The Paris Marathon may not incur the same media exposure nor assume the prestige of equivalent races such as in London, Boston, Berlin and New York, but the 2014 renewal did feature the debut at the distance of former Olympic and World track champion Kenenisa Bekele. In breaking the course record with a time of 2 hours 5 minutes and 4 seconds, he not only proved that he may be able to compete with the best World’s best marathon runners, but he also set a marker for other international athletes intending to compete at the distance for the first time.
Once Bekele had announced his intention of running the distance at Paris, three pace makers were inserted into the race but none of the more high-profile Marathon performers opted to participate. More lucrative prize money was on offer elsewhere.
Approaching his 32nd year and having won Olympic and World titles at 5,000 and 10,000 metres, the marathon represented a new challenge for Bekele. He is still the World record holder at both track distances and it was originally thought that he may be targeting an exceptionally fast time on the Paris circuit.
In covering the first half of the race in a quick 1:02:09, Bekele was still slightly behind his original schedule and when the last of the pacemakers abandoned the race at the 25k point, the Ethiopian athlete assumed the lead position and just 5k later, he was alone at the front of the race.
At one stage, Bekele did complain of a hamstring problem but that did not stop him breaking the course record, yet without any serious competition for the final 12k, there is just the suggestion that the time would have been faster with other World class marathon runners participating and offering a challenge at the later stages.
Not that Bekele was considering lowering the official World Record of 2:03:23 set by Kenyan Wilson Kipsang in Berlin last September, but a time under two hours and five minutes would have installed the Ethiopian as likely favourite for the World Championships next year in Beijing.
As it happens, Bekele has now set a marker for the other global spring marathons and he also confirmed himself as the athlete to beat at the distance now that he has competed in his inaugural attempt at the event.
With Mo Farah participating in the London Marathon, there will now be added pressure on his performance to produce an even faster time, although he will have a much stronger supporting field for his debut at the distance.
Farah has already declared his intention of merely breaking the British record of 2:07:13 set by Steve Jones in 1985, but the time recorded by Bekele in Paris may have already altered his thinking as he seeks to gain the psychological advantage over the athlete who defeated him in last year’s Great North Run.