Reims, FranceEthiopian Demessew Tsega was the surprise winner of the Reims Marathon on Sunday (16) taking the victory in his debut over the distance in 2:09:44 while Kenyan Julia Mombi confirmed her favourite's status in winning the women’s race in 2:29:35.
Under clear skies and cool temperatures, this IAAF Bronze Label Road Race started at 10:35 on the parvis of Reim’s Cathedral. A large group of Kenyans and Ethiopians, led by the French pacemakers Simon Munyutu and James Theuri, took the direction to the southeast of the town. After a U turn towards the northwest, a large group of 20 reached 10Km in 30:29, thus it was already unlikely that the race record of 2:07:53, held by David Kiyeng, would not be broken. The relatively easy pace made the group homogenous and compact along the Aisne canal.
In the north quarters of Reims, all the Kenyans were still present, but the Ethiopians were running in front. Experienced Abebe Hailu Dogaga, winner of the race in 2009, passed the half-way in 1:05:05, accompanied by his unknown teammates Abdisa Sorri (2:13:27) and debutant Tsega. In ambuscade were Kenyans Richard Limo (the fastest of the field with a 2:06:45 personal best), Abraham Chelanga (fourth time in Reims), Jacob Kitur (2:11:00) and Victor Lagat (his first race in Europe). Sorri and Limo were at the front without being able to intensify the rhythm. Rather, the group became smaller at the back with the first drops occurring at around 30 kilometres, reached in 1:32:20. No less than 11 men were still in contention for the victory.
However, the fatigue, the rising temperatures by mid-day and the first difficulties in the road design reduced the group to seven by the 37th kilometre. The three Ethiopians - Tsega, Hailu and Sorri - still looked good as well as Kenyans Limo, Chelanga and Lagat, while Kitur showed some signs of fatigue.
In the uphill stretch, Tsega made a decisive move and arrived with an irreducible advance in the Parc des Exposition area. The 23-year-old crossed the line first in his debut in 2:09:44. Tsega, winner of Saint-Denis Half Marathon in 1:03:22 three years ago, had participated in the World Road Running Championships over 20km in 2006 where he finished 20th position. In spite of no notable performance this season, the Ethiopian defeated a strong field as he beat Hailu (2:09:52) by eight seconds. Pre-race favorite Limo was third clocking 2:10:01.
The women’s race was also controlled by the Ethiopians, while the Kenyan, Julia Mombi, the only sub-2:30 performer in the race with a personal best of 2:26:00, remained hidden in the pack for most of the race. The four Ethiopians - Meseret Debele (personal best 2:30:42), Aberash Bedasa (2:35:18), Ayelu Lemma (2:35:31) and Ashete Dido (first race in Europe) - passed the 10km point at 35:26, with Mombi one second behind. Although the pace was already too fast for all the French runners, it was not enough to threaten the 2:27:28 race record held by Russian Alla Zhilyayeva since 1995.
There were no changes as the five women reached the half in 1:14:55. The Ethiopian quartet tried unsuccessfully to shake the group and drop Mombi who continued to stay with them. Thirty kilometres was reached in 1:46:47, and after that, the final 10km saw the successive collapse of the Ethiopians. Debele was the first to drop back, followed by Dido, then Lemma leaving Bedasa as Mombi's final opponent. The Ethiopians were actually the victims of their own tactic, wearing themselves down while the Kenyan simply waited for them to disappear one after the other.
Over the final two kilometres Mombi, 26, secured her first ever victory in eight Marathon starts, crossing the line in 2:29:35. Behind her, all but Debele broke their personal bests.
(NOTE: Richard Limo, pictured here, finished third. We are awaiting photos from this year's race from organisers.)
Pierre-Jean Vazel for the IAAF
1. Demessew TSEGA, (ETH) 2:09:44
2. Hailu Abebe DOGAGA, (ETH) 2:09:52
3. Richard LIMO, (KEN) 2:10:01
4. Abraham CHELANGA, (KEN) 2:10:14
5. Victor LAGAT, (KEN) 2:10:18
6. Jacob KITUR, (KEN) 2:10:22
7. Abdisa SORRI, (ETH) 2:10:25
8. Francis KOSGEI, (KEN) 2:12:34
9. Joseph LOMALA, (KEN) 2:12:55
10. Kenneth KORIR, (KEN) 2:13:09
1. Julia MOMBI, (KEN) 2:29:35
2. Abderash BEDASA, (ETH) 2:29:46
3. Ayeleu LEMMA, (ETH) 2:32:25
4. Ashete DIDO, (ETH) 2:33:58
5. Meseret DEBELE, (ETH) 2:42:25
6. Gaby ANDRES, (FRA) 2:59:45