Kenyan Sheila Chepkirui and Ethiopian Tigest Assefa gear up for the Berlin Marathon showdown, aiming to break records and secure Olympics
Kenyan marathoner Sheila Chepkirui is preparing to compete in the women's contest at the 2023 Berlin Marathon against a formidable Ethiopian lineup, led by the defending champion, Tigest Assefa.
Chepkirui, who finished fourth at the London Marathon last April, carries an impressive personal best of 2:17:29 from the Valencia Marathon last year.
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Assefa made headlines last year by posting an incredible time of 2:15:37 at the Berlin Marathon, setting a new course record and establishing herself as one of the fastest marathon runners in history.
Chepkirui, a Kenya Defence Forces soldier and a former Africa cross country champion, has already proven her mettle on the international stage by clinching the 10,000m bronze medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK.
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Ethiopian runners dominate the list of fastest women's runners at this year's Berlin Marathon, with Tigist Abayechew (2:18:03), Workenesh Edesa (2:18:51), and Hiwot Gebrekidan (2:19:10) all boasting impressive sub-2:20 times. Amane Beriso, the winner of last year's Valencia Marathon, adds further depth to the Ethiopian contingent.
However, all eyes will be on Chepkirui, who hails from Kiptere Secondary School in Kericho and boasts a remarkable half marathon personal best of 64:36. Her determination to excel is evident, as she aims to make up for her absence at the Boston Marathon last April due to visa issues.
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Chepkirui, who runs under the Ikaika Sports stable, is the sole Kenyan representative in the Berlin Marathon after Margaret Wangare withdrew due to injury. Her marathon journey began at last year's Valencia Marathon, where she impressed with a third-place finish and a personal best time of 2:17:29. Now, she is focused on breaking her own record.
"My aim is to break my personal best. I can imagine going through the first half on Sunday in around 68 minutes," said the 32-year-old Chepkirui.
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Tigst Assefa, the defending champion, is also eager to make her mark once again in Berlin. Reflecting on her remarkable performance last year, where she shattered the course record, Assefa expressed her delight at returning to the event.
"Last year's race proved an unexpected success for me. I think I can run even faster on Sunday, a further improvement would be a success," said Tigst Assefa.
While she remains focused on improving her time, she is cautious about discussing the world record of 2:14:04.
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Both Chepkirui and Assefa have an additional goal in the BMW Berlin Marathon: securing Olympic qualifying times. Given the fierce competition in Ethiopia and Kenya, achieving the necessary times for Olympic qualification will require exceptional performances.
Two more Ethiopian athletes, Tigist Abayechew with a personal best of 2:18:03 and Workenesh Edesa with a best time of 2:18:51, are making their return to Berlin. Last year, they, along with Tigst Assefa, achieved an unofficial world team record of 6:52:31.
Mark Milde, the race director, expressed optimism about the potential for records to be broken, saying, "The women's course record of 2:15:37 is an absolute world-class time. But, given the strong field, we hope that this can be broken."
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The elite women's field at the Berlin Marathon boasts both breadth and depth. Japan's Hitomi Niiya, with a personal best of 2:19:24, has the potential to challenge her national record set 18 years ago on the same course. Another athlete to watch is Ethiopian Senbere Teferi, a world record holder for 5km on the road with a time of 14:29.
In addition to the international competition, a fierce contest is expected among German women. The German contingent, featuring athletes like the Schöneborn twins, Deborah and Rabea, Domenika Mayer, Kristina Hendel, and Laura Hottenrott, has a strong presence with personal bests ranging from 2:25 to 2:27.