Mike Rowbottom ©insidethegames

Without wishing to sound perverse, I really hope this Sunday's (September 24) men's Berlin Marathon, which promises to be of historic quality, does not produce a world record.

And as a side-dish wish, I really hope not to be hearing, at any stage, the phrase "greatest of all time" - or GOAT, as some people like to tattoo it.

To deal with the side-dish first.

I imagine Maurice Greene, the former Olympic and world champion and world record holder at 100 metres, still sports the hostage to fortune that is his GOAT tattoo. 

When Greene made his breakthrough by winning 100m gold at the 1997 Athens World Championships - having joined John Smith's training group in the aftermath of failing to earn a place on the US team at the Atlanta Olympics - he was a noticeably humble victor, giving thanks to God more than once. 

And more than twice.

A few years down the line Greene - who had returned to Athens in 1999 and set his world record of 9.79sec - appeared a very different man. 

The brash tattoo offered graphic evidence of his new, swaggering persona.

Maurice Greene celebrates winning the 4x100m gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. But now he has a logical problem with his greatest of all time tattoo ©Getty Images
Maurice Greene celebrates winning the 4x100m gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. But now he has a logical problem with his greatest of all time tattoo ©Getty Images

The problem was, initially, Tim Montgomery, who ran 9.78 in 2002.

Okay. That record was rescinded for doping offences.

But then along came another problem. Asafa Powell. 9.77. Then 9.74.

And then along came another big, vast, giant problem called Usain Bolt…

Not that Bolt has been shy in proclaiming his own virtues over the years. But saying you want to be a legend, and eventually saying you are one, is very different from saying you are the greatest of all time.

Besides, Bolt patently is a legend in sporting terms. And Greene patently is not the greatest of all time any more, if he ever was. As the old gunslingers used to say, there will always be someone faster on the draw somewhere down the line.

Rather than getting the whole tattoo lasered off, maybe Greene could just lose the last two letters of the third word…

But let us lay off this ex-sprinter. GOAT is a phrase that gets used increasingly often, with consistently annoying effect.

Rafael Nadal has been gushingly described on more than one occasion by members of the BBC commentary team as the greatest tennis player of all time - although we hear less of this now the other greatest tennis player of all time, Roger Federer, has re-asserted his grand slam-winning persona.

Lionel Messi is, we hear, the greatest footballer of all time. Or is he? Because we also hear that Cristiano Ronaldo is the greatest of all time. Better than any other player in history - better than Pele, Diego Maradona, Johann Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Bobby Charlton, George Best, John Charles, Alfredo Di Stefano, Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney...

And how exactly do we judge that one?

The urge to rank sporting achievements is irresistible. But "greatest" - post Muhammad Ali - always grates. Why not just say "great" and then wait?

Lionel Messi. He's great. But why is it not enough for some people to say that? ©Getty Images
Lionel Messi. He's great. But why is it not enough for some people to say that? ©Getty Images

This week the estimable team who comprise letsrun.com are boldly and righteously - no, let's not use that word right now - boldly and correctly highlighting what could turn out to be a great marathon race on Sunday.

They too go big on the GOAT, describing two of the three principal talents on show, Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele as, respectively, the greatest marathoner of all time and the greatest runner of all time.

They add that if Bekele "could somehow turn the tables on Kipchoge this year, we'll have to come up with a new level of GOAT".

Guys, please don't bother. But guys - you are spot on to make a big thing of this race.

Bekele, still world record holder for the 5,000 and 10,000m, has moved on from a track career that brought him three Olympic and five world titles, not to mention a record six long course and five short course world cross-country titles.

After setting a record for a marathon debut of 2 hours 5min 4sec in winning at Paris in 2014, the Ethiopian's record over the distance fell away a little as he came fourth in Chicago in a race won by Kipchoge. He retired after 30km of the Dubai 2015 marathon and then withdrew from the 2015 London Marathon with an Achilles tendon injury.

A year later he returned to London, not fully fit, and finished third as Kipchoge won again.

But at last year's Berlin Marathon Bekele took the big step forward that had been expected ever since his Paris flourish, winning in 2:03.03, the second fastest time ever, after a compelling battle with Kenya's Wilson Kipsang, who clocked 2:03.13 - ten seconds faster than his world record on the same course three years earlier.

Both men are in the 2017 Berlin field, as is another of Kenya's former world record holders, Patrick Makau, and their 2007 world champion Luke Kibet.

The favourite, however, will be Kipchoge - a world champion on the track (he beat Bekele to the 5,000m gold at the 2003 Paris Worlds) but an even more consistently effective competitor over 26 miles 385 yards. Over the distance he has won seven of his eight races, including last year's Rio Olympics.

Eliud Kipchoge, in orange, with his two team-mates, making an unsuccessful attempt to break two hours for the marathon at the Monza F1 track earlier this year. He's great too. But the greatest of all time? ©Getty Images
Eliud Kipchoge, in orange, with his two team-mates, making an unsuccessful attempt to break two hours for the marathon at the Monza F1 track earlier this year. He's great too. But the greatest of all time? ©Getty Images

Kipchoge, as letsrun.com point out, has run 2:05.00 or faster six times, and his fastest official marathon time of 2:03.05 last year was set on a London course that is historically much slower than Berlin, where the last six men’s world records have been set since 2003.

And of course, earlier this year, Kipchoge covered the marathon distance in the fastest time ever, 2:00.25, as part of a Nike stunt that employed every legal, if not official, aid possible including a wind-blocking truck and regular rotas of fresh pacemakers in arrow formations to try and get him or one of his two Nike colleagues, Zersenay Tadese and Lelisa Desisa, to break two hours on the Monza Formula One course.

These three outstanding competitive runners were, for the purposes of this publicity stunt, lab rats, albeit willing and well paid lab rats.

It was all about the time. (And the new range of shoes.)

That is why I hope Sunday's competition on the streets of the German capital this weekend produces a fascinating, fluctuating battle, without Dennis Kimetto's world record of 2:02.57 being broken.

Because sport is about uncertainty and competition, and it does not need a world record to make it great.