A stunning burst of acceleration over the final two kilometres by Stephen Kiprotich helped the Ugandan become only the second man in history – the other being Ethiopian Gezahegne Abera – to add a World Marathon title to an Olympic crown.
It was a quite brilliant finale by the tall 24-year-old Kiprotich, who took 21 seconds out of his nearest pursuer Lelisa Desisa over the final 1.5km to stop the clock in 2:09:51. In so doing he became the second Ugandan to be crowned World champion following Dorcus Inzikuru, winner of the inaugural women’s steeplechase title in 2005.
Desisa, the fastest marathoner in the world this year who had already registered wins in Dubai and Boston in 2013, was rewarded with silver in 2:10:12 with his countryman Tadese Tola, who had led for significant chunks of the race, securing bronze in 2:10:23.
Yet this race was all about Kiprotich, who proved he was no one-hit wonder following his success at London 2012.
The 70 competitors starting out would have appreciated the slightly cooler conditions than their female counterparts endured seven days earlier for the women’s Marathon.
Brazilian Solonei Da Silva was happy to open up a 40-metre lead on the main pack in the early stages as they set out on one small loop followed by three larger loops before heading back to the sanctuary of the Luzhniki Stadium. The Ethiopian challengers quickly covered the gap with Tola leading the field through the first 5km in 15:54 before the main pack concertinaed and all formed as one.
The second 5km of the race saw Tola squeeze on the accelerator and open up a small gap on the pursuers who were now taking on more of an African flavour with Tola’s countrymen, the Kenyans, Eritreans and Ugandans to the fore.
Tola, the third-fastest man in the world this year, passed 10km in 31:22 – having ran a much quicker second 5km of 15:29 – with a seven-second gap back to a group of around 25 athletes, headed by the Kenyan duo of Peter Some and Bernard Koech. The 2011 World bronze medallist Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia was the first of the big names starting to struggle, passing 10km in 35th some 15 seconds off the lead.
Morocco’s Hafid Chani, a top-ten finisher in April’s London Marathon, took his turn at the front, and he reached 15km in 46:39 having covered the previous 5km in 15:02 – the fastest 5km segment of the race so far. The lead group of around 30 athletes were separated by just five seconds with all the main protagonists still in contention. Lilesa had fought back after a difficult first 10km to latch on to the back of the group.
It was Lilesa’s team-mates – Tesgay Kebede, Yemane Tsegay and Tola – that then formed an arrowhead at the front of the field before several athletes took their turn at the front. The main pack was starting to shed athletes with increasing regularity.
The 20km point was passed in 1:01:49 with the main group now containing 21 athletes including all five Ethiopians and five Kenyans, three Ugandans, a pair of Japanese and two Brazilians, one Moroccan, one Eritrean, one Spaniard and a Zambian, Jordan Chipangama.
A little further down the road it was Uganda’s Jackson Kiprop who took the field through halfway in 1:05:12 – with a sub-2:10 time a possibility.
Tola, who had already done his fair share of the donkey work, again took the responsibility of leading the race for a spell but it was Kiprop who led the field through 25km – their second visit to Red Square – in 1:17:11, leading a pack of 18 with Kenyan Nicholas Kipkemboi now some 17 seconds off the back. His countrymen Bernard Koech and Michael Kipyego were the next to become detached, reducing the Kenyan challenge to just two.
However a next 5km of 15:26 did not do a great deal of damage as a 14-strong lead pack went through 30km in 1:32:37, led by Tsegay, one of five Ethiopians still in contention.
With so many athletes still a medal factor, iy was inevitable that some members of the lead pack would start to show signs of impatience and the first significant move of the race was made by Kiprotich who put in a spurt to take Tola and Some with him.
The gap which had opened up was bridged by Desisa at around the 32km mark with Kebede and Kiprop, the second Ugandan, soon to join a lead group of six.
Reaching Red Square for the third and final time at 35km before heading for home, it was Kiprotich in 1:48:00 (a 5km split of 15:23) followed by Some, Tola, Desisa and Kebede. Kentaro Nakomoto of Japan had also crept to within two seconds of the leaders with Kiprop two seconds further back.
At around 37km Kiprotich put the boot in again at the front and Nakomoto was the first to suffer, followed by Kebede and then Some.
Suddenly within 500m or so, the field had been reduced to three – Kiprotich, Tola and Desisa – the three medallists decided. It was now just a case of which colour they would each win. Once more it was Kiprotich who burst to the front again just before 40km, reached in 2:03:23, and this time Tola finally cracked. We were down to two – Kiprotich from Desisa.
The Ugandan then slightly bizarrely swerved either side of the road, unsure of which direction he was meant to be running in. Then suddenly and quite dramatically the race was won. Kiprotich, in what seemed a matter of a few hundred metres, pushed on the accelerator and laid waste to his rival's chances. The most enduring of all running races was won in what seemed a flash.
Just before he entered the Luzhniki Stadium, with the gold medal already in his pocket, he was already waving to the crowd acknowledging their applause. It was an astonishing winning break. He had covered the final 2.195km in 6:28, and his winning time of 2:09:51 was the first sub-2:10 performance on Russian soil.
Desisa battled on to take a deserved silver to back up his wins in Dubai and Boston earlier this year. His countryman Tola was rewarded with a plucky bronze. Tadese, the 2009 World bronze medallist, had to settle for fourth in 2:10:47 with Nakamoto, who finished sixth at the London Olympics, three seconds further back in fifth.
The Brazilian duo of Paulo Roberta Paula and Solonei Da Silva crossed the line hand-in-hand together in sixth and seventh in 2:11:40. Tsegay, the fourth Ethiopian, was three seconds further back in eighth.
In a forgettable race for Kenya, who had struck gold in the three previous editions, their top finisher was Peter Some (2:11:47) down in ninth, their lowest-placed top men’s Marathon finisher at a World Championships for 15 years.
Steve Landells for the IAAF