Ethiopia’s Tigst Assefa Makes History, Setting a New Women's Marathon World Record in Berlin
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Sports - September 25, 2023

Ethiopia’s Tigst Assefa Makes History, Setting a New Women’s Marathon World Record in Berlin

Tigst Assefa, Ethiopian long-distance runner broke the women’s marathon world record in Berlin this past Sunday. She slashed over two minutes from the prior record to finish with an official time of two hours, 11 minutes, and 53 seconds.

Having set a course record with a personal best the previous year, Assefa initiated a scorching early pace, progressively distancing herself from the competition and surpassing the record of two hours, 14 minutes, and four seconds, previously held by Kenyan Brigid Kosgei since 2019. Incredibly, her pace quickened after reaching the halfway point.

Assefa sets her gaze on making the national team

The 26-year-old former 800-metre runner expressed that she had intended to aim for the world record but never anticipated achieving such a time, attributing it to the result of hard work. Her record-breaking time not only sets a benchmark for the upcoming Paris Olympics but also nearly assures her a place in the Ethiopian Olympic team for 2024.

Tigst Assefa is a former 800m specialist who only started running marathons last year

Tigst Assefa mentioned that she has now established a benchmark. However, the final decision is not hers to make but is in the hands of the officials. “I have set a mark now. The decision does not lie with me but with officials. It is up to the National Committee to select me for the team,” she said.

Assefa’s win against the men’s category

Her outstanding triumph overshadowed the record of the fifth win in Berlin by men’s world record holder Eliud Kipchoge on Berlin’s quick and flat inner-city course. 

The 38-year-old Kenyan, aspiring to secure his third Olympic marathon medal in Paris next year, didn’t come close to the record he set in Berlin the previous year. He completed the race in two hours, two minutes, and 42 seconds.

Kipchoge celebrates his Olympic marathon victory in Sapporo.

Kipchoge said, “I always learn from every race and every victory, I’m very happy to win for the fifth time in Berlin and I shall use these lessons in my preparation for the Olympics.”

Vincent Kipkemoi came in second, finishing in two hours, three minutes, and 13 seconds, followed by Ethiopia’s Tadese Takele in third.

Climate activists, who had planned potential disruptions for the event, attempted to invade the course with buckets of orange paint. However, they were swiftly intercepted and removed by police just moments before the commencement of the race.

Assefa’s switch from 800 metre to marathons

Tigst Assefa, having only begun competing in marathons in April of the previous year, established her ambitious intentions early on with her exceptionally rapid pace. Assefa and her fellow countrywoman, Workenesh Edesa, initially created a substantial lead over the rest, but by the 17th kilometer, Edesa was unable to sustain the pace and fell behind.

Reaching the halfway mark in an hour, six minutes, and 20 seconds, Tigst Assefa was among six women on track to set a world record at that point, showcasing the Berlin marathon’s standing as one of the world’s fastest.

Maintaining her swift pace proved unproblematic for Tigst Assefa, and by the 37km mark, she was only three seconds per kilometer behind Kipchoge’s pace at the corresponding point, ultimately securing a remarkable world record.

Sheila Chepkirui from Kenya secured second place, trailing nearly six minutes behind, while Tanzania’s Magdalena Shauri earned the third position.

Assefa’s exceptional ability in the Berlin marathon

What made Assefa’s achievement remarkable was the fact that she had completed her first marathon just the previous year, clocking a modest 2:34:01 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, due to health complications. Nonetheless, her surprising victory at the 2022 Berlin marathon, with a time of 2:15:37 – ranked as the third-fastest ever at that time – provided a more indicative glimpse of her forthcoming successes.

Tigst Assefa, who represented Ethiopia at the 2016 Rio Olympics over 800 metres before switching to the roads in 2018, said “I think this is the result of hard work over the last year,” “I wanted to break the record but that was not expected.”

Kipchoge seemed on track to surpass his own men’s world record of 2:01:09, reaching the halfway point in 60:22. However, his pace noticeably decreased in the race’s latter half.

He said, “I had some hiccups, but it is the nature of the race,” he said. “I was expecting to break the record but it did not come. But that is how sport is. Every race is a learning lesson.”

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