NUMBERING UP BEKELE’S MARATHON DEBUT

2014 Paris Marathon champion Keninisa Bekele

2014 Paris Marathon champion Keninisa Bekele

After 31 year-old track and cross country champion Keninisa Bekele’s superb marathon debut in Paris today, 2:05:03 — course record, sixth fastest debut in history, fastest first-time marathon ever by a man over 30 — I thought it would be interesting to look ahead by looking back.  After all, records are the lattice upon which the sport of athletics grow, while giving fans a chance to compare and contrast athletes of different eras in much the same way baseball fans compare stats across time (at least until the steroid era kind of ruined that).

Before we glance back, however, let us look into the very near future as we await another highly anticipated debut, that of England’s own double Olympic track champion Mo Farah.   Also 31,, the 2012 5000 & 10,000m Olympic gold medalist will hope to thrill the home crowd at the Virgin Money London Marathon. And he will know how high the Bekele standard has been set.   But while Paris was a showcase for Bekele with a very good, but not great field, and his manager Jos Hermens riding alongside on a motorbike, Mo will have to negotiate a field of steely-eyed killers, record holders, and Olympic medalists in London.

So while Keninisa was able to pull free of his competition after 25k on his way to victory in Paris, one can expect Mo to be challenged much later into London’s 42 kilometer soiree next Sunday. At the same time, London is historically a faster layout than Paris, so it will be difficult to make a direct apples-to-apples comparison between the two.  But why should that stop us from having some fun with numbers?

*****

While it might be sketchy to view Keninisa and Mo from the same glass, it may be easier to compare Bekele’s marathon debut and projected career arc against yet another multiple-time Olympic track champion, fellow Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, who pre-dated Keninisa as the world record holder at 5000 & 10,000 meters, before adding the marathon record to his resume in Berlin 2008.

7 Olympic gold medals among Bekele (3), Farah (2) and Haile (2) - at 2013 Bupa Great North Run, won by Kenisa over Mo with Haile in 3rd in new master's world record.

7 Olympic gold medals among Bekele (3), Farah (2) and Haile (2) – at 2013 Bupa Great North Run, won by Kenisa over Mo with Haile in 3rd in new master’s world record.

Haile’s 5000m personal best, 12:39.36 (Helsinki 1998), is 99.767% of Bekele’s still standing world record of 12:37.35 (Hengelo 2004). Haile’s 10,000m PB and former world record of 26:22.75 (Hengelo `98) is 99.307% of Keninisa’s 26:17.53 world record from Brussels 2005.

Extrapolating the same arc in performance that Gebrselassie attained from his 10,000m PB to his marathon best of 2:03:59 in Berlin 2008, would take Bekele’s improvement (+ .693%) over Haile at 10,000m and create a marathon PB of 2:03:08 in the marathon, or 15-seconds faster than Wilson Kipsang’s current marathon record (Berlin `13).

However, if we look at it from a slightly different perspective, “Improvement from Debut to PB”, and begin with Kenya’s Paul Tergat, the 5000, 10,000 and marathon world record holder before Haile, we see an improvement of 3:20 from Tergat’s debut in London 2001 to his PB in Berlin 2003 (2:08:15 — 2:04:55).  Haile’s arc from Debut to PB stretched some six years, from his third-place debut in London 2002 (age 29) to his world record in Berlin 2008 (2:06:35 — 2:03:59), a drop of 2:36.

2:36 is 78% of 3:20.  Projecting that same percentage improvement onto Keninisa’s debut (78% of 2:36) would cut 2:01 from his Paris performance to give him a potential PR of 2:03:02, the same time Geoffrey Mutai ran in the 2011 Boston Marathon.

 

                                  P. TERGAT    H. GEBRSELASSIE     K. BEKELE

5000m ->             12:49.87                  12:39.36            12:37.35
10,000m ->          26:27.85                  26:22.75            26:17.53
Half Mar. ->         59:22                        58:55                 60:09
Marathon ->         2:08:15                    2:06:35              2:05:03
(Debut)
Marathon ->         2:04:55                    2:03:59              ?????
(PR)

In either case, 2:03:08 or 2:03:02, we see a time faster than any man has yet “officially” run over the marathon distance. But given the state of the sport, and the new, young blood that keeps arriving on the fast courses of the world, there is no reason to believe that 2:03-low will still be the world record by the time Keninisa Bekele gets around to it.

END

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6 comments on “NUMBERING UP BEKELE’S MARATHON DEBUT

  1. Kevin Lillis says:

    Nicely nuanced analysis….the key point is Bekele’s marker for Rio and further enhancement of his status (records or not!)

  2. Iyob Tessema says:

    Great analysis, Toni!!! While “the future is not ours to see”, and there is most certainly a “black horse” out there, somewhere as we’ve witnessed so many times before; the fact remains, that “Kenny’s” performance today has reinstated him as “the King”!!! He is BACK, and we will begin to pray believing he’s here to stay for a while…

  3. Dane Kent says:

    Great analysis. I think he will run faster than this though as his debut marathon was on a slower course than that for Geb, Tergat’s debuts so once you get him on a fast course I feel he will lower it quite a bit more. I ultimately see Bekele running 2:02:10-2:02:30

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Dane,
      It’s a grand game to play, “Where Lies the Future?”…I’ve gone back to All-Athletics.com to gather more stats. Haile’s 5k PB of 12:39 is valued at 1286 points on the A-A timing table. His 10k PB 26:22 carries 1287 points.

      Keninisa’s 5k PB of 12:37 is valued at 1294, and his 10k of 26:17 carries 1295 points. For both track events, Bekele is 8 points up on Geb. So if we add 8 points to Haile’s marathon PB of 2:03:59, which is valued at 1272 points, we hit 1280 for Bekele’s projected marathon PB. 1280 points on the All-Athletics timing table works out to 2:03:30 over the marathon distance, so a somewhat slower projection than using my other computational models.

      But I also believe that training methods have improved markedly since Paul and Haile began marathoning, so Keninisa will be the wiser for that advancement. Plus, his horizon is farther ahead than either Paul’s or Haile’s since he has come into the game when the WR is 2:03:23, not 2:05:48 like when Tergat and Haile first began. Question is, can Keninisa stay healthy through the grind?

      • Dane Kent says:

        Hey Toni, thanks for the reply! You have done some serious analysis and I totally agree it’s a big question of whether he can keep fit. I guess what I was trying to say was that Bekele’s debut marathon if translated to a fast course would have quite likely gone to a low 2:04. If we then cut the average percentage improvement from Tergat and Geb (the 2:01) you mentioned, we’ve got a low 2:02. But you’re right, there are so many possible factors coming into play here. Either way, love your work!

  4. […] ótimo Toni Reavis dá mais números sobre a estreia de Kenenisa Bekele nos 42km domingo passado em Paris tentando dar mostras do que esperar no […]

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