Nothing excites the public more than the prospect of a home winner in the big city
marathons that have otherwise become fixtures on the sporting calendar in most countries.
And Irina Mikitenko fits the bill big time on Sunday, in the 35th edition of the
The fastest marathon debutante in German history, with 2.24.51 when she finished second
to the Ethiopian star, Gete Wami in Berlin last year, Mikitenko, now 36 went on to become
a surprise winner (2.24.14) of the London Marathon earlier this year, a race in which
Wami could only finish third.
Dismayed at missing the Olympics because of a back problem, Mitkitenko is hoping to make
amends by winning in Berlin, thus tying her on 65 points with Wami at the head of the
World Marathon Majors’ table, for a share of the half-million dollar bonus.
A win in Berlin would net her €50,000 euros for a start. And although she faces a young
woman, Askale Tafa of Ethiopia, who has run a faster time (2.23.23), Mikitenko looks to
be the woman on form after her world fastest road 10k this year, 30.57 in Karlsruhe
earlier this month.
“I feel stronger than ever than ever after that (10k),” she said in Berlin on Thursday.
“I was disappointed to miss the Oly
mpics, but you can’t look back. I’m concentrating on the present, on Berlin on Sunday,
and the future”. She refused to be drawn on whether, like Wami last year, she would run
the final ‘Major,’ New York in early November, as a means of cementing her claim to the
big bonus. But neither did she discount it.
Mikitenko has had a lengthy and varied career. Born in Kazakhstan to parents with German
nationality, she was a figure skater as a child, until at teacher at sports school
spotted her giving the boys a hard time on the running track. “I started with 400 metres
and worked my work up from there! From the very start I had good performances and I knew
I could be good,”
She ran for Kazakhstan in the Atlanta Olympics, but moved with her husband, now coach,
Alexander, and son, also Alexander to Germany later that year.
She got clearance to race for Germany in 1998, and had a series of top six places at 5000
metres in the world championships of 1999 and 2001, and in the Sydney Olympics 2000. A
hiatus during the birth of Vanessa, now three, was followed her sensational marathon
debut last year.
It was almost superfluous to ask if, at 36 she wasn’t getting a bit old, since, as she
quickly pointed out, the Olympic marathon was won by Constantina Dita-Tomescu of Romania,
aged 38. “Thirty six is a perfect age,” said Mikitenko. “I’m certainly looking forward to
Despite being 13 years younger, Askale is much more experienced, having run close to a
dozen marathons, since her own debut in Rome three years ago at the age of 20. She said
on Thursday that Ethiopian federation politics kept her out of the Olympic Games, despite
her strong case for inclusion.
“I was beating all the others in training, I just don’t understand why they didn’t choose
me,” she said through her husband Tola Debele, who also acts as her pacemaker. “I was
glad Constantina won, because she always tries hard. But her style is just like mine, and
I think even more that I would have been in the first three if I had gone to Beijing. I
will try to do well her, to replace that”.