Avon Women's Race Berlin 2021 on 15 May 2021

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Yoko Shibui breaks 2:20 in real,- BERLIN MARATHON

Japanese becomes course and national record holder with 2:19:41 / Felix Limo wins in 2:06:44


The 31st real,- BERLIN MARATHON was once again an exciting world class running event with outstanding results. Yoko Shibui became the fifth woman in history to break the 2:20 barrier in women’s marathon running. The 25 year-old Japanese won the race in 2:19:41. Shibui not only broke the famous course record of Naoko Takahashi (Japan), who became the first women to go sub 2:20 in Berlin in 2001 (2:19:46). She also broke the Japanese record, which was that time from Takahashi in Berlin as well. Shibui missed the Asian record by Yingjie Sun (China) by just two seconds. She clearly beat the fastest time of the year set by Margaret Okayo (Kenia) in the London Marathon (2:22:35). In a Japanese double triumph Hiromi Ominami took second place in a fast 2:23:26. Third was Sonja Oberem (Germany) with a time of 2:23:26. When she finished she stated that this had been her last marathon race of her career.

Felix Limo was the men’s winner with a time of 2:06:44. It was not before the very last kilometre that he was able to leave Joseph Riri (Kenya) behind. While Limo missed his season’s best of 2:06:14 from Rotterdam, which is also the world leading time this year, Riri sensationally improved from 2:14:18 to 2:06:49. Though one has to take into account that he had run the 2:14:18 at high altitude in Tanzania in 2002. Joshua Chelanga was third in another clean sweep for Kenya (2:07:05). Wilson Onsare (Kenya) came in fourth with 2:08:53.

Despite some very bad forecasts there was only slight rain in the beginning of the race and no strong winds. Temperature was 9° Celsius at the start. About a million spectators lined the streets of Berlin making this once again Germany’s greatest athletics event. 36,193 runners from 91 nations had entered the 31st edition of the Berlin Marathon.

“I do not mind having missed the Asian record by such a close margin”, Yoko Shibui said. “I just concentrated on my running. I did not hear or see much. Wearing sunglasses in this weather meant that it was quite dark in front of me.” Shibui also recorded that her coach Suzuki Hideo had been on the course shouting to her. “But I did not listen to him. I was not interested in the splits. I wanted to win the race.”

Right after the start Yoko Shibui had taken the lead. Running within a group of men, some of them pacemakers, there was no chance for any opponents of catching her. Yoko Shibui was soon out of sight. She passed the 10 k point in 32:58 minutes and was already 41 seconds ahead of Hiromi Ominami. “I think the first two places are booked by the two Japanese runners”, Sonja Oberem had stated in a press conference three days earlier. She was proofed to be right and finally won the battle for third place.

Half way was passed by Shibui in 1:09:40 with Ominami now more than a minute behind (1:10:54). There was a part of the race at about 35 k when Shibui looked like running into problems. But she held on. At 35 k she got a bottle with a Japanese word written on it: “Don’t give up” it read. “It was then only just before Brandenburg Gate when I realised that I was on the way for a sub 2:20 time. I knew I had to give everything, so I did.” For the Japanese women it was the fifth Berlin triumph in a row.

Yoko Shibui had run up to 40 k in her Chinese training camp in Kunming. “About eight times a month I had training runs of at least 30 k.” Asked who is Japan’s best women’s marathon runner (the new record holder Shibui or the two Olympic Champions Naoko Takahashi and Mizuki Noguchi) she said: “I don’t know.” Her coach of course had an answer, pointing to Yoko Shibui.

“I am very happy with my performance, because I have beaten the family record. My sister watched the race on TV back in Japan”, Hiromi Ominami said after crossing the finish in 2:23:26. Takami Ominami has a personal best of 2:23:43.

The men’s race ended with the sixth win in a row for Kenya. And it was the fourth time that Kenyans took the top three places in this race. After a quick start with a 3 k split of 8:49 minutes the pace was slowing slightly in the men’s race, which was sensible because of cool and wet weather conditions.

Half way was passed by a compact group in 63:20 minutes. It was on the next 5 k stretch that the elite group slimmed. In this phase of the race pacemaker Jackson Koech (Kenya) increased the tempo. Soon after 25 k (1:14:51) there were only five runners left. Besides Koech these were Felix Limo, Joshua Chalanga, Wilson Onsare and Joseph Riri. So it was already a Kenyan affair at this stage of the race. Soon after 30 k (1:29:36) Koech dropped out while Onsare lost contact. At this stage a fast finishing time of sub 2:06 seemed suddenly possible. Because kilometres had been run well under 3:00 minutes.

But with the loss of the last pacemaker it seemed to become more tactical. Some speed was lost on the next few kilometres so there was no chance any more for a sub 2:06. “I felt a slight problem in my back. So I decided to just sit in for a while and save some energy for the last few kilometres, because I really wanted to win this race”, Felix Limo later said.

That plan worked well for the 24 year-old. For a short time Joshua Chelanga worked at the front, but he then became a victim of his own pace. “It was too cold for me. I got problems with my legs at the end of the race. Still I am quite happy with my time, although I hoped for an even faster result”, Chelanga, who belongs to Paul Tergat’s training group in Kenya, said. So it was down to two: Riri and Limo.

“I knew that I would hardly have a chance to beat Felix. But I am very happy with my result”, Joseph Riri said. Limo attacked on the last mile of the race. And when he was on the last 1000 metres he finally was able to leave Riri behind.

“It was not before 38 k that I was convinced that I would win the race. It was not an easy race, because in the first part it was still raining. And I was careful not to step into puddles. Because it is getting difficult when you get water into your shoes”, Limo said. He had not stated this publicly before to avoid pressure put on him. But it was his aim to attack Paul Tergat’s world record in Berlin. The weather prevented him from doing so. “I hope I will be able to come back next year and hopefully weather god will be on our side then. If we get perfect conditions I think it would be possible for me to run 2:04:45 on this flat and fast course in Berlin”, Felix Limo said and added: “Paul Tergat has run the world record in Berlin – so I can do so too.”

“We are happy with the results and extremely proud that Yoko Shibui managed to run a sub 2:20 time despite the weather conditions not being ideal for the elite runners today”, the new race director Mark Milde said.

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