Wambora: My experience covering Berlin Marathon was jaw-dropping

Wambora: My experience covering Berlin Marathon was jaw-dropping
Athletics - Berlin Marathon - Berlin, Germany - September 16, 2018 Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge (C) celebrates after winning the Berlin Marathon alongside second placed Amos Kipruto of Kenya (L) and third placed Wilson Kipsang of Kenya (R) REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

In Summary

  • “Where are you from and what are you doing in Berlin?” That is the question I have had to answer the most in Berlin.
  • The backdrop for the final 21 kilometres was a sight to behold. The silhouette of the iconic Brandenburg Gate.

“Where are you from and what are you doing in Berlin?” That is the question I have had to answer the most in Berlin.

It was first asked when I stepped off the plane by the immigration officer and on several other occasions by acquaintances.  On Saturday I answered the question with cautious optimism: “I’m from Kenya and here for the Berlin Marathon. Eliud Kipchoge who is also from Kenya and was last year’s winner could break the world record this year.”

Berlin is a city filled with rich history. One of the most memorable moments in history was the fall of the Berlin wall on 13th June, 1990. The day that unified the East and West of Germany, holding so much significance for the country. On Sunday, 16th September, something of significance particularly to 40 million people 4,000 miles away in Kenya also fell in Berlin. Another world record at the hands of arguably the greatest marathoner ever, Eliud Kipchoge.

A major factor in any marathon that is beyond anyone’s control is the weather. It can be a friend or a foe. For Kenyan athletes this year it had proven to be the latter. Unexpected sweltering heat during the 2018 London Marathon curbed Mary Keitany’s hunt for the women’s world record.

The 2017 defending champion finished utterly exhausted in position 5 while blistering wind during the 2018 Boston Marathon affected Geoffrey Kirui’s race as the then defending champion hobbled over the finish line in 2nd position.

With this in mind, I stepped out on to Sonnenalleestreet hoping that the weather would, on this occasion, be a friend. A cool Berlin breeze greeted me. At 15 degree Celsius it was perfect marathon running conditions and it felt that perhaps even Mother Nature was rooting for Kipchoge.

With the marathon going through so many parts of the city, a number of streets were closed off. The easiest form of travel to get to the marathon was via the underground train(What they call U-Bahn in Germany).

Everyone seemed to go about there business and there was no sense that something historical was about to happen just a few metres above them but once I got out of the train station and began walking towards the start-finish village, the change in atmosphere was instant.

Stewards were dressed conspicuously in pink jackets and were on hand to offer assistance. In my case, I was pointed in the direction of the village. As I began my trek to the village, in the distance I could hear the sound of beating drums.

The sound growing louder, as I inched closer. Finally I could see the source: A troupe of percussionists dressed in green were at the edge of the racing barriers cheering on those taking part in the marathoners. The wheel chair marathon was nearing it’s end and the drumming would get louder anytime a competitor was racing past them.  My curiosity getting the better of me and I inquired more about their role in the marathon. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that as the race marathon was ongoing there was a parallel marathon happening, a band marathon.

Darted throughout the course were bands just like the one I was watching with varying genres from rock to hip hop to alternative music on hand to give the marathoners a unique form of encouragement as they navigated through the streets of Berlin.

After enjoying the music for a bit I learnt that Kipchoge was past the halfway mark and was on course to breaking the world record and I began to make my way to the finish line.All across the barriers fans were present cheering on the competitors as they went past.

The backdrop for the final 2 kilometres was a sight to behold. The silhouette of the iconic Brandenburg Gate.

The closer I got to the finish line the atmosphere intensified, the number of people increased and every so often I would come across some people waving a Kenyan flag, others dawning Kenyan inspired attire or even hear some speaking Kiswahili. Every so often I was inclined to respond back in Kiswahili, pointing out the Kenyan wristband I had on and discuss briefly how we could be the lucky few to watch history unfold up close and personal.

I settled into a prime position to watch the finish. In the final 2 kilometres, it was announced that the Kipchoge was on course to break the world record. The excitement was palpable. The stands were filled and everyone was up on their feet.

As he made his final turn the crowds cheers filled the village. I personally lost all composure as I began shouting, screaming and savouring the moment of having the privilege of watching arguably the greatest marathoner Eliud Kipchoge make history as he cut the tape to finish the race in a staggering 2 hours, 1 minutes and 39 seconds. A range of emotions etched on the faces of those present. From happiness evident in Kipchoge’s face, admiration and even sheer disbelief by most of the spectators, but for the Kenyans present, one emotion which stood high amongst them was pride.

Now, every time someone in Berlin asks me, “where are you from and what are you doing in Berlin?” I can very proudly answer, “I’m from Kenya and I was here to witness Eliud Kipchoge make history. He just broke the marathon world record.”


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Story By Mukami Wambora
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