Kenenisa Bekele is already regarded as one of the greatest distance runners of all time but breaking the marathon world record would be the crowning achievement of his glittering career, the Ethiopian track legend said today ahead of his bid to win the 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday.
Bekele already holds the second fastest official marathon time ever, and has owned the 5000m and 10,000m track world records since 2004 and 2005 respectively.
But the 35-year-old said he is as hungry as ever to add another world best time to his list of achievements as he targets a first victory in the world’s greatest marathon, where he has placed third and second in the last two years.
“I want to try my best to break the world record,” Bekele said. “I don’t know when or where but that’s what keeps me angry and motivated.
“It’s more than 10 years since I set the 5000m and 10,000m records, and to have the marathon record as well would be so special. To have the records for 5000m to marathon would be something – no one else has done that. I feel like that would make me the greatest ever.”
Bekele’s list of achievements is as long as any other distance runner in the world. With three Olympic golds, five World Championship crowns and 12 world cross country victories to his name, plus stunning marathon wins in Paris and Berlin, and a world indoor title at 3000m, he has demonstrably mastered every form of the sport.
Yet despite running quicker than 2 hours 6 minutes four times on his eight starts over 26.2 miles, including 2:03:03 in Berlin in 2016 – just five seconds outside Dennis Kimetto’s world record – he is far from satisfied and feels he has much still to prove at the distance.
“I am not happy with my marathons so far, with only two good results from eight races,” he said. “My marathon achievements do not balance with my track career yet and I want to put that right.
“In the past I have found marathon training a bit boring but when you plan to achieve something great you need to do what’s necessary and I am more motivated now. I am enjoying the training these days.”
Bekele has failed to finish in three of his marathons, including the Berlin race last September, won by Kenya’s Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge who will be his biggest rival for the men’s elite title on Sunday.
Kipchoge has won all but one of his nine marathons, including two in London, and a third would make him joint most successful men’s champion alongside Mexico’s Dionicio Ceron and fellow Kenyan Martin Lel.
Bekele was third behind Kipchoge on his London debut in 2016, when he described himself as only 90 per cent fit, and second last year, when he almost caught the leader Daniel Wanjiru in the final miles despite running much of the race with blisters.
This year, after injury-free training and with new racing shoes to protect his feet, he feels ready to make the next step up the podium and become only the third Ethiopian man to win the London crown.
“I was injured in the last years during the race but that’s all gone now,” he said today. “I have been preparing very well and am happy with my shape. It’s much better than last year.
“Every race is different, of course, with different competitors and different conditions, and we can see from the forecast we may have a warmer day for the race this year, and that changes things.
“But I don’t want to think about breaking records on Sunday, I just want to focus on the race.”
Bekele’s opponents on Sunday include two compatriots in Guye Adola, who threatened to upset Kipchoge on his rain-drenched debut in Berlin last year, and Tola Shura Kitata, last year’s Frankfurt Marathon champion, plus Sir Mo Farah who succeeded him as a double Olympic track champion and has been training for the London Marathon on Bekele’s track in Ethiopia.
“I’m sure he’s prepared well,” said Bekele of Britain’s big hope. “I saw him at my sports centre and he was training well. I think he’ll be ready to run a fast time.”
Unlike Bekele, Adola doesn’t have so much of a track pedigree but the 27-year-old made his mark on the marathon with a bang in Berlin when he carved out a 25-metre lead that Kipchoge only managed to close in the last couple of miles.
He finished in 2:03:46 to become the second fastest Ethiopian ever behind Bekele and the fastest first-timer in marathon history. On paper he is the third quickest in this year’s London field behind the big two and a major threat to their ambitions.
“I was very happy with my time in Berlin. It was my first marathon so it was a great way to start,” he said today. “But I know the marathon is very difficult and sometimes your results go up, sometimes down.
“My preparation has been good for London. Of course, Eliud and Kenenisa are very strong athletes but I will try to stay with them on Sunday.”