Ethiopia claimed a double victory at the 16th Rome Marathon on Sunday.
Siraj Gena won the men’s contest, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, in 2:08:39 while defending champion Firehiwot Dado took the women’s in 2:25:28. It was a fitting conclusion to a race with also commemorated the 50th anniversary of Abebe Bikila’s legendary Marathon triumph in the Eternal City at the 1960 Olympic Games.
Kenyan pre-race favourite Benson Barus (2:09:00) finished second in 2:09:00, ahead of compatriot Nixon Machinim (2:09:08) and Ethiopian Kedir Fikadu (2:09:15).
In the women’s race Dado led a 1-2-3 sweep for Ethiopia with Haile Kebebush finishing second in 2:25:31 ahead of 20-year-old Mare Dibaba who ran an impressive 2:25:38 in her debut over the distance.
Men’s race -
A large pack led by Ukrainian pacemaker Vasyl Matvichuk set off at a brisk pace, going through the 10Km mark in 30:16 and 15Km in 45:20. The group featured Matvichuk, Nicholas Manza Kamakya (one of the pr-race favourites with a PB of 2:08:42). Ben Chebet, Paul Kimugul, Barus (the fastest man in the field with 2:08:34), Gena, Machichim, James Cheboi, Dawit Shami Abdullah and Nigusse Ketema. They ran at a 33:01 per kilometre clip, indicating a possible attack on the 2:07:17 course record set last year by Benjamin Kiptoo.
At 21Km the lead pack still featured a dozen runners. The two pacemakers, Matvichul and Kimugul, passed the halfway mark in 1:03:49 closely followed by Gena, Machichim, Barus, Manza, Cheboi, Dawit and Fikadu.
The race really heated up at 30Km (1:31:08) when eight men remained in contention: Kimugul, Chebet, Gena, Machichim, Fikadu, Barus, Cheboi and Manza. Shortly after, just five remained: Gena, Barus, Machichim, Fikadu and Manza. The pace was still quite fast when the top runners reached the heart of the city with fast splits (2:59 at 32Km, 3:01 at 33 Km, 2:55 at 34Km). Gena and Barus then broke away at the 35Km point, reached in 1:46:06.
Gena then increased the pace, dropping Barus in the 38th kilometre. With two kilometres to go Gena carved out a 17-second gap over Barus which proved to be decisive. Prior to the race, organisers offered a 5000 EUR bonus if the winner would cross the line barefooted. With the victory sealed, Gena was happy to oblige and ran the last 300 metres without his shoes, a gesture that was not lost on the 25-year-old.
“It was a very special feeling to run the last metres barefooted,” said Gena, who knocked more than two minutes from his previous best of 2:10:41 set in Frankfurt in 2009. “Abebe Bikila inspired me today. He gave me the strength to win the race. After the 35 km I felt pain but I managed to overcome it.”
Women’s race -
The trio formed by defending champion Dado, Tetyana Filonyuk from Ukraine, and Kebebush from Ethiopia, who went to the podium last year, took the lead together with Ethiopians Tiruwork Mekonnen, Mare Dibaba and Almaz Balcha and Zivile Balciunaite from Lithuania. They reached 10Km in 34:10 and 15Km in 51:15. Kebebush, Filonyuk and Dado led at 21Km in 1:12:10, closely followed by Dibaba and Balcha. The five-women ran at an average of 3:25 for each kilometre, in line with a possible 2:24 pace.
Then Dado, Kebebush and Dibaba broke away at 30Km (1:42:52). They carved out an 11-second lead over Filonyuk by 35Km which they reached in 2:00:05.
The Ethiopians continued to push the pace increasing their lead to 30 seconds over Filonyuk at 40Km (2:17:50) and then engaged in a fierce battle for the win. Kebebush, third last year in Rome, tried to take the initiative but Dado responded by launching an attack of her own. Kebebush reacted but could not close the gap on Dado who romped home in 2:25:28.
“Rome is fascinating,” said Dado, who edged Kebebush by three seconds. “Abebe Bikila was a big inspiration for me. But I did not think about taking off my shoes because I saw my compatriot behind me and my priority was to win the race.”
Dibaba, who clocked 1:07:13 at the Ras Al Kaimah Half Marathon last February, showed great potential with her 2:25:38 debut performance and may become one of the top names in the near future.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF
Leading Results -
1. Siraj Gema (Ethiopia) 2:08:39
2. Benson Barus (Kenya) 2:09:00
3. Nixon Machichim (Kenya) 2:09:08
4. Kedir Fikadu (Ethiopia) 2:09:15
5. Shume Hailu (Ethiopia) 2:11:48
6. Nicholas Manza Kamakya (Kenya) 2:12:19
7. Migidio Bourifa (Italy) 2:12:34
8. Abdullah Dawit Shami (Ethiopia) 2:12:36
9. Gosa Tafa Megersa (Ethiopia) 2:13:02
10. Alemay Ameta Belachew (Ethiopia) 2:13:25
11. Daniele Meucci (Italy) 2:13:49
1. Firehiwot Dado (Ethiopia) 2:25:28
2. Haile Kebebush (Ethiopia) 2:25:31
3. Mare Dibaba (Ethiopia) 2:25:38
4. Tetyana Filonyuk (Ukraine) 2:26:24
5. Fate Tola Geleto (Ethiopia) 2:28:54
6. Tiruwork Mekonnen (Ethiopia) 2:31:17
7. Almaz Balcha (Ethiopia) 2:33:20
8. Zivile Balciunaite (Lithuania) 2:35:31