​It's 10 kilometres into the 2016 men's Olympic marathon and Canada's Eric Gillis sits 70th, within eyesight of the front pack numbering about 65, including race favourite Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya.

Kipchoge, Ethiopia's Feyisa Lilesa and American Galen Rupp break clear of a large group past the 30-km mark, shortly before the latter two drop off due to the relentless pace set by Kipchoge, who won bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics and silver four years later in Beijing.

Kipchoge takes off and crosses the finish line after 42.1 km in two hours eight minutes 44 seconds, beating Lilesa by 70 seconds in wet and humid conditions in Rio de Janeiro for his seventh victory in eight career marathons. Gillis, 36, finishes 10th in two hours 12 minutes 29 seconds, a minute off his personal best (PB), and Hamilton's Reid Coolsaet 23rd in 2:14:28.


"Once he made his move towards the later stages of the race, really no one could keep up with him," recalls Gillis of Kipchoge, who many believe could shatter Dennis Kimetto's 2014 world record of 2:02:57 this Sunday at the 44th Berlin Marathon, which will be lived streamed at CBCSports.ca at 3:15 a.m. ET.

A three-time Olympian, Gillis was also wowed this past May when Kipchoge fell 25 seconds shy of completing the first-ever two-hour marathon while running as part of the Breaking2 project from sportswear giant Nike on the Formula One track in Monza, Italy.

However, his time doesn't count for record-keeping purposes because pacers were used throughout the race.


"I think Breaking2 was an example of his greatness," Gillis said, "not for only how fast he ran, but for him to handle the pressure of the all-or-nothing-type of environment. From all I've read, he handled it about as mature and confident as you could possibly imagine.

"He learned what to do at a young age and for him to have the ability to still do it is very impressive."

At 19, Kipchoge defeated Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele and Moroccan distance runner Hicham El Guerrouj to win the men's 5,000 metres at the world championships in Paris. An impressive list of achievements over the distance followed, including:

  • Olympic bronze in 2004
  • 2006 indoor world bronze
  • 2007 world silver
  • 2008 Olympic silver
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Kenenisa Bekele, right, holds the lead against Eliud Kipchoge, left, on the way to winning the men’s 5,000-metre final at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Bekele faces Kipchoge again Sunday in hopes of successfully defending his Berlin Marathon title. (Julian Finney/Getty Images/File)

Kipchoge switched to road running after missing the 2012 London Olympics and claimed silver at the 2013 Berlin Marathon before winning two years later against Wilson Kipsang of Kenya and Kimetto. He set a PB of 2:03:05 in winning the 2015 London Marathon and successfully defended his title the following year.

On Sunday, Kipchoge, Bekele and Kipsang will compete for the first time in the same Berlin Marathon, the fourth of the calendar year's Abbott World Marathon Majors.

"They've all had long careers, good marathons and know what they need to do to succeed," said Coolsaet, a two-time Olympian who has raced all three men and clocked a 2:10:29 PB in finishing sixth at the 2015 Berlin Marathon, where the victorious Kipchoge, now 32, completed the race with his neon-green insoles half out of his shoes.


"I think any of those guys can run underneath [the world record] but Kipchoge seems like he's a bit ahead of the other guys."

The 35-year-old Bekele is considered to have the greatest range, given he's the world-record holder in the 5,000 and 10,000 and won last year's Berlin Marathon in 2:03:03.

Kipsang, also 35, held the men's marathon world mark for a year, starting in 2013, after running 2:03:23 in Berlin. He finished second last year in the German capital and four times has run sub-2:04, most recently at the Tokyo Marathon this past Feb. 26.

The pancake-flat course in Berlin tours the city, with a start and finish line area in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate. Historically, it has been the go-to event for chasing world records, in part due to the balance of 10C-15C temperatures — Sunday's forecasted high is 19C — and generally low winds.

"Kipchoge is the best marathoner ever, based on his consistency and his victories," said Gillis, who accepted a position this past summer in his native Antigonish, N.S., as an assistant to St. Francis Xavier University cross-country and track and field head coach Bernie Chisholm.

"Bekele is a really tough athlete and if he's healthy, he doesn't want to lose to [Kipsang and Kipchoge]. And Kipsang is a mature runner who knows how to perform."