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Tigst Assefa redefines women’s marathon running in Berlin

ETHIOPIA'S Tigst Assefa has set a new women's world record that redefines women's marathon running. Her 2:11:53 finish at the 2023 BMW Berlin Marathon is more than two minutes faster than the previous record

ETHIOPIAN runner Tigst Assefa made history at the 2023 BMW Berlin-Marathon, on Sunday (September 24), breaking a previous record by over two minutes.

Assefa, who crossed the finish line at the Brandenburg Gate in an incredible time of 2 hours, 11 minutes, and 53 seconds, surprised even herself.

“I didn’t expect to run this fast, that is to say, to break 2:12, but it is the result of hard work,” she stated in an after-race interview with the marathon press team.

The previous record was held by Kenyan Brigid Koskei. Koskei broke the record set by Paula Radcliff in 2003, with a 2-hour, 14-minute, and 4-second run at the Chicago Marathon in 2019. Koskei smashed that by an incredible 2 minutes and 11 seconds.

Race summaries on the BMW Berlin-Marathaon website describe the incredible progress of the Ethiopian runner throughout the race.

By the 10-kilometer mark, 13 athletes were on track to break the world record, clocking in at 31 minutes and 45 seconds. Assefa was running with exceptional ease. At kilometer 15, she effortlessly grabbed a water cup from an aid station and handed it to her pacemakers. Shortly after, she surged ahead, leaving the lead group behind.

Assefa and her fellow Ethiopian, Workenesh Edeessa, covered the kilometer15-16 stretch in just under 3 minutes. Although Edeessa eventually fell back, Assefa passed the half marathon mark in an incredible 66 minutes and 20 seconds—a time that would secure victory in many international races of this distance.

However, the second half of the race would see Assefa run even faster, with a time of 65 minutes and 33 seconds.

In the end, she finished nearly 6 minutes ahead of her closest competitor in the Sunday challenge. Sheila Chepkirui from Kenya came in second with a time of 2 hours, 17 minutes, and 49 seconds, followed by Tanzania’s Magdalena Shauri in third place at 2 hours, 18 minutes, and 41 seconds.

This victory marks Assefa’s second win at the Berlin Marathon, following her impressive 2022 triumph with a time of 2 hours, 15 minutes, and 37 seconds—the third-fastest in the world.

Assefa’s journey from short races to marathons, after competing in the 800 meters at the 2016 Olympics, is nothing short of inspirational. Overcoming an Achilles injury in 2018 and navigating the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic that kept her out-of-racing in 2020 and 2021, Assefa made a return in March 2022, with a time of 2 hours, 34 minutes, and 1 second, in Riyadh.

Experts in the field of athletics are praising Assefa’s performances in the last two editions of the Berlin Marathon terming it a game-changer in women’s marathoning.

Letsrun.com, an athletics website, draws comparisons between her current performance and past milestones. They highlight the outstanding achievements of British legend Paula Radcliffe, who broke the world record over two races, culminating in a time of 2 hours, 15 minutes, and 25 seconds in London. Radcliffe’s record held for 16 years until the introduction of advanced footwear, which paved the way for Kosgei’s 2 hours, 14 minutes, and 4 seconds in Chicago in 2019.

“Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 and Kosgei’s 2:14:04 were both massive breakthroughs, yet Assefa’s improvement on the existing world record trumps both of them,” they outline.

Assefa now holds the distinction of being among the first Ethiopian women to hold long-distance world records, all while training in her home country under the guidance of an Ethiopian coach, Gemedu Dedefo.

In the men’s division, world record holder Eliud Kipchoge clinched his fifth Berlin medal with a time of 2 hours, 2 minutes, and 42 seconds.

Kipchoge’s fast pace and unmatched experience led him to cross the half-marathon mark in an astonishing 60 minutes and 21 seconds. While he narrowly missed breaking his own world record, Kipchoge’s victory solidifies his status as one of the all-time greats in marathon history.

Kenyan runner Vincent Kipkemboi secured second place with a commendable time of 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 13 seconds, followed by Ethiopian newcomer Tadese Takele at 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 24 seconds.

“I missed the world record, but instead I am now the record winner in Berlin — that is also something special,” Kipchoge remarked in a post-race interview.