After a 27-year wait, the 33rd Beijing International Marathon finally produced a course record as Ethiopia’s Tadese Tola won the IAAF Gold Label Road Race in 2:07:16 on Sunday (20), while Zhang Yingying made a strong return to win the women’s race.
Back in 1986 in the Chinese capital, Japan’s Taisuke Kodama clocked 2:07:35, a result that was equalled two years later by Ethiopia’s Abebe Mekonnen in 1988. But today, Tola finally broke that mark after a fabulous sprint finish.
The weather was almost perfect for a Marathon with clear skies, minimal wind and a temperature a little over 10°C. The men’s race began with a fast pace from the start as 5km was reached within 15 minutes with a big lead group of around 15 runners together.
Tola and Kenya’s Festus Langat were in the front at this stage with 10km covered in 30:35 and 15km in 45:01. With Langat still in front, there were 11 runners at the lead group at the 20km mark (1:00:13) and at half way (1:03:35).
After this it soon became clear that a move to drop some runners would be imminent and it was Tola who kicked decisively just after 24km, accelerating the pace considerably. Followed closely by Bernard Kipyego of Kenya, there were only five runners left in the lead group, making the race a very different one for a brief moment.
Led by Tola, the top five reached 25km in 1:15:03 with Kipyego in second place followed by Ethiopians Abebe Negewo and Afewerk Mesfin and Kenya’s Daniel Rono. The same personnel were still in the lead at 30km in 1:30:14, but soon after Mesfin was dropped from the group.
Tola’s next kick came around 33.5km, but this time the 25-year-old’s change in pace did nothing and the four athletes were still there after 35km in 1:45:38. Negewo was the next one to go and after 37.5km it was clear that Tola, Kipyego and Rono would be together in the final sprint.
Tola and Rono began to sprint with 900 metres to go as Kipyego seemed to fall back a bit, but he was going nowhere in the end. With 500m left, all three were going full throttle, a sight not often seen in the Marathon, and for a while it seemed like all three would reach the finish line at the same time.
But with some 150m to go, Tola finally emerged as the winner, clocking a course record of 2:07:16 for the win.
The course is not the same one that was used in 1986 and 1988 when the previous record was set, but it’s quite probably a harder one now and this record is easily justified as the best in the history of this event.
Tola, who won the bronze medal in the Marathon at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow this summer, won his second major Marathon, having won in Paris in 2010.
Kipyego was a close second in a season’s best of 2:07:19 and countryman Rono made a huge breakthrough with his first career sub-2:10 clocking, finishing third in 2:07:20.
Abebe Degefa of Ethiopia was fourth in 2:08:46 and Kenyan newcomer Jamin Ngaukon was fifth in 2:11:11, both athletes setting PBs. Mesfin finished sixth in 2:11:26.
Zhang returns to winning ways
In the women’s race, the elite field was considerably thinner and there was only a handful of runners competing for the top places from the start.
The 10km split was 34:45 with foreign runners at the front including Ethiopians Teshome Ayanu, Makda Harun and Yeshimbet Tadesse, Kenyan Olga Kimaiyo and a surprise name from the hosts, Zhang Yingying.
Just 23, Zhang had not competed for more than four years, since finishing 18th in the 10,000m at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. Her first race in Beijing came in 2007 when she was a surprise runner-up in 2:27:20 at age 17 and then ran a world junior best 2:22:38 in Xiamen in January 2008, a day after her 18th birthday, but then her 2009 performances were no longer as good, and her career drew to a halt.
Here the top five started with a moderate pace and with 15km reached in 52:53 and 20km in 1:10:56, it was clear the finish time would be outside 2:30.
The 30km marker was passed in 1:47:24 with Zhang now clearly looking to take the lead followed by Ethiopians Tadesse and Harun. Around 36km into the race, Zhang finally stepped up a gear with Tadesse falling back quickly and Harun able to hang on for just a few more moments.
Finishing her seventh career Marathon at the age of 23 – despite not completing a Marathon between March 2009 and October 2013 – Zhang won easily in 2:31:19, her fastest time since the 2008 Beijing Marathon and her first win here in three tries, having finished second in 2007 and third in 2008.
Harun took second place in 2:33:04 and countrywoman Tadesse was third in 2:35:20. Kimaiyo set a 2:36:57 personal best for fourth place with Ayanu in fifth clocking 2:37:26.
Big news in China was also the return of four-time winner of the event, Sun Yingjie. The 36-year-old, who won four times in a row 2002-05, is no longer running professionally and her result in the race is not known at this time.
Mirko Jalava for the IAAF