IN BERLIN, GERMANY
When Josephus Maria Melchior Hermens speaks about athletics, you listen.
Because with over 30 years’ experience in the management of elite athletics, the Dutchman is a walking resource, with enviable knowledge of the sport.
Now, yesterday, the man simply known as “Jos Hermens” said the world marathon record will fall in today’s 44th Berlin Marathon.
And who can challenge that?
For starters, Hermens is a former Dutch distance running champion who held the world record for the rarely-run one-hour race, completing 20.944 kilometres inside 60 minutes in 1976 before quitting running through injury.
He is better known because of his exploits later in life as an elite athletes’ manager, running the world-famous Global Sports Communications (GSC) company based in the little city of Nijmegen in The Netherlands.
Among his top athletes at GSC are world and Olympic champions Kenenisa Bekele, Haile Gebrselassie and Eliud Kipchoge.
Gebrselassie has broken the world marathon record twice before, on both occasions at the Berlin Marathon, while Bekele holds the 5,000 and 10,000 metres world track records.
Kipchoge is the reigning Olympic marathon champion, was world champion in the 5,000m in 2003, and has won seven of his eight marathons so far.
In total, Hermens has piloted his athletes at GSC to over 30 world records.
But GSC’s most coveted, and eagerly-anticipated, record will be today, if either Kipchoge or Bekele dip under 2:02:57 as they cross the famous Brandenburg Gate to set the new official world marathon record on the streets of Berlin.
Kipchoge, Kipsang and Bekele have all vowed to obliterate Kenyan Dennis Kimetto’s world best 2:02:57, but it is Kipchoge who yesterday threw down the gauntlet and asked for a half-way pace of 60 minutes and 45 seconds.
This will be exactly a minute faster than the time Kimetto crossed the 21km mark in (61:45) enroute to his world record here in 2014.
It will also be a tough ask for the three pacemakers — Gideon Kipketer, Geoffrey Rono and Sammy Kitwara.
Kipchoge is heavily buoyed by his run on May 6 at Italy’s Autodrome Nationale di Monza where he failed narrowly in his attempt to become the first human being to run the marathon (42 kilometres) in under two hours.
PLAYED HIS PART
His amazing time of 2:00:25 was just 26 seconds outside the magical 1:59:59 that was targeted by the Olympic champion and a team of scientists from American sportswear giants Nike in what was famously referred to as the “Breaking2” project.
But Kipchoge played his part. Mankind now has to dig in and “get rid” of those 26 seconds.
“The experience in Monza made Eliud a changed man,” Hermens told me in a pre-race interview at the Berlin Intercontinental.
“After running 2:00:25 in Monza, he is now even more confident and has a different outlook to the marathon.
“At the halfway mark in Monza, Eliud ran 59:57 which now gives him the confidence to ask for 60:45 here tomorrow (Sunday).”
The weather will be a factor but the forecast is good and Hermens believes this is the best chance ever for a fresh world record.
“For the first time we have three guys chasing the world record,” he justifies his thoughts.
“With 30 years’ experience, this is what I call my ‘fist rule’: That with three chasing a record, there could be one who could fall out, one who will succeed and one who will exceed expectations.
“It is difficult when you have just one guy chasing the record because if anything happens to him, then there will be no second person, or third person to rely on – now we have three options tomorrow!”
WORLD RECORD IS POSSIBLE
Fellow Dutchman Gerard van de Veen whose Volare Sports outfit, headquartered in the small town of Voorthuizen in The Netherlands, manages both Kipsang and current record holder Kimetto, concurs.
“A world record is possible,” van de Veen told me yesterday as his team went through final, pre-race rituals.
“All three can run under 2:02:57, but it’s difficult to predict who is the strongest of the three because they are all in great shape. It will really depend who on the day will be in better shape, and the strategy will carry the day.”
The three athletes have approached the race differently, with Kipsang and Kipchoge clear they want the record and Bekele happy to adopt the ‘wait and see’ approach.
Of the three, Kipsang has broken the world record before here, winning the 2013 race in 2:03:23.
“This time it’s a different situation as there will be three of us (chasing the record),” says Kipsang who travelled here with his wife Doreen and daughter Joy.
Kipsang is also the only athlete to have run under 2:04 four times.
“The pacemakers are stronger this time and I believe we have more support,” he adds.
Kipchoge’s “Breaking2” Monza project has made him a stronger human being and of the three, most tip him for victory.
“I have drawn a lot of motivation from it (‘Breaking2’) and I want to run the first half in 60:45 tomorrow (Sunday)… there are three of us and there will be only one winner,” said Kipchoge who has won seven of his eight marathons so far.
Bekele has, typical of him, preferred to play his cards close to his chest, but remains confident he can run faster than the 2:03:03 personal best time he ran in winning last year’s race ahead of Kipsang.
“I’ll follow the lead it I can and that way I shall not put myself under pressure, but I will listen to my body. I’m well prepared for this race,” he said.
The race starts at 10am, Kenyan time, and will be televised live on SuperSport 7 and 9 with a record 43,853 athletes from 137 countries entered to run and, hopefully, cross the Brandenburg Gate finish line.