Hillary Yego produced a major surprise by taking the Athens Classic Marathon on his debut at the distance, the Kenyan running 2:13:59 on the tough course from the town of Marathon to the packed Panathinaikon Stadium in Athens on Sunday (10).
Fellow Kenyans Dickson Cheruiyot and David Rutoh took second and third in 2:14:40 and 2:14:47 respectively.
Conditions were deceptive for the first few kilometres with the temperature around 15 degrees Celsius but as soon as the sun broke through the clouds, the heat and humidity rose.
The leading men went through 10km in 31:01, which initially led to thoughts that Stefano Baldini's course record of 2:10:55 could be under pressure.
However, the pace slowed towards the halfway point, reached by a group of ten runners in 1:06:48.
Shortly afterwards, the Kenyan race favourite and defending champion Raymond Bett dropped out because of stomach problems and with more hills on the way to the highest point of the course at 32km, one by one the number of runners who found the going too tough at the front grew.
The leading group was reduced to a trio once the descent into Athens began: the eventual three men who finished on the podium Yego, Cheruiyot and Rutoh.
With five kilometres to go, Rutoh was dropped before Yego made his decisive move just before the 40km mark.
Yego heeds his friends' advice
“This was my first Marathon and this is, of course, a perfect start for me. I am very happy, but it was very tough. The course is very hilly and when it finally sloped down into Athens it was getting very hot and humid,” said the 27-year-old winner who comes from Eldoret and trains with leading Marathon runners like Wilson Kibet and Sammy Kitwara.
“They gave me good advice during the training, but also for the race,” added Yego.
In contrast to the way the men’s race developed, one woman took the initiative from the start. Kenya’s Joan Rotich went to the front and quickly built a big lead before winning in 2:41:38.
She passed 15km in 54:10 and, at this stage, the Kenyan was more than two minutes ahead of Ukraine’s Svitlana Stanko.
Rotich began to struggle on the hills in the second half of the race and Stanko gradually cut back the lead, but her Kenyan rival had established too great an advantage and Stanko crossed the finish line 25 seconds later.
“I had hoped to run 2:32, and I was on course for that until 15km. But then it got too tough,” said the 25-year-old Rotich, who has a personal best of 2:33:56.
“The Athens Marathon is a special race, so I am very happy to have won it. It was a great feeling to run into the Olympic Stadium,” she added.
The course records may have remained intact, but the organisers could reflect on a record number of entries with 11,000 taking part in the Marathon itself and there were more than 30,000 participants in a variety of running events in the Greek capital.
Jorg Wenig (organisers) for the IAAF