Olympic Marathon champion Tiki Gelana successfully defended her crown at 67th Kagawa Marugame Half Marathon in 1:08:53, five seconds slower than in 2012, but was made to work surprisingly hard for her second victory on Sunday (3).
Gelana took off from the start and covered the first 5km in a swift 15:52, a minute faster than her opening split from last year, and she continued to lead at 10km, which was passed in 32:19, still nearly 30 seconds ahead of her 2012 pace.
However, behind her, New Zealand’s Kim Smith had been less audacious and covered the first 5km in 16:07 and 10km in 32:25 before catching Gelana at 12km.
The pair then ran together for the next 8.5km before the Ethiopian surged away from her rival to win by seven seconds.
The next five slots were occupied by Japanese athletes and all of them set personal bests. Yuko Shimizu was third in 1:09:32, nearly three minutes faster than she had ever run before for the distance, while Sakiko Matsumi was fourth in 1:10:10, a personal best by more than two minutes. Aromas Gelana, a younger sister of the 2012 Olympic champion, finished 24th in 1:13:39.
In the men’s race, Australia’s Collis Birmingham confirmed the form he had shown at home in recent weeks. Six runners - Birmingham, the Kenyan trio of Enock Omwamba, Benjamin Gandu, and Micah Njeru, as well as local hopes Tsuyoshi Ugachi and Kenta Murayama - passed 10km together in 28:33.
Birmingham then surged away at 13km and was never really threatened. By 15km, Birmingham led the chasing pack by 10 seconds, and by 20km he had extended his lead to 28 seconds.
The chasers reduced the deficit in the closing stages of the race but Birmingham still won by 19 seconds in 1:00:56, a personal best by 29 seconds and an official Oceania record.
The race for second place came down to the last 50 metres, with Omwanba outkicking Ugachi to take the runners up place by one second in 1:01:15 on his debut over the distance.
Kenya’s Abel Kirui, the two-time World Marathon champion and Olympic silver medallist, lost contact with the leading pack before 10km and finished eighth in 1:02:04 while Ireland’s Alastair Cragg had a race to forget and finished 36th in 1:03:14.
Ken Nakamura (with assistance from Akihiro Onishi and Akira Okada) for the IAAF
1 Collis Birmingham (AUS) 1:00:56
2 Enock Omwamba (KEN) 1:01:15
3 Tsuyoshi Ugachi (JPN) 1:01:16
4 Kenta Murayama (JPN) 1:01:19
5 Benjamin Gandu (KEN) 1:01:21
6 Micah Njeru (KEN) 1:01:33
7 Masaki Ito (JPN) 1:02:00
8 Abel Kirui (KEN) 1:02:04
9 Ryo Yamamoto (JPN) 1:02:05
10 Johana Maina (KEN) 1:02:14
1 Tiki Gelana (ETH) 1:08:53
2 Kim Smith (NZL) 1:09:00
3 Yuko Shimizu (JPN) 1:09:32
4 Sakiko Matsumi (JPN) 1:10:10
5 Eri Hayakawa (JPN) 1:10:13
6 Misato Horie (JPN) 1:10:26
7 Rui Aoyama (JPN) 1:10:28
8 Nikki Chapple (AUS) 1:10:34
9 Kumi Ogura (JPN) 1:10:51
10 Misaki Onishi (JPN) 1:11:16