Tsegaye Kebede en route to his 2:06:10 course record in Fukuoka (Kazutaka Eguchi/Agence SHOT) © Copyright
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Kebede cruises 2:06:10 course record in Fukuoka

Breaking away from his competitions after 30 kilometres and covering the next five kilometres in an incredible 14:17, Tsegaye Kebede won the 62nd annual Fukuoka International Marathon in 2:06:10. It was not only a new course record, but also a Japanese all-comers record.

Kebede broke the year old course record of 2:06:39 set by the Olympic champion Samuel Wanjiru in his marathon debut. He also broke the Japanese all-comers record of 2:06:33, recorded by Gert Thys at the 1999 Tokyo marathon. Finally, it was also a personal best for Kebede, the Beijing Olympic Marathon bronze medallist, breaking his previous best of 2:06:40 set earlier this year at the Paris Marathon.

“I am very happy. The result is better than what I had expected,” said Kebede, who is now the 12th fastest Marathon runner in history, relegating Felix Limo to spot No. 13. Limo finished a disappointing fifth with 2:10:59. 

Satoshi Irifune finished a distant second with 2:09:23 and selected for the marathon team for the upcoming World Championships in Berlin. “I am happy to be the first Japanese in the race, which was my goal. But my time is not a world class time. I like to improve it further,” said Irifune, who nonetheless improved his previous personal best of 2:09:40 he recorded in the Tokyo marathon in February. The three minutes, 13 seconds margin of victory by Kebede over Irifune was the largest margin of victory since the 1948 (the race’s 2nd annual edition, which was known as the Asahi Marathon and held in Takamatsu) race, when the winning margin was three minutes and 15 seconds.

Arata Fujiwara finished third with 2:09:47, and proved that his 2:08:40 at the 2008 Tokyo marathon was not a fluke. He was followed by Tomoyuki Sato in fourth place, whose time 2:09:59 matched his season best recorded in the Lake Biwa marathon in March, but fell short of improving his personal best of 2:09:40. Felix Limo finished fifth and Jose Manuel Martinez was sixth. Aburaya, the fastest Japanese in the field was disappointing 10th place.

The 14:17 split recorded by Tsegaye Kebede was the fastest ever recorded in the Fukuoka marathon. The previous fastest ever 30-35Km split in Fukuoka was 14:43 recorded by Haile Gebrselassie in 2006. The fastest ever 5Km split time in Fukuoka marathon was 14:30 (for 5 to 10Km) recorded by Takeyuki Nakayama in 1987. Not counting the opening 5Km in the Boston Marathon, which is steep downhill, it probably is the fastest 5Km split ever recorded in a Marathon. Had an earlier pace been faster, Kebede certainly would have run faster, perhaps around mid 2:05. 

How the race unfolded:

Before the race, four pace makers (Noritaka Fujiyama, Samson Ramadhani, Jonathan Maiyo, and John Kales) were asked to run each 5K in 15:05. And they did a good job. A huge pack led by Noritaka Fujiyama passed 1Km in 3:02, 5Km in 15:07, and 10Km in 30:15. After Fujiyama dropped out, Maiyo, Kales and Ramadhani pushed the pace. The lead pack passed 15Km in 45:25, 20Km in 1:00:39 and the midway point in 1:04:02. By 25Km (1:15:49), the lead pack was down to 14 runners -- John Kales, Shigeru Aburaya, Arata Fujiwara, Yuko Matsumiya, Satoshi Irifune, Tomoyuki Sato, Felix Limo, Tsegaye Kebede, David Makori, Daniel Mwangi, Jose manueal Martinez, Jon Brown and Seiji Kobayashi.

The real racing began soon after 25Km. Kebede started to push the pace stretching out the lead pack. Brown and Kobayashi were first to lose contact with the leaders. A kilometre later Aburaya was also gone. Makori, Mwangi and Martinez were the next casualties of the fast pace, and after a 2:54 Km split between the 28th and 29th, Fujiwara and Limo were also gone, leaving pacemaker Kales, Kebede, Irifune, Matsumiya and Sato in front.  

