is my idol.”
Feyisa Lilesa grew up as the son of a farmers’ family in the village of Tullu Bultuma, approximately 100 kilometres away from Addis Abeba. “First at school I started with gymnastics, but then I did not want to do it any longer and started running instead,” said 23 year-old Feyisa Lilesa, who used to work on the farm helping his parents when he was young. It was at school when he started competing at various local and regional championships. He finally qualified for a 10 k road championship race in Addis Abeba and there a coach of the Military Club spotted his potential. Since then Feyisa Lilesa has trained in the capital in a group of aabout 50 runners. Among them are several big names in road running. Lelisa Desisa, the Dubai and Boston Marathon Champions who was second in the World Championships in Moscow, is one of them. “We always run together and I am always on the same level with Lelisa,” says Feyisa Lilesa, who dropped out of the World Championships’ marathon in August after 36 k with a muscle problem. “But I recovered well and then decided to run in Frankfurt. I know about the fast course here and I feel that I am in the best shape of my life now.”
Lilesa will have plenty on his mind for Sunday, four target times, to be precise: The world record (2:03:23), the course record (2:03:42), the Ethiopian record by Haile Gebrselassie (2:03:59) and his personal best (2:04:52). “If the pacemakers do their job well, I want to go for a 2:03. Haile’s record is always in my mind. But I want to run a personal best, at least.”
Dino Sefir named the same time goals as his fellow-Ethiopian. “In terms of speed the Kenyans are better than the Ethiopians but we want to try and beat them,” said Dino Sefir. “I like to run on flat courses, that is why I am here. I have watched the Frankfurt Marathon on TV. I want to be the first to run into the indoor arena on the red carpet and then cross the line!”
The Kenyans are aware of the Ethiopian threat. But both Gilbert Kirwa and Vincent Kipruto are confident, targeting sub 2:05 times. “I know that the Ethiopians will be very motivated. But we will not make it easy for them,” said Vincent Kipruto, who has prepared for five months for the BMW Frankfurt Marathon.
There was a set-back for the women’s race because Meselech Melkamu was forced to withdraw due to an injury. The defending champion and course record holder from Ethiopia (2:21:01) pulled a muscle in one of her final sessions before she was due to fly to Frankfurt.
However with three women remaining with PBs of sub 2:22 this is still a very competitive field. Tirfi Tsegaye Beyene (Ethiopia/2:21:19), Eunice Jepkirui Kirwa (Kenya/2:21:41), Mamitu Daska (Ethiopia/2:21:59) and Caroline Kilel (Kenya/2:22:36) are the fastest in the field. This is an achievement in itself since for the first time three sub 2:22 women will be on the start line for a German marathon – and that includes the World Championships in Berlin 2009.
And then there is Gelete Burka, who will make her marathon debut in the BMW event. You can draw a parallel between her and Meslech Melkamu in terms of their debuts at the distance. When the Ethiopian arrived in Frankfurt she had never raced longer than 15 k before – the same applies to her compatriot Gelete Burka. “But in training I have run up to 40 kilometres,” said the 27 year-old former World Cross Country and World 1,500 m champion. “I don’t know what will happen, but I am looking forward to Sunday. I will follow the others in the first group, it does not matter which pace they will go. I would like to run 2:20 and would of course be very happy with that,” said Gelete Burka.