Tsegaye Kebede, the defending Fukuoka Marathon champion, won the 63rd edition of the race in 2:05:18. It was a personal best for the Ethiopian by two seconds as well as a Japanese all-comers record.
The Fukuoka Marathon is an IAAF Silver Label Road Race.
Kebede became the first runner to defend his Fukuoka title since Gezehagne Abera in 2002. He improved on his personal best of 2:05:20, recorded in the 2009 London Marathon. However, he did not move up on the all-time list. Kebede also improved the course as well as Japanese all-comers record of 2:06:10, which he recorded with his victory here last year.
“I am very happy to run faster than expected. I don’t know how to describe my happiness in words,” Tsegaye said in a post-race television interview. “I was convinced of my win after 30Km when I started to run away from my competitions. I also knew that I had a chance for a personal best when I passed 40Km point much faster (1:59:01) than last year when I think I passed 40Km in 1:59:45.”
Behind him, two other Ethiopian runners improved their personal bests by a huge margin. Tekeste Kebede, with a previous PB of 2:09:49 recorded in Boston earlier this year, was second with 2:07:52. Tsegaye Kebede’s training partner, Dereje Tesfaye, improved his personal best from 2:11:42, recorded in Dubai this year, to 2:08:26 when he finished fourth. Tekeste Kebede ran more than a dozen marathons before he cracked the 2:10 barrier for the first time in Boston.
“Previously, I was training in a group with a coach but I am now self-coached,” Tekeste Kebede, 28, said. “I think it gave me an opportunity to think about the right training for me and that I think is the reason why I was able to improve the personal best by a huge margin.”
In between the Ethiopian pair, Ukraine’s Dmytro Baranovsky was third with 2:08:19. Not only was it his first sub-2:10 marathon since 2006, it was also his second fastest. Rounding out the top five was Evans Cheruiyot of Kenya who clocked 2:09:46.
Mekubo Mogusu, whose marathon debut was attracting a lot of attention, lost contact with the leaders at 26Km. By 30Km, he was essentially reduced to a walk. He stopped several times and stretched his leg muscles and made a valiant attempt to continue. However, he was finally forced to drop out at 31.4Km.
How the race unfolded -
With Yu Mitsuya, a designated pace setter, taking the lead immediately after the start, the race began with a three minutes per Km pace, a 2:06:35 pace, slightly slower than the 2:06:10 course record. After 5Km (15:02), pace setters Samson Ramadhani and John Kales took over the lead with the favorite Tsegaye Kedebe just behind them. Then just before 7Km, as Ramadhani and Kales picked up the pace, the lead pack was split into two. The front group consisted of two pace makers plus six runners, which include all major contenders like Tsegaye Kebede and Mogusu, who passed 10Km marker in 29:53 (14:51 second 5Km). The second group led by Mitsuya stayed on three minutes per Km pace and reached 10Km in 30:02. The wind was strong in the morning causing some concern but fortunately began to die down just in time for the 12:10 start. “The wind was a bit of a problem, but it was not a major problem,” Tsegaye Kebede said.
After 11Km, debutante Mogusu, who was attracting a lot of television attention, seemed to have fallen behind, only to catch up to the lead pack again. The race stayed fast, passing 15Km in 44:42 (14:49). Toshihiko Seko, a four-time Fukuoka champion, who was providing television commentary, pointed out that Mogusu’s form is now more efficient compared to the days when he was running college ekiden races.
The lead group passed the 20Km check point in 59:44 (15:02), while the second group lead by Mitsuya was 30 seconds behind. Cheruiyot who arrived Friday was trailing the first group. The half marathon split was 1:03:05, right on course record pace. The second group passed the half marathon in 1:03:35, at which point Mitsuya was released from pace making duty. Eight runners in the lead pack were still together at 25Km (1:14:57), clocking 15:13 for the 5Km split between Kms 20 and 25.
The first major contender to fall off the lead pack was Mogusu, just before 26Km. A half kilometre later John Kales, one of the pace setter dropped out. Tsegaye Kebede started to run slightly ahead of Ramadhani, the pace maker. Soon Tsegaye started to push the pace and Baranovsky, the 2005 champion, and the pace maker Ramadhani fell behind.
Tsegaye Kebede lead three other runners (Tsefaye, Cheruiyot and Tekeste Kebede) at 30Km with 1:29:47, while Mogusu was struggling as he was apparently having trouble with his left hamstrings. “If you don’t try to finish the race, you won’t really find out what the marathon really is. If his leg does not hurt, he needs to finish it,” Seko said. Mogusu dropped out at 31.4Km, however.
Meanwhile Tsegaye Kebede was breaking away from Cheruiyot and Tekeste Kebede. The big surprise was that Tefaye was the only runner able to stay with Tsegaye. However, by 33Km Tesfaye also lost contact and Tsegaye Kebede was running alone. He passed 35Km in 1:44:24 (14:37),the fastest ever split at 35Km in Fukuoka. Meanwhile, at 38.6Km Tekeste Kebede caught Tesfaye who struggled to stay with him, but by 40Km, Tesfaye fell behind by 13 seconds.
Tsegaye Kebede passed 40Km in 1:59:01, 44 seconds faster than his split time at 40Km from last year. He was also 1:54 seconds ahead of the second placed Tekeste Kebede. Tsegaye Kebede also covered the 35 to 40Km in 14:37, the fastest ever for this segment, before reaching the finish.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Weather: cloudy; temperature: 10C; humidity: 42%; wind: 4m/s NNW
1. Tsegaye Kebede (ETH) 2:05:18
2. Tekeste Kebede (ETH) 2:07:52
3. Dmytro Baranovskyy (UKR) 2:08:19
4. Dereje Tesfaye (ETH) 2:08:36
5. Evans Cheruiyot (KEN) 2:09:46
6. Luis Feiteira (POR) 2:13:07
7. Oleg Kulkov (RUS) 2:13:49
8. Harun Njoroge (KEN) 2:14:17
9. Tadashi Shitamori (JPN) 2:14:42
10. Vitaliy Shafar (UKR) 2:15:07
5Km - 15:02 - Yu Mitsuya
10Km - 29:53 (14:51) - Samson Ramadhani
15Km - 44:42 (14:49) - John Kales
20Km - 59:44 (15:02) - Samson Ramadhani
Half - 1:03:05 - John Kales
25Km - 1:14:57 (15:13) - Samson Ramadhani
30Km - 1:29:47 (14:50) - Tsegaye Kebede
35Km - 1:44:24 (14:37) - Tsegaye Kebede
40Km - 1:59:01 (14:37) - Tsegaye Kebede
Finish - 2:05:18 (6:17) - Tsegaye Kebede