Simon Chemwoiyo emerged from six frustrating years of injury and diffident results to win the Prague International Marathon on Sunday, and add another chapter to the long litany of Kenyan long distance domination.
Chemwoiyo won in a personal best two hours, 10min, 35sec, ahead of colleagues Josephat Kiprono (2.10.38) and Samson Kandie (2.11.48). Former world record holder, Ronaldo da Costa of Brazil could only finish 17th in 2.29.29.
Da Costa started as if he was going to emulate the form which brought him a world record 2.06.05 in Berlin 19 months ago, but with the Kenyans, led by Chemwoiyo, forcing the pace after halfway in 65min 6sec, the Brazilian quickly dropped off the pace, and his Olympic hopes evaporated. From that point, Chemwoiyo was always the one forcing the pace.
Gradually the field whittled down to three, then two Kenyans, and a burst over the last kilometre took Chemwoiyo away to victory.
"I felt confident after the halfway point, although it was very hot" said the 32 year old from Kenya's running heartland of Eldoret. "But I didn't know I was going to beat him (Kiprono) in the last kilometre. I thought he was going to win". But Chemwoiyo prevailed in only his second completed marathon, and it looks as if he is back to being the force he was in the mid-nineties.
Chemwoiyo enjoyed an annus mirabilis in 1994, winning the famous San Silvestre New Year's race in Sao Paulo (Brazil), and a string of other events, finishing with a second place in the world cross country. But injuries to his back and right knee in 1995 affected him for over two years, and since resuming competition he has produced a series of uneven results, typified by a seventh place in his debut marathon in New York 98 (2.11.08), then dropping out of Chicago last Autumn
If the Kenyans are phenomenal, so is Alina Ivanova of Russia, who won the women's race in a course record 2.27.42, reducing her personal best by over four minutes. A former race walker - she won the world 10 kilometres title in Tokyo 1991 - Ivanova was disqualified in the Olympics the following year, and was persuaded by her close friend, Valentina Yegorova, who won marathon gold in Barcelona to take up running.
She has since run 15 marathons with varying success - wins in Pittsburgh 95, Sydney 96 and Hong Kong 98, seconds and thirds elsewhere. But this is a major success, which puts her in a very strong position for Olympic selection alongside friend and training partner, Yegorova.
Second in the women's race was local favourite, Alena Peterkova (2.31.08), who thus qualifies for the Olympic Games at 40 years of age.
Defending champion, Franca Fiaccone of Italy led up to 15 kilometres, but dropped off the leading group at 25k, and finished third in 2.32.00. Chinese champion, Xuijuan Ren ran alongside Ivanova until almost 30 kilometres when she fell heavily at a drinks station. Ren limped in fourth in 2.33.05.
Pat Butcher for the IAAF
1. Simon Chemwoiyo (Kenya) two hours 10 minutes and 35 seconds
2. Josephat Kiprono (Kenya) 2:10.38
3. Samson Kandie (Kenya) 2:11.48
4. Alexandr Kuzin (Ukraine) 2:13.08
5. Ajdrej Naumov (Ukraine) 2:13.29
6. Adam Dobrzinski (Poland) 2:13.54
7. Jimmy Muindi (Kenya) 2:14.17
8. Simon Mpulhanye (South Africa) 2:14.29
9. David Kemboi (Kenya) 2:14.32
10. Franklin Tenorio (Ecuador) 2:14.48
1. Alma Ivanova (Russia) 2:27.42
2. Alena Peterkova (Czech Republic) 2:31.08
3. Franca Fiacconi (Italy) 2:32.00
4. Xuijuan Ren (China) 2:33.05
5. Tomoe Yokoyama (Japan) 2:35.18
6. Anne Mette Jensen (Denmark) 2:35.33
7. Lucilla Aendreucci (Italy) 2:36.36
8. Izabela Zatorska (Poland) 2:40.18
9. Mariene Fortunato (Brazil) 2:40.57
10. Alena Vinitskaya (Belarus) 2:41.43