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With the 46th edition of the BMW Berlin Marathon only six months away and places filling fast, we took a look at the history of this iconic race – from bringing together East and West Berlin just days before Germany’s reunification, to becoming one of the biggest marathon’s on the planet.
The BMW Berlin Marathon is big, there’s no doubt about that. With the return of mass participation events in 2021 almost 30,000 runners from 139 nations took part. However, the race has featured a staggering 44,000 runners in the past making it one of only four marathons in the world with more than 40,000 finishers. It’s also one of only six Abbott World Marathon Majors and a bucket list event for runners all over the world.
But the beginnings of the Berlin Marathon were however much more humble. The first edition was founded in 1974 by local baker Horst Milde. Just 286 raced through the Grunewald Forest on the outskirts of Berlin. The male winner took the title in 2:44:53, while on the women’s side, there were only 10 competitors and 3:22:01 was enough to win the day.
In 1981 the Berlin Marathon saw a change of venue when it was reimagined as a city road race beginning in front of the Reichstag and finishing on Kurfürstendamm. This was down to Horst’s continued efforts but had been no easy feat as his first requests to block the roads for runners were not well received by police chiefs. Britain’s Ian Ray won that first city edition with a time of 2:15:41 and this change of venue saw the start of the Berlin Marathon’s rise in popularity, as numbers grew from 3,486 in 1981 to almost 12,000 in 1985.
On 30th September 1990, just three days before the official reunification of Germany, and now a legendary date in the history of running, the course of the Berlin Marathon passed through the Brandenburg Gate. Once a symbol of German oppression, the landmark transformed into an emblem of unity as runners, many with tears in their eyes, passed through into both parts of Berlin.
The “Run Free Marathon”, or “The Run of Unity” (“Das Lauf der Einheit”), were among the names given to the Berlin Marathon in 1990 and as total strangers from around the world hugged each other and wished each other guten tag, it became evident that mass participation sport was something unique and unifying; a form of celebration, the likes of which the world had never seen before.
In 1998 a record 27,621 runners signed up to run the landmark 25th edition of the event. Ronaldo da Costa, a Brazilian runner from a poor family, arrived at the event as a relative unknown having competed in the 10,000 metres at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, finishing an unremarkable 16th. However his performance crowned the anniversary event when he ran an earth-shattering 2:06:05 smashing the world record, which had stood for 10 years, by almost a minute. Ronaldo became a national hero overnight.
Since 2003 no fewer than seven world record times have been set in the German Capital, including two by the Ethiopian running legend Haile Gebrselassie. Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge shocked the world in 2018 as he powered to a new world record in a jaw-dropping 2:01:39 running with the most evenly paced marathon splits ever recorded (just 19 seconds separating his slowest 5k 14:37 and his fastest 14:18).
If the ground breaking history of the race has taught us anything it’s that on the last weekend of September ANYTHING can happen on the fast and furious Berlin course!
The 2022 Berlin Marathon will take place on 25th September. Secure your place on the starting line HERE!
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