Mubarak Hassan Shami knocked three minutes from his previous lifetime best to win the twentieth edition of the Venice Marathon in 2:09:22.
For the Qatari, the former Kenyan Richard Yatich, it was his second marathon win of the year after his 2:12:20 debut over the distance in Vienna last May. The challenging Venice course also apparently inspired the young Kenyan Paul Lokira, who finished second in 2:10:18, just ahead of Italy's Francesco Ingargiola, who clocked 2:10:25.
Running in the fourth marathon of her career, 27-year-old Emily Kimuria took top honours in the women's race in 2:28:42, just shy of her 2:28:18 personal best from the 2003 Berlin Marathon. Ethiopian Leila Aman (PB 2:27:54, Berlin 2004) finished runner-up in 2:31:10 ahead of pre-race favourite Helena Javornik from Slovenia, who took third place in 2:32:13, but was rewarded with the World Military Games title.
The men's race began at a brisk pace in the initial stages, with Italian road running and cross country specialist Giuliano Battocletti, prepping for the upcoming ING New York City Marathon, and fellow pace-setter Samson Cheboswony, Shami's cousin, bringing the lead pack through the first five kilometres in 15:13, a sub-2:09 pace.
11 men formed the lead group at 10-k, reached in 30:19: along with the pacemakers, defending champion Raymond Kipkoech, Lokira, Ingargiola, John Ngeno, Lezan Kipkosgei Kimutai and David Kirui formed the pack. Ingargiola, the World Military champion in 1995 and 2003, took the lead at 15 kilometres - at 45:32, on 2:08 pace - with Cheboswony, Henry Tarus, Kipkoech, Battocletti and Lokira tailing. Running comfortably, Shami was just a second behind the leaders.
Cheboswony pulled the lead pack of six through the half in 1:04:21, with Battocletti taking over until the 25 kilometre point; Kipkoech was the first main casualty, dropping out just beyond the half.
Shami took the initiative for the first time, moving to the front at 25 km (1:16:09), one second ahead of Cheboswony, Ingargiola and Lokira. Four men pulled away from the field five kilometres later, with Ingargiola taking command.
Over the famous Ponte della Libertà, the bridge linking the mainland to Venice, is where the race usually heats up. This year, Shami pushed the pace at 36 kilometres, pulling clear from Ingargiola and Lokira. The Qatari built a 36-second gap with three kilometres to go, which secured the comfortable win. In the final two kilometres, the most challenging part of the course marked by its 13 bridges, Lokira dropped Ingargiola to take a well-deserved runner-up spot, improving on his previous best of 2:11:24 set during his victory in Padua last April.
"The bridges were more difficult than I thought because they were slippery," said Shami, who was also crowned the World Military champion. "I was not in my best form because of a muscle injury," Shami added.
Said Renato Canova, Shami's coach: "Shami has the potential to emerge as a great marathon runner, but he cannot run too many races because he is a injury-prone athlete. This year he ran just two races before Venice. He won in Vienna, but after the Vienna marathon he had some injury problems which forced him to bypass the World Championships in Helsinki. For this reason he trained for the World Half Marathon Championships in Edmonton, where he made the mistake of celebrating too early before crossing the finish line and was edged out by Fabiano Joseph. He returned to Kenya to prepare for Venice. Shami has a great future. We are planning the Boston marathon next April. I think he can go there to win."
Hailing from a large family of eight siblings, Shami was born near Baringo, Kenya, but switched allegiance to Qatar in March 2005. "We don't know exactly how old he is," Canova added, "but very likely he is 25."
With his third place finish, Ingargiola took the silver medal in the World Military Championships portion of the race, leading Italy to the team title ahead of Qatar and Brazil.
"I prepared well for Venice, spending one month in Livigno and one month in Castelporziano," said Ingargiola, who made his marathon debut with a win at the 1995 World Military Championships. "For this reason the World Military Championships was an important target for me. I ran at a regular pace in the first half, but I couldn't keep up the pace when Shami pushed at 36 kilometres. But this result is a confidence-booster for me."
In the women's race, Javornik, the Slovenian record holder who ran a lifetime best of 2:27:33 in Amsterdam in 2004, took early command, bringing the chief contenders through five kilometres in 17:17, a second ahead of both Kimuria and Ethiopian Leila Aman.
But Kimuria and Aman upped the pace over the next ten kilometres, reaching 15-k in 15:41, six seconds ahead of Javornik. Aman took the lead at the half (1:12:54) just ahead of Kimuria, with Javornik now trailing by 37 seconds. By 30 kilometres, in was Kimuria's turn, who injected a surge to drop Aman by 13, securing the second win of her career.
"It was just my fourth marathon," said a shy Kimuria, whose first win came last year in Hamburg. "For this reason I am very happy although I expected to run faster than in Berlin in 2003."
Hobbled by injury problems over the past six months, Javornik couldn't keep up with the African pair in the race's scond half, and was forced to run the final 12 kilometres alone.
"I struggled in the final part of the race," the Slovenian said. "The Africans ran a very fast pace and I could not follow them. An injury forced me to slow my training during the summer and this affected my performance today. But I am happy with my world military title for Slovenia."
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF
1. Mubarak Hassan Shami, Qatar, 2:09:22
2. Paul Lokira, Kenya, 2:10:18
3. Francesco Ingargiola, Italy, 2:10:25
4. Alexandr Kuzin, Ukraine, 2:10:54
5. David Kirui , Kenya, 2:12:21
6. Henry Tarus, Kenya, 2:12:46
7. Denis Curzi, Italy, 2:13:52
8. John Ngeno, Kenya, 2:14:19
1. Emily Kimuria, Kenya, 2:28:42
2. Leila Aman, Ethiopia, 2:31:10
3. Helena Javornik, Slovenia, 2:32:13