World records at the Berlin Marathon are not so much set as incubated in laboratory conditions.
On Sunday, the sixth men’s world record was achieved in Berlin in the last 11 years as Dennis Kimetto of Kenya ran 2 hours 2 minutes 57 seconds.
On the flat course, aided by a phalanx of pacesetters in cool weather, Kimetto became the first person to run 26.2 miles faster than 2:03 and shattered the record by 26 seconds. It had been set only a year ago in Berlin by a fellow Kenyan, Wilson Kipsang.
“Today is a big day for me,” Kimetto, 30, told reporters after his victory. “The fans made me confident, and I thought I could do it.”
Kimetto’s record victory was the latest in a career of searing ascent. He ran his first marathon only two years ago, in Berlin, and set a world mark for the fastest debut in 2:04:16. He won the 2013 Chicago Marathon and set a course record in 2:03:45, his best time until his world record Sunday.
In 2012, some Berlin commentators said that Kimetto seemed to purposely allow his more accomplished training partner, Geoffrey Mutai, to win the race by a second. But Kimetto showed no deference to his competitors Sunday, running a negative split by covering the second half of the course 33 seconds faster than the first.
His record pace was a stunning 4 minutes 41.5 seconds per mile.
In the final miles, Kimetto took an insurmountable lead over his countryman Emmanuel Mutai, who finished second in 2:03:13 and also broke the record. Abera Kuma of Ethiopia took third in 2:05:56.
Immediately, speculation was renewed about whether, and when, the two-hour barrier might be broken.
“From what I saw today, times are coming down and down,” Emmanuel Mutai told reporters. “So if not today, then tomorrow. Maybe next time we’ll get 2:01.”
In the women’s race, Shalane Flanagan of the United States missed her attempt to set an American record but established her personal best of 2:21:14 in finishing third.
As she did in Boston in April, Flanagan went to the lead in Berlin. She was attempting to break the American women’s mark of 2:19:36, held by Deena Kastor, the bronze medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
At the halfway point, Flanagan held a lead of 18 seconds at 1:09:38. Her buffer expanded to 22 seconds before she was reeled in by two Ethiopians. Tirfi Tsegaye won in 2:20:18, while her countrywoman Feyse Tadese took second in 2:20:27.
“I think it’s all about perspective,” Flanagan, a bronze medalist in the 10,000 meters at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, told reporters. “This year I’ve dropped four minutes from my overall marathon time.”
She added, “Sometimes we have to push ourselves and be subject to failure before we have the big, breakthrough success.”
In the men’s race, a half-dozen runners followed pacesetters to the halfway point in 1:01:45. Emmanuel Mutai reached 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) in 1:27:37, a record for the distance. He surged to try to break Kimetto and another Kenyan, Geoffrey Kamworor.
By 35 kilometers (21.7 miles), four and a half miles from the finish, Kamworor, who would finish fourth, had drifted off the pace. It was now left to Kimetto and Mutai to settle the race and the world record.
Kimetto began to draw away slightly. At 40 kilometers (24.8 miles), his lead expanded to seven seconds. In April, Kimetto dropped out late during theBoston Marathon because of a hamstring injury. There was no such disruption Sunday. Kimetto ran through the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and maintained his speed to set a world record and break the 2:03 barrier.
Afterward, Kimetto said he thought he could run faster. No one doubted him. Not in Berlin. Not on this course.