Twenty years after she amazed everyone by winning a World title at the age of 13, Lydia Cheromei of Kenya has re-established herself at the forefront of world distance running, winning the Volkswagen Prague Marathon on Sunday (8) morning in 2:22:34, a personal best by half a minute, while smashing the course record by three minutes.
Cheromei is equally fast on the way to achieving cult status in the Czech capital, having won the Prague half-marathon title, again in record time, here five weeks ago.
The pre-race prognostication for this IAAF Gold Label Road race was that if the Kenyan, training partner of this year’s London Marathon champion Mary Keitany was on form, the clock would be her toughest competitor. As the race began at 9 a.m from Prague’s Old Square, the temperature was 16 degrees centigrade and rising, promising testing conditions.
Cheromei was undaunted, going through 10Km in 33:20 which offered the tantalising prospect of a finishing time just outside 2:20. With a pedigree which included a World Cross Country junior title – at the age of 13 in Antwerp in 1991 – Cheromei has long been considered to have the potential to join what is now a select group of ten women who have cracked the 2:20 barrier. Keitany was the latest to join the club with her victory in London last month.
By halfway the course record was under threat but the prospect of a sub 2:20 was fading: Cheromei went through in 1:10:41, still on course for what was her priority, improving the personal best set in January of 2:23:01 when finishing runner-up in Dubai.
With Ethiopia’s Belainesh Zemedkun almost a minute and a half behind at that point, Cheromei had a comfortable margin over her nearest rival.
“I never looked back, I was confident," the winner said. "My target today was to run 2:22 and break the course record and I did that – I’m not disappointed that I didn’t run under 2:20. The course is not easy and the weather was warm.”
Although she slowed over the second half, Cheromei remained in control to stretch the margin of victory to almost six minutes. She remains circumspect about the challenge of breaking 2:20 but there was certainly a hint that after celebrating with her husband and 5-year-old daughter Faith, she’ll be setting her sights even higher.
“Once I am home in Kenya I shall meet my training partners, including Mary (Keitany) and plan for the future.”
In far from easy conditions, Tadesse Yeshimebet finished second in 2:28:33 and her Ethiopian compatriot Belainesh Zemedkun was only two seconds outside her personal best with 2:32:15. Filomena Costa of Portugal made a solid marathon debut to finish fourth in 2:33:34.
South Africa’s Rene Kalmer made a successful competitive marathon debut to finish inside the qualifying time for this year’s World Championships and Serena Burla of the USA improved her best by almost two minutes in sixth place.
PB for Barus - men's race
For the men’s race, Benson Barus arrived in Prague on a mission: to break his personal best of 2:08:34 which has stood since he finished fifth in Milan in 2006.
Mission accomplished and the Kenyan is a champion into the bargain. A group of 14 went through halfway in 1:03:47, a tempo which offered the prospect of a finishing time in the mid-2:07s. As ever, the Marathon is a slow-burning contest and the group was whittled down to a quartet by 25Km: Barus, his fellow Kenyans Kenneth Mungara and Sammy Kosgei, the latter making his marathon debut and Ethiopia’s Gudisa Shentema.
The Ethiopian was the first to falter, leaving the Kenyan trio to jockey for position. Kosgei, a World record holder from winning the Berlin 25Km last year, looked as smooth as anyone but at 39 kilometres Barus made the decisive break.
“I knew then that I could win, when I broke away from the other two," Barus said. "I’m delighted, my ambition was to break 2:08 for the first time and I did that. When you have a smooth build-up to a Marathon, as I did, you can achieve good times.”
Barus soon had a lead of ten seconds over Kenneth Mungara and extended that to 31 seconds at the finish. Mungara himself was delighted to set a personal best at the age of 38 while Sammy Kosgei graciously acknowledged after his debutant’s third place that, “Running Prague is not easy!”
Morocco’s Rachid Kisri hung on to finish fourth after dropping off the lead group and Kenya’s Robert Mwangi finished just outside 2:09 as the temperatures continued to rise for the 8400 competitors from 90 countries who were taking part in the 17th edition of the race.
Andy Edwards (organisers) for the IAAF
1. Benson BARUS (KEN) 2:07:07 (pb)
2. Kenneth Mungara (KEN) 2:07:39 (pb)
3. Sammy Kosgei (KEN) 2:07:47 (debut)
4. Rachid Kisri (MOR) 2:08:40
5. Robert Mwangi (KEN) – 2:09:03
6. Samuel Woldeamanuel (ETH) – 2:09:47
7. Emmanuel Samal (KEN) – 2:11:36
8. Samson Ramadhani (TAN) – 2:13:13
9. Edwin Kimaiyo (KEN) – 2:13:30
10. Yemane Tsegaye (ETH) – 2:13:41
1. Lydia Cheromei (KEN) 2:22:34 (course record & pb)
2. Yeshimebet Tadesse (ETH) 2:28:3
3. Belainesh Zemedkun (ETH) 2:32:15
4. Filomena Costa (POR) 2:33:34
5. Rene Kalmer (RSA) 2:34:47
6. Serena Burla (USA) 2:35:08 (pb)