With Kenyan's record-breaking Berlin Marathon victory, African runners win 80% of races over last 25 years

Of the 128 rounds of the major world marathons, together Kenya and Ethiopia have won 93.

Kenya's Dennis Kimetto celebrates winning the 41st edition of the Berlin Marathon on September 28, 2014 in a new world record (photo, AFP).

Kenya's Dennis Kimetto celebrates winning the 41st edition of the Berlin Marathon on September 28, 2014 in a new world record (photo, AFP).

KENYA’S Dennis Kimetto set a new world record in the Berlin Marathon on Sunday, becoming the first man to break the 2hr 03min barrier with a run of 2hr 02min 57sec.

It was the second year running that the record had been broken in Berlin, the previous best being the 2:03.23 set over the same course last year by another Kenyan, Wilson Kipsang.

Kimetto, the pre-race favourite, was part of a seven-man breakaway group after 20km, which included fellow Kenyans Emmanuel Mutai and Geoffrey Kamworor.

But Kimetto shook off Mutai four kilometres from home and crossed the line in record time over what is regarded as the world’s fastest marathon course.

Tirfi Tsegaye led an Ethiopia 1-2 in the women’s race, winning in 2:20.18 from Feyse Tadese (2:20.27).

Shalane Flanagan of the United Statges was third in 2:21.14.

With that win, Kimetto brought the percentage of the men’s World Marathon Majors – Boston, Chicago, New York, London, Berlin, Tokyo – won by either an Ethiopian or Kenyan since 1989 when they started entering this races in a significant to 72.6%, and by African athletes in general to 80%.

While Kenyan and Ethiopian women have locked down nearly 90% of the marathon majors over the last, unlike the men they started running in a big way nearly 10 years later in 2000. On current form, however, it looks they are set to dominate the marathons more than the men.

There are more than 500 marathons organised worldwide every year, but the majors hog most of the glory and media attention, and pay the biggest purses, awarding $500,000 annually to the best overall male and female performers in the series.

While the debate as to why the East Africans have imposed their authority so dramatically on world marathons, the domination is staggering. Of the 128 races, together Kenya and Ethiopia have won 93 of them – with Kenya getting the lion’s share in a particularly assertive fashion. If victories by other African runners are added in, the total is 102.


In the Boston Marathon since 1989, except in 1990 when Italy’s Gelindo Bordin won; in 2001 when South Korea’s Lee Bong-Ju took it, and in 2014 when Meb Kfelezighi of the US (but who was born in Eritrea and came to the US via Italy as refugees when he was 12) carried the day, the rest of the 23 have been won by either a Kenyan or Ethiopia. Ethiopians claiming four championships, and Kenyans 19.

In the Chicago Marathon over the last 25 years a Moroccan has taken 1 victory, an Ethiopian 1, Americans 2, Britons 3, Brazilians 4, and Kenyans 12. This year’s marathon takes place in October.

At the London Marathon over this period the US, Morocco, and Spain have won one championship a piece; Britons 2, Portuguese 2, Ethiopians three, and Kenyans 12.

In the New York City Marathon a Tanzanian, Italian, Moroccan, and American have each had a win over the last 25 years. South Africans have won 2, Brazilians 2, Ethiopians 2, Mexicans 3 times, and Kenyans, again, hogged the victories with 10.

The 2012 race was cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy, and this year’s is coming up in November.

The Berlin Marathon has been a rich hunting ground for Kenyans, though nothing near Boston. Kenyans have notched 13 wins since 1989, Ethopians second with 4, South Africans 3, a Tanzanian 1, Spaniard 1, Brazilian 1, Australian 1.

The Tokyo Marathon, for some inexplicable reason, is the least profitable race course for, especially, the Kenyans compared to the others, although they still top the victory league table of the last quarter of a decade with 9. Secondly, it is the major marathon in which the home team has won the most over this period – 7. The Japanese are the only home runners who have won enough gongs at their marathon over this period to edge the Ethiopians out of second place. By contrast, no German has smelt victory in the Berlin since 1980. A Tanzanian has won 1, a Spaniard 1, Brazilian 1, Swiss 1, and Ethiopians.

On the face of it some might be quick to think it has to do with distance. However, the distance between Nairobi and Tokyo is 11,244 km, to Boston 11,558 km, and to Chicago 12,875 km. Still, superficially, the Tokyo Marathon might just offer some faint secrets to beating the East Africans at this race: First, take the race east to Asia, not to the west or north. Second, hold it in an island nation like Japan.


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