All the predictions of who would win the 24th edition of the Nordea Riga Marathon had pointed to a Kenyan runner winning in the Latvian capital for the fourth year in succession but Japan’s Yu Chiba had not been listening to the pundits and triumphed at the IAAF Bronze Label Road Race in a course record of 2:13:44 on Sunday (18).
In a tight finish with the first three all inside 2:14, and four men still together at 40km, Chiba was the strongest over the last two kilometres as his rivals one by one were left behind.
Chiba, in his first overseas marathon after four previous ones in Japan and the first Japanese man to win at a European international marathon for more than a decade, took 1:50 off the former course record set by Kenya’s Duncan Koech 12 months ago but was a tantilising 25 seconds outside his best set on home territory at the Beppu-Oita race last year.
Having gone through halfway in 1:05:24, Chiba might have anticipated going into new territory by a minute or more but he paid the price as far as the clock was concerned for as slightly miscalculated first half of the race as well as having to cope with the gradually rising temperatures which reached around 20 degrees Celsius by the time he finished.
Chiba clearly felt he was in good shape and looked confident in the early stages of the race and took the lead just before the 5km mark.
He passed 10km in 31:02 and had a seven-second lead over Ethiopia’s Desta Morkama.
By 15km, which the pair passed in 46:17, Morkama was back on his Japanese rival’s shoulder.
The pair then stayed together, although Chiba was consistently the man leading the way while the Ethiopian was generally content to follow in his footsteps, until just before 35km when the Kenya’s pair of defending champion Koech and his compatriot Geoffrey Ndungu got back on level terms.
Chiba changes gear
For the next five kilometres the four men stayed together, eyeing each other up, before Chiba made his move and increased the tempo with just under two kilometres to go.
Following him home, just six seconds in arrears, was Ndungu although, in contrast to Chiba, as a man who can boast a best of 2:08:33 it is unlikely he will be too hapy with his performance.
Koech finished third in 2:13:59 while Morkama struggled badly when the pace increased and came home fourth in 2:14:33.
Valerijs Zolnerovics, who set a Latvian national record of 2:14:33 in Frankfurt last October, was the leading local runner home in fifth place in 2:17:45.
Just like in the men’s race, there was a surprise women’s winner with Ethiopia’s Tigist Teshome Ayanu coming out on top in 2:36:51.
Her time took 23 seconds off the course record of her compatriot Desta Girma Tadesse set three years ago and she improved her personal best, set when she finished fifth in last year’s Beijing Marathon, by the slightly larger margin of 35 seconds.
Ayanu went to the front just before 20km, passing the halfway point in 1:17:05 and was never headed, finishing 11th overall and eventually coming home more than three minutes in front of the USA’s Ariana Hilborn, who was second in 2:40:23.
Overall, more than 24,000 runners took part in four races on Sunday, which included events over 5km, 10km and the half marathon as well as over the classic distance, the Baltic countries’ only IAAF Label Road Race.
Phil Minshull and organisers for the IAAF