Kenyans Nixon Kipkoech Machichim and Mercy Jerotich Kibarus took the honours at the Venice Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, on Sunday (27).
In a slow and tactical race, Machichim held off his compatriot Raymond Kandie by one second to win a dramatic final sprint in 2:13:10.
Kibarus, meanwhile, went to the front after 25km and ran alone in the lead through to the end, crossing the finish-line in 2:31:14.
Machichim holds off late charge from Kandie
Pacemakers Geofrey Kusuro from Uganda and Daniel Wanjiru from Kenya led a group of seven runners which featured Machichim, Kandie, Dickson Terer, Viktor Kimeli, Titus Masai, Kidane Abdi and 2012 European cross-country champion Andrea Lalli.
From the outset it was a tactical competition, not a race against the clock. The pack went through the 5km mark in 15:53, but the pace was irregular as each of those kilometres were covered in 3:16, 3:05, 2:57, 3:08 and 3:04.
From then on the rhythm became more regular, averaging 3:05 for each kilometre. Kusuro and Wanjiru continued to pace the front group, going through 10km in 30:52 and 15km in 46:24. Kusuro dropped out at halfway, leaving seven men in front – Wanjiru, Terer, Masai, Machichim, Abdi, Lalli and Kandie.
At 30km, which was covered in 1:33:08, Wanjiru, Machichim, Kandie, Masai and Lalli broke away from the rest as the race began to heat up inside the St Giuliano Park.
But it was while crossing the Ponte della Liberta, one of the toughest sections of the course, where the race was decided.
At 35km, reached in 1:49:00, Machichim, Masai and Kandie opened up a 37-second gap on Lalli, despite the fact that the leading pace had slowed to 3:24 at 37km.
Machichim built up a 10-second margin over Kandie but in the final two kilometres across the famous 14 bridges, the latter closed the gap to just one second. Kandie made a desperate attempt to catch up with Machichim in the final sprint, but was held off on the final straight in Riva dei Sette as Machichim crossed the finish-line in 2:13:10, almost five minutes slower than his 2:08:22 PB set in Toronto three years ago.
“I felt comfortable until 35km but then it became very tough,” said Machichim. “I saw that Kandie was catching me up with and I continued to look around in the final kilometres.”
Lalli caught Terer in the closing stages to finish third in 2:14:26 on his debut over the distance.
“The conditions were not ideal because it was too humid,” said the 26-year-old Italian. “I felt comfortable until 30km, but when we reached Venice, I saw that Masai was too far from me.
“Some foot problems affected the final part of my race. I wanted to finish the race with a faster time but this race was a good starting point for my Marathon career. I have a lot of work to do. I am not sure about defending my European cross-country title in Belgrade. It depends on how I will recover from the Marathon. I am planning another Marathon next spring.”
Kibarus runs second half alone
Kenyan Mercy Kibarus and Ethiopians Halima Hassen and Sosena Gezaw formed the leading pack that went through the 5km in 18:11 and 10km in 36:11. The pace picked up slightly as they passed through 15km in 53:09, but it then dropped again and the half-way mark was reached in 1:14:38.
Kibarus then made a break for it and in the space of just a few kilometres had managed to build up a 37-second gap over Hassen and Gezaw as she reached 25km in 1:27:52.
The 29-year-old’s leading margin grew to more than three minutes at 35km and she went on to cross the finish line in 2:31:14, winning by more than seven minutes and smashing her PB by more than two minutes.
Hassen, the 2009 World youth Steeplechase bronze medallist, finished second in 2:38:49 with Marathon debutante Gezaw taking third in 2:42:29.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF
1 Nixon Machichim (KEN) 2:13:10
2 Raymond Kandie (KEN) 2:13:11
3 Andrea Lalli (ITA) 2:14:16
1 Mercy Kibarus (KEN) 2:31:14
2 Halima Hassen (ETH) 2:38:49
3 Sosena Gezaw (ETH) 2:42:29