An Ethiopian runner has erased the women’s marathon world record by more than two minutes in the Berlin Marathon on Sunday night (AEST).
Tigst Assefa elevated women’s marathon running into another stratosphere on the streets of Berlin, stopping the clock at two hours, 11 minutes and 53 seconds (2:11:53) as she chopped two minutes and 11 seconds from the previous world record.
It’s rare that Eliud Kipchoge is relegated to a secondary subject of discussion, but on Sunday that was the case as Assefa’s performance overshadowed the Kenyan icon’s time of 2:02:42, which is well more than a minute outside the men’s marathon world record that he owns.
At the London Marathon of 2003, England’s Paula Radcliffe redefined what was thought to be possible by laying down a 2:15:25.
And at the Chicago Marathon of 2019, Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei took a sizeable chunk off Radcliffe’s world record when she punched out a 2:14:04.
But neither of those staggering runs changed women’s marathon running to the extent that Sunday’s result will change the sport.
Putting Assefa’s run into perspective, purely by time, it is equivalent to the men’s marathon world record plummeting from 2:01:09 to 1:58:58.
And in an indication of the closing gap between men and women in marathon running, there are now only 24 Australian men in history who’ve run quicker than Assefa’s time of 2:11:53.
In the short period of time that’s passed since Assefa burst through the finishing tape, debate has already kicked off about the influence of “super shoes” on distance running.
Radcliffe’s colossal run of 2:15:25 in 2003 came years — 13 to be exact — before the release of the first super shoe, dubbed the Nike Vaporfly 4%.
Assefa dominated the women’s field in Berlin, finishing five minutes and 56 seconds ahead of Kenya’s Sheila Chepkirui.
The Ethiopian ran a negative split, clocking 66:20 for the first half and 65:33 for the second. Astonishingly, her back half of the race was one minute and 55 seconds quicker than her standalone half-marathon personal best.
She had never contested a marathon before 2022 and had only competed in two marathons before Sunday. She posted 2:34:01 in the Riyadh Marathon in March last year and 2:15:37 in last year’s Berlin Marathon, in which she took victory.
Making Sunday’s result even more extraordinary is the fact that she is a former 800-metre runner. She contested the women’s 800 metres at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where she was eliminated in the heats.
“I think such is the result of hard working which I’ve done for the last year,” Assefa said through a translator after Sunday’s Berlin Marathon.
“That I broke the record with such a result was not expected from me.”