After 30Km, the final pace maker (Kales) left the course, and Kebede further increased the pace and thus completely broke away from his competition. He covered the next 5Km in an incredible 14:17 and at 35Km Kebede could hardly see his competitors behind him anymore as found himself one minute and 11 seconds ahead of Irifune and Sato, who in turn were 11 seconds ahead of Matsumiya.

Kebede continued to extend his lead over the rest of the field and passed 40Km checkpoint in 1:59:45. It was the first sub 2 hour 40Km split in the history of the Fukuoka Marathon and a new course record for the second consecutive year suddenly became a real possibility. Covering the final 2.195Km in 6:25, the second fastest (after 6:23 by Atsushi Fujita on his national record run of 2000) split in the history of the race, Kebede broke the personal best, the course and the Japanese all-comers record. He covered the last half in 1:02:08, a nearly two minute negative split. 

Suddenly, Kebede became one of the favorites for gold at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. If Kebede runs 30-35Km around 14:15 again, it is hard to imagine anybody can stay with him. But perhaps Haile Gebrselassie or Samuel Wanjiru can. If all three meet in one race, it will be a dream come true for the fans.

Samuel Wanjiru was planning to cheer David Makori along the course in Fukuoka (he trains part of the time in Fukuoka, other time in Kenya) on Sunday. Perhaps, after seeing Kebede’s incredible run, his competitive urge tells him that he must race Kebede again (and Gebrselassie) to prove once again that he is the best marathon runner in the world.

Ken Nakamura assisted by Akihiro Onishi for the IAAF

Weather at Noon: Cloudy Temperature 5.5C; wind 3.5m/s South East
Wather at 1PM: Cloudy; temperature 6.4C; humidity 51%; wind 2.8m/s South East

Leading Results:
1. Tsegaye Kebede (ETH)  2:06:10
2. Satoshi Irifune   2:09:23
3. Arata Fujiwara   2:09:47
4. Tomoyuki Sato  2:09:59
5. Felix Limo (KEN)  2:10:59
6. Jose Manuel Martinez (ESP) 2:11:11
7. David Makori (KEN)  2:11:54
8. Yuko Matsumiya  2:12:18
9. Jon Brown (CAN)  2:12:27
10. Shigeru Aburaya   2:13:48

5Km - 15:07  Noritaka Fujiyama
 15:08  Tsegaye Kebede

10Km 30:15 (15:08) Noritaka Fujiyama
 30:15 (15:07) Tsegaye Kebede

15Km 45:25 (15:10) Jonathan Maiyo
 45:25 (15:10) Tsegaye Kebede

20Km 1:00:39 (15:14) Samson Ramadahni
 1:00:39 (15:14) Tsegaye Kebede

Half 1:04:02  Jonathan Maiyo
 1:04:02  Tsegaye Kebede

25Km 1:15:49 (15:10) John Kales
 1:15:50 (15:11) Tsegaye Kebede

30Km 1:30:41 (14:52) John Kales
         (14:51) Tsegaye Kebede
 1:30:42  Yuko Matsumiya
   Satoshi Irifune
 1:30:43  Tomoyuki Sato
 1:30:52  Arata Fujiwara
          Felix Limo

35Km 1:44:58 (14:17) Tsegaye Kebede
 1:46:09 (15:26) Tomoyuki Sato 
   Satoshi Irifune
 1:46:20  Yuko Matsumiya
 1:46:29  Arata Fujiwara
 1:46:46  Felix Limo

40Km 1:59:45 (14:47) Tsegaye Kebede
 2:02:13 (16:04) Satoshi Irifune
 2:02:33  Tomoyuki Sato

Finish 2:06:10 (6:25) Tsegaye Kebede