Dennis Kimetto: The First Sub-2:03 Marathoner

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Dennis Kimetto set a world record at the 2014 Berlin Marathon. Boris Streubel/Bongarts-Getty Images

Dennis Kimetto seemed to come out of nowhere when he burst onto the international distance-running scene in 2011. But he quickly began to dominate half marathons and then full marathons, on his way to setting a marathon world record in 2014.

Farm Team

Kimetto enjoyed running in races as a young student in Kenya, but his family's financial situation made a competitive running career seem impossible. To help his family survive financially, he eventually began working on the family farm in Eldoret, raising maize and tending cows.

Nevertheless, he wasn't about to give up running completely. He took regular distance runs in his neighborhood, which included a training facility in nearby Kapng'etuny. During one of his regular outings Kimetto passed another runner on the road – Geoffrey Mutai. The future Boston Marathon champion recognized good running form when he saw it, so he caught up to Kimetto to find out who he was. Mutai invited Kimetto to train with him and others – including Wilson Kipsang – in  Kapng'etuny. Kimetto accepted the offer and trained part-time, beginning in 2008. Then, with his family's blessing, he left farming to train full time.

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Halfway There

Kimetto enjoyed his first international success in half marathon races. In 2011 he won the Nairobi Half  Marathon in 1:01:30, then ventured outside of Kenya to win the RAK Half Marathon, in the UAE, in 1:00:40. He followed that success with a victory in the 2012 Berlin Half Marathon, in a personal best 59:14.

What's In a Name?

Due to a passport error – and because he was previously unknown – Kimetto was referred to as Dennis Koech in the running world in 2011 and part of 2012. To extend the confusion even further, his age was mistakenly listed as 18, instead of 28, so his winning time of 59:14 in Berlin was briefly considered as the new junior half marathon world record.

Extending His Distance

Kimetto had two more successful races in Berlin in 2012. First, he won the 25-kilometer BIG 25 race in a world-record time of 1:11:18, breaking Sammy Kosgei's previous world mark of 1:11:50. After winning the race he announced that his “long-term goal in the marathon will be the World record," even though he hadn't yet run a competitive marathon. But he was about to do so. He made his marathon debut later that year, in Berlin, and ran with his training partner and discoverer, Mutai. Kimetto continued running just behind Mutai all the way to the finish line, taking second place in 2:04:16, the fastest-ever marathon debut and, at the time, the fifth fastest time in history. The next year, Kimetto scored victories and set course records in marathons in Tokyo and Chicago.

World Record

Kimetto fulfilled the goal he'd set just two years earlier when he ran the first-ever sub-2:03 marathon, winning the 2014 Berlin marathon in a world-record time of 2:02:57, breaking Kipsang’s previous mark of 2:03:23. Kimetto ran with the lead pack – including pacemakers for about half the race – most of the way, but put on same late speed to pull away to victory. His first-half split was 61:45, while his second-half split improved to 61:12.

He averaged 4:41.5 per mile, 14:34.9 per 5k.

Giving Back

When he's not running, Kimetto does a variety of volunteer work in Kenya, helping build churches and assisting students with education costs. “I also help young athletes who are at the start of their running career, because they are now like I also used to be in the past and I know how important it is to be helped at the start,” says Kimetto. “In the future they are the world record holders and champions, so I find it important to help them.”

Stats

  • Height: 5 feet, 7 inches
  • Weight: 121 pounds
  • Birth date: January 22, 1984
  • Hometown: Home: Eldoret, Kenya
  • Personal best: 59:14 (half marathon); 2:02:57 (marathon)

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