Josphat Menjo of Kenya capped a historic breakthrough season by winning the Belgrade Race Through History this afternoon (13), taking five seconds from the long standing course record, with 16:53 for the six kilometre lap around the Kalemedgan fortress in the Serbian capital.
Menjo, 31, outsprinted compatriots Eliud Kipchoge and Stephen Tum, who finished second and third, while Saif Saaeed Shaheen of Qatar, in the first road race of his eventful career just outleaned Kenya-based New Zealander Jake Robertson for fourth.
Such was the quality of the field for the sun-soaked race, rather than the threatened rain, that the top five ran faster or equal to the record of 16:58, set by Brahim Lahlafi of Morocco at the inaugural event in 1996.
Running his third race in eight days, with a flight back from the Commonwealth Games in India thrown in, Kipchoge made all the running after the first kilometre, having lost a shoe at the start, and stopping to replace it.
But Menjo was always on his compatriot's heels around the switchback course, which begins in the lower park beside the Danube, and winds in and out of the gates of the fortress whose remains date back over 2000 years, giving the race its name. When Menjo made his move with around 400 metres to run, and stretched out along the esplanade above the Sava river, Kipchoge could not respond and conceded in the final metres.
"It's a difficult course, and the race was very fast," said Menjo, "I didn't train that hard for it, but I thought he (Kipchoge) might be a little tired. I was surprised he ran so well."
The consensus was that the course was difficult to negotiate. This thing is tough, man," ventured Shaheen, "unless you're in top form. I'm not on good terms with corners, I think guys leaning forward do better," he said, referring to his upright running stance.
"That's not a road race," said Jake Robertson. "It's a mountain race," added his twin, Zane, who finished seventh.
"He made a move with about 300 metres to go," said Kipchoge of Menjo, "you need to get to the last corner first. With 30 metres to go, I had nothing left".
With most of the competitors heading off for an Autumn break - "starting right now," said Kipchoge decisively - Menjo can look back on a season which has seen him install himself as one of the leading track distance runners in the world.
In the space of 11 days in late August, he ran 12:55.95 for 5000 metres, a 3:53.62 mile, and a 26:56.74 10,000 metres, the fastest of the year. Prior to that, he was best known for an eighth place in the World championships 10,000 metres in Osaka 2007, and a fifth place in the African Championships two years ago.
"I'm going to relax now," he said, "and take a break for two weeks, before I start training for cross country."
The focus for the sport remains in Belgrade, however, since the city is hosting the European Athletics Convention, beginning tomorrow until Sunday.
Pat Butcher for the IAAF
1 Josphat MENJO KEN 16:53
2 Eliud KIPCHOGE KEN 16:55
3 Stephen TUM KEN 16:56
4 Saif Saeed SHAHEEN QAT 16:57
5 Jake ROBERSTSON NZL 16:58
6 Lazlo TOTH HUN 17:00
7 Zane ROBERTSON NZL 17:01
8 Boniface KIRUI KEN 17:08
9 Dennis MASAI KEN 17:09
10 Mirko PETROVIC SRB 17:44