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The Ethiopia vs. Kenya match at the 35th Paris Marathon turned out to the advantage of Kenya with victories by Benjamin Kiptoo in 2:06:31 and Priscah Jeptoo in 2:22:52.
This IAAF Gold Label Road Race started at 08:45 from the Arc de Triomphe and the pace for the first five kilometres (14:50) was well faster than expected. The first uphill stretch at Bastille had the effect of slowing down the large leading group composed mainly of African runners. Kenya lined-up two participants from last year’s race: Alfred Kering and Kiptoo, second and fourth in 2010 respectively, while Ethiopia replaced last year’s winner Tadesse Tola with Zembala Yegeze (seventh last year) and Eshetu Wondimu, the fastest of the field with a 2:06:46 personal best.
The pack of about 15 men including the pacemakers reached the 10Km marker in 29:46, and continued to slow down until the top of the hill in Bois de Vincennes (15km in 44:55). Using the long slope for the return leg westward, Kenyan Henry Sugut (winner in Vienna in 2:08:40 in 2010) was a credible leader with his teammate Bernard Kipyego (2:07:01 for his debut in Vienna last year), while Kering seemingly struggled some metres behind the group which still included Wondimu and Yegeze.
At the half-way point (1:02:39), pacemaker John Komen injected an acceleration that went unanswered by the group. A 2:08:06 performer, the Kenyan actually had the ability to win the race, but instead of increasing the pace, he kept turning his head to evaluate the gap. He reached 25km in 1:14:17 and 30km in 1:29:28 before stopping, leaving Sugut nine seconds behind and in front of the two Ethiopians and six other men. At 35km (1:45:03), Kering had came from the back to join the leaders while the pace had slowed because of the five-kilometre long hill separating the Eiffel Tower from Bois de Boulogne.
That’s the point Kiptoo chose to accelerate, dropping Kipyego and Wendimu. At a 2:54 per kilometre pace, he was now unstoppable and had a 25sec margin at 40 kilometres (1:59:53).
Kiptoo, 32, who discovered the event seven years ago, took his sixth victory after Brescia (2:09:24) and Beijing (2:10:14) in 2008, Roma (2:07:17) in 2009 and Chunchon (2:07:54) in 2010. He also smashed his personal best with 2:06:31, the fourth fastest ever in Paris, not that far from the race record held by Vincent Kipruto (2:05:47). Kipyego eventually finished second in 2:07:16 with Wendimu third in 2:07:33. In spite of the heat (almost 20°), the depth of the race was of high quality, as eight men ran under 2:09.
Jeptoo bides her time - Women's race
The women’s race displayed a different tactics profile than the men’s, as they were accelerating on the uphills and decelerating on the downhill portions. Ethiopians set the tone from the start (5km in 16:53) with favourite Mamitu Daska (2:24:18 in Dubai last year), Koren Yal (a 2:24:33 performer), Ashu Kasim (4th in Paris in 2009 with 2:25:49) and Marathon debutante Mestawet Tufa taking command.
They maintained their lead through the tenth kilometre (32:59) at more than but Kenyan Agnes Kiprop, the start-lists leader with 2:24:07 erupted in front at 15km (50:14). At the half-way (1:10:27), Daska was the first prominent name to drop, while the sun and heat were rising over the French capital.
The Ethiopian tactic failed as Kiprop and Jeptoo were left in front and the only beneficiaries of their pacemaker, Habte Jifar. Priscah Jeptoo, who built a solid early career with two wins and one second place in the three Marathon she contested, gently but surely get a rid of Kiprop along Seine River, and entered in the Bois de Boulogne (30km in 1:41:54) with a fine margin, while she was periodically looking over her shoulder to keep an eye on possible challengers.
She passed 35km in 1:59:00 and 40km in 2:15:34, securing a comfortable win in 2:22:55.
“I’m very happy today in Paris, because I wasn’t expecting to win”, said Jiptoo, 27. “It is now a new personal best and this fulfills all the good training.”
She indeed improved her previous best (2:27:01) by more than four minutes, and established the second fastest ever time in Paris, missing the course record (2:22:04 by Atsede Bayisa) in warm conditions.
Well back, Kiprop clocked 2:24:43 to finish second ahead of the Ethiopian Yal who reached the line in 2:26:57.
Pierre-Jean Vazel for the IAAF
MEN - 1. Benjamin Kiptoo, KEN 2:06:31 2. Bernard Kipyego, KEN 2:07:16 3. Eshetu Wendimu, ETH 2:07:33 4. Alfred Kering, KEN 2:07:41 5. Assefa Girma, ETH 2:07:43 6. Stephen Chebogut, KEN 2:08:02 7. Henry Sugut, KEN 2:08.22 8. Bettona Sahle Warga, ETH 2:10:12 9. Zambala Yegeze, ETH 2:10:38 10. Abdelatif Meftah, FRA 2:10:53
WOMEN - 1. Priscah Jeptoo, KEN 2:22:55 2. Agnes Kiprop, KEN 2:24:43 3. Koren Yal, ETH 2:26:57 4. Eyerusalem Kuma, ETH 2:27:02 5. Margarita Plaksina, RUS 2:27:07 6. Ashu Kasmi, ETH 2:28:11 7. Meseret Legese, ETH 2:29:09 8. Gisaw Melkaw, ETH 2:29:15 9. Marina Kovaleva, RUS 2:31:11 10. Alemnesh Eshetu, ETH 2:39:05