In 1981 the “25 km de Berlin” was Germany’s first major city road race
When the first edition of the “25 km de Berlin” was started on 3rd May 1981 the event had historic significance for the sport in Germany. It was the first time a big city road race was allowed to go ahead in one of the nation’s major cities. In America, Great Britain and several other countries running was already very popular. City races were common in those countries. In Germany however running was still in its beginnings. Until the 3rd of May 1981 major city roads were for cars only – not for runners.
Organisers of the marathons in Berlin and Frankfurt had ambitions to follow the American example and stage races in their cities. But the French allied forces were the ones who could finally install a road race in Berlin. They organised the “25 km de Berlin”, which became a precursor of German city races. Marathons in Frankfurt and Berlin then followed the example of the “25 km de Berlin”.
It was the idea of the French Major Bride to organise a city race of 25 k through Berlin. The 20 k from Paris to Versailles served as a role model for the Berlin event. The prerogative was the right of the allied forces in West Berlin, therefore the police did have no means to stop the race through the city. The organisation was a large scale operation not only for Major Bride and the co-organising institutions Landessportbund Berlin (LSB) and the athletics association of Berlin (BLV), but also for the police. After all the “25 km de Berlin” became a widely acknowledged success and cleared the way for city races in Berlin. In the same year the course of the Berlin Marathon led through the city for the first time.
3,250 participants started in the first edition in 1981. Turkish runners Mehmet Yurdadön and Mehmet Terzi passed the finish line jointly for victory in 1:16:59 holding their hands. The French Yonille Audibert was the first woman to win the event in 1:36:35. The fact, that there were two winners crossing the finish line together in the first year, fit to the concept of the French organisers. It was their goal to show their friendly connection to the population of Berlin by organising this race. During the first 10 years the soldiers of the western allied forces formed a large group in the growing field of participants. In 1984 there were already 7,583 runners, two years later even 10,063. The largest number of participants was registered in 1990. Half a year after the wall had come down 14,300 runners from all over the world ran through the city. For some of the following years there was a considerable decline of the number of participants in this temporarily biggest running event of Germany.
In the first five years the male victories came from France and Turkey. During this period German Christa Vahlensieck won the women’s race twice. In the other three years a runner from France took the honours. In 1984 course records tumbled. The internationally well-known French 10,000 m record holder Pierre Levisse won in 1:15:11. His compatriot Joelle de Brouwer improved the course record by nearly four minutes to 1:24:06. She defeated the favourite, the reigning European Marathon Champion Rosa Mota. Even though the Portuguese ran a top time of 1:24:59, she was clearly beaten. The reason for the French and Turkish victories was the lack of contacts of the French organisers to other international top athletes. This changed later on.
Olympic Champion Rosa Mota wins with a course record
Rosa Mota came back to the “25km de Berlin” being an Olympic Champion – and she won at her second attempt. 1989 she set a new course record with 1:25:46. The course had been re-measured after the sensational 1:14:33 victory of the German long distance stars Ralf Salzmann and Herbert Steffny in 1986. The new measuring procedure of the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS), in which the race is a member, was used and it indeed showed a slightly too short course.
On the correct 25 k course Berlin’s Kerstin Preßler repeated her victory in 1987. Clocking 1:26:18 she was even four seconds faster than the year before. In the men’s competition Swiss Markus Ryffel set a course record of 1:15:04 in 1987 – a time that was not broken during the following five years. Despite respective first-class races neither Dave Clarke (England), who won in 1989 with 1:15:07, nor Alfredo Shahanga (Tanzania), who achieved the first African victory a year later in 1:15:09, could improve Ryffel’s record.
In 1992 there was a unique double victory by two runners from Berlin: Kathrin Ullrich-Weßel improved the course record to 1:24:41 and Rainer Wachenbrunner clocked 1:15:21. Tendai Chimusasa surprised in 1993 with a world record time of 1:14:25. In 1994 he won again with only a slightly slower time of 1:14:45. Kenya’s Kenneth Cheruiyot became the first runner ever to run a 25 k race under 1:14 hours in 1997. The 23 year-old won in 1:13:58. The fastest woman in that year was Lornah Kiplagat (Kenya) with a course record of 1:24:39 hours. It was a year later that Kenya demonstrated its domincance. Eight men and threee women started – and they took first to eighth and first to third places respectively. Isaac Chemobo clocked 1:14:16, the second best time ever run in Berlin so far, Lornah Kiplagat repeated her success in 1:26:15. In 1999 the women’s race was in the centre of interest. Susan Chepkemei (Kenya) ran 1:24:29 hours. That was a course record and she had missed the world record time by just two seconds. The first European double victory since 1992 happened in 2000, when Robert Stefko (Slovakia/1:15:31) and Madina Biktagirova (Russia/1:26:01) won.
Kenyans run world records
Another high class race took place in 2001, where the spectators watched the third world record in the history of the event. Winner Rodgers Rop (Kenya) ran 1:13:44 and even the runner-up John Yuda (Tanzania) broke 1:14 with a time of 1:13:56. In 2004 the runners were even faster. The finish line was back in the Olympic Stadium again, after several years of reconstruction of the arena. Paul Kosgei won the race in 1:12:45, followed by ten fellow-Kenyans. He smashed the world record by nearly one minute. The next four runners also ran times faster than Rodgers Rop’s previous world record. Luke Kibet was second in 1:12:52, third place was taken by Benson Cherono in 1:13:01.
During the 25th edition of the race in 2005 once again the Kenyans were dominating. The first 12 places were occupied by the athletes from East Africa. In a thrilling sprint finish Luke Kibet won with the high-class time of 1:13:51. Only one second later Simon Kiprop crossed the finish line. In the women’s race the spectators watched a thrilling sprint duel as well. Finally Rose Cheruiyot of Kenya won in a quick 1:24:46 hours. She was as well only one second ahead. Dire Tune Arusei (Ethiopia) took second.
For the first time since 1990 a five-figure number of participants registered in 2006. A total of 10,495 athletes took part in different races, including a race for inline skaters. The 25 k was of course still the main competition of the event. 6,186 joined this race. Once again the race produced first-class results. The winner Patrick Makau ran a fine 1:14:08. The women’s race was won by a Kenyan as well: Peninah Arusei clocked 1:26:25. Kenyan runners continued their series of victories also in 2007. For the 7th time both winners came from that African country. 22 year-old Patrick Makau won again despite high temperatures (1:14:22). His compatriot Flomena Chepchirchir was surprisingly the fastest woman. She reached the finish on the blue track of the Berlin Olympic Stadium in 1:25:38 hours.
From 2008 onwards Berlin läuft! took over as the organiser of the traditional race. The entry figures started rising again. While the 25 k race remains the main event shorter races were added to the 25k race: a 10 k race, a half marathon, a 5×5 k relay and a children’s race of approximately 2.5 k. The inline skating event was stopped so that the focus was on the running events only.