Race records fell in Paris with Kenyan Stanley Biwott (2:05:11) and Ethiopian Tirfi Tsegaye Beyene (2:21:39) in spite of swirling winds and chilly temperature.
The Marathon de Paris is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
Having covered the first 5 kilometres in 14:56, the group of about 15 runners was running against the wind as they faced the first difficulty of the course at the 7th kilometre in Felix Eboué street. Arriving in the Bois de Vincennes, the wind was blowing even more yet the runners kept increasing the pace, reaching the 10th kilometre in 29:21.
Behind the pacemakers Kiprop and Philemon Limo, all the favourites were in this pack including Kenyans Eric Ndiema (a 2:06:07 performer last year at age 18), Richard Limo (former 5000m World champion in 2001), and Stanley Biwott (winner of Paris Half-Marathon last month), and Ethiopians Eshetu Wendimu (3rd in Paris last year), Tariku Jufar (winner in Houston this year in 2:06:51) and Debebe Tolossa (runner-up in Houston with 2:07:41).
Despite the weather conditions, the pace was very fast: 44:31 at the 15th kilometre, faster than Vincent Kipruto Limo in 2009 when he ran 44:52 in his way to the 2:05:47 race record. At the half way (1:01:51), the race was now 55sec ahead of the record pace, yet all the runners remained in the group. Running towards the western side of Paris via Place de la Bastille, the pacemakers stopped after the 25th kilometre (1:13:40) except Limo who was leading a group of eight runners along the Seine River.
By 14km to go, all the pacemakers had stopped and Stanley Biwott took the lead, followed by Ethiopians outsiders Raji Assefa (2:10:48) and Sisay Jisa (Marathon debut), while the other Kenyans were definitively left behind. Biwott reached the 30th kilometre in 1:28:04 at a 20,44km/h speed, a pace that his rivals couldn’t sustain. This was an early claim for the victory as the fight for the win in Paris usually takes place later in the Bois de Vincennes. Around Rolland Garros area, the asphalt road is replaced by paving stones, but this didn’t slow Biwott down, timed in 1:42:50 at 35km, 2:08 faster than the race record split. Well behind, three men were still in contention for the second place: Assefa, Jisa and Ndiema.
The last uphill stretch and the finish towards Avenue Foch was a painful experience for Biwott (1:58:10 at 40km), who visibly slow down while he was sure to win and break the race record. He crossed the line in 2:05:11, the 6th fastest time in the world this year.
“I realised early in the race that the pace was very fast”, said the 25 years old winner, before explaining his strategy: “Then I told myself that if I can maintain that speed I can win the race, because nobody would be able to follow me.”
Behind, after having got a rid of Ndiema, the two Ethiopians sprinted during the last 100m of the race and Assefa eventually took the second place in smashing his personal best by more than four minutes.
Tirfi Tsegaye Beyene, the fastest participant of the race (2:22:44) defended her favourite status from the beginning of the race. Third in Paris two years ago, it was felt that she wouldn’t let the chance go by. After a relatively slow pace (17:01 at 5km), the Ethiopian steadily increased the pace (35:02 at 10km, 50:26 at 15km), leading four women including the surprising Turkish Sultan Haydar, 1500m European Junior Champion in 2008 and European Cross Country U23 Champion in 2009 who ran her first Marathon lasy year in Istanbul in 2:35:06.
By the half-way (1:10:45), Tsegaye was still 45sec slower than the race record set in 2010 by Atsede Bayesa. She injected a painful acceleration at the 25th kilometre (1:23:27) that left her alone in front, encouraged by the pacemaker Mekonnen, and her coach follwing the race in a car.
At the 30th kilometre (1:40:06), she was now ahead of the race record split (1:40:19) and guaranteed to win. However, she was willing for more as she was looking for a selection in Ethiopian team for London Olympics, and a time under 2:20 was required in this prospect, and crossed the finish line in 2:21:39, the 7th fastest time in 2012.
Well behind, Haydar, visibly exhausted, improved her lifetime best by more than 10min to take the second place in 2:25:07, a national record for Turkey.
P-J Vazel for the IAAF
1. Stanley Biwott 2:05:11 (Race Record)
2. Raji Assefa (ETH) 2:06:23
3. Sisay Jisa (ETH) 2:06:26 (Debut)
1. Tirfi Tsegaye Beyene (ETH) 2:21:39 (Race Record)
2. Sultan Haydar (TUR) 2:25:07 (National Record)
3. Makda Harun (ETH) 2:26:46