"I knew that I was in top form although my preparation was shorter than I would have hoped. I know I can run faster," Bekele said. Bekele missed out on the then-world record by six seconds when he won the 2016 Berlin Marathon in 2:03:03, then a personal best.
Olympic champion Kipchoge, who ran the current record of 2:01:39 in the German capital last year, skipped Sunday's race to focus on his attempt to become the first to break the two-hour mark at a specially organized event in Vienna, Austria in October.
Bekele had knee and hamstring injuries in recent years and hadn't completed a marathon since April last year, leading many to believe his best days were over. His world records over 5,000 and 10,000 meters are from 2004 and 2005, respectively.
"I have shown that my career is far from over," Bekele said. Despite wet conditions, compatriots Birhanu Legese and Sisay Lemma coaxed Bekele to a national record in Berlin, the fastest time in the world this year, and the second-fastest ever.
Bekele looked in trouble after the 30-kilometer mark, when he dropped 13 seconds off the pace, yet managed to recover. He first overtook Lemma, then Legese around 38 kilometers. Bekele reached the 40th kilometer two seconds faster than Kipchoge had, but ultimately the Olympic champion's sprint for the line last year was faster.
Bekele finished 1:07 ahead of Legese, who ran 2:02:48, while Lemma came third in 2:03:36. All three were personal bests. "I am very happy with my performance and am also very happy for Kenenisa - he is a great runner," Legese said.
Ashete Bekere of Ethiopia won a sprint against compatriot Mare Dibaba to clinch the women's marathon in 2:20:14, a personal best. Dibaba finished seven seconds behind. Kenya's Selly Chepyego Kaptich was third in 2:21:06, and Ethiopia's Helen Tola finished fourth in 2:21:36. The four had shared the lead for a long time.
American Sara Hall was fifth in 2:22:16, ahead of home favorite Melat Kejeta in 2:23:57, the fastest marathon debut for a German woman. The 31-year-old Bekere, who previously won marathons in Rotterdam and Valencia, said she believes she can run under 2 hours, 20 minutes on the fast course.
Pre-race favorite and defending champion Gladys Cherono, who broke the course record last year with 2:18:11, lost contact with the leading group before the halfway point and dropped out around the 30-kilometer mark. Cherono had been bidding to become the first to win the women's race four times.
A record 46,983 runners entered the 46th edition of the event. Most were happy just to finish long after the favorites.
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