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Xiamen, ChinaRising star Feyisa Lilesa, won the Xiamen International marathon on Saturday (3) followed about a minute later by fellow Ethiopian Negari Getachew Terfa, and last year’s winner, Kenyan Samuel Muturi Mugo.
Another Ethiopian, Atsede Bayisa, made history in this coastal city of 2.3 million by becoming the first foreign athlete to win the woman’s race with a time of 2:28:53.
The Xiamen International Marathon is the first IAAF Gold Label Road Race for 2010.
Men’s race – Lilesa bides his time
Lilesa’s time of 2:08:47 broke the course record set last year by Mugo by four seconds. He surprised marathon onlookers when he definitively broke free of a tight-knit group of top runners in the 38th kilometre.
Terfa’s time was 39 seconds slower than last year’s performance as number two with 2:09:40. The Ethiopian’s PB is 2:07:41 in Berlin in September. The 2009 winner, Mugo, fell behind in the last part of the race after leading for at least 10 kilometres ending with 2:10:11.
Lilesa’s Xiamen run, his first in China and only the second in his career, saw him break his own PB of 2:09:12 which he set in his debut in Dublin. But Lilesa was not reveling in his achievement.
“Today, I’m not good. My leg,” Lilesa said as he bent over while being supported by Chinese volunteers who lead him away holding flowers and donning an olive branch wreath. Lilesa’s leg started bothering him about the fifth kilometre, he said. His manager, former Ethiopian marathon runner Haji Adilo, confirmed that he complained about his leg muscles suspecting it came from training on soft grass ahead of the marathon.
“The last kilometres were a bit difficult. It was a bit cold,” explained defending champion Mugo who, the day before, said he planned to do better than last year if the weather cooperated.
About 50,000 runners, the most since the first edition, from 32 countries participated in the 5 km, 10 km, half-marathon, and marathon in dry conditions at about 11° Celcius.
Lilesa was part of a group of Ethiopian and Kenyan runners that dominated much of the race. From the beginning Ethiopian Berga Bekele, with a 2:09:41 PB from Beijing in October, and Kenyan David Kemboi Kiyeng, who clocked 2:06:26 in Paris last year, led the race.
Both ran together during most of the race with Kiyeng slowing down at the water stands to get two glasses. He would hand one to Bekele before speeding up again ahead of the race.
By kilometre 25 (1:16:30), the elite group was thinned to eight: Kenyans Kiyeng, Mugo and 2008 Xiamen winner Kiprotich Kenei (PB: 2:07:42), and Ethiopians Bekele, Lilesa, Terfa, Abebe Ngewo (PB 2:09:52), and Alemyehu Shumye (PB: 2:08:46).
The pack dispersed by kilometre 30 (1:31:34) with Mugo, Terfa and Shumye one second ahead of Bekele and Lilesa. Kenei fell about a half minute back and Ngewo 40 seconds behind him.
The two pacemakers lost their lead by kilometer 35 and Shumye also fell back to fourth place, 10 seconds behind the three who eventually claimed the podium.
Mugo, Terfa and Lilesa ran as a tight-knit group until kilometre8 when Lilesa surged ahead. Near the 40-kilometre mark at 2:02:18 Lilesa battled on with Terfa while Mugo fell 16 seconds back.
By kilometre 41, however, Lilesa secured his victory with Terfa lagging 53 seconds behind.
Bayisa dominates – women’s race
Unlike the men’s contest, Bayisa, the Paris Marathon winner in 2:24:42 last year, faced little resistance en route to her 2:28:53 victory.
More than five minutes behind her was Sun Juan with 2:34:12, and just under two minutes later came third place winner, Jin Lingling at 2:36:00.
Bayisa, 22, was running unchallenged by kilometre 27. After the race, she smiled widely and was happy with her performance in her first marathon in China. She’d broken free of two Chinese men who kept up with her until the last kilometre. Bayisa mistakenly took a turn the wrong way when she followed the lead about 100 metres ahead of the finish line until she was redirected for her final sprint.
“I’m very surprised. Two of them won the race,” said Adilo, who als manages Bayisa. Of Bayisa, he said, “She’s afraid to run alone. 1:19 at the halfway mark. After that she continued to push.”
Number two among the women, Sun, has more experience running half-marathons, and was fourth in last year’s Xiamen half-marathon. Sun was a second behind Bayisa for the first half but fell six seconds behind by kilometre 25 and 50 seconds by kilometer 30. Five kilometres later Bayisa had built a two-minute lead.
Third place finisher Jin, 22, broke her own PB by three minutes, set in his race last year. Jin secured third place by kilometer 15 but also fell back significantly by kilometer 25.
World champion Bai Xue ran symbolically for five kilometers after participating in the flame lighting ceremony ahead of the starting gun. Cheng Rong said she did not run due to a leg injury she sustained.