Helder Ornelas from Portugal took an impressive but surprise win in the sixth edition of the Samsung Milano City Marathon today, in what was his debut over the distance in 2:09:59. The Portuguese, who switched to the marathon after a respectable cross country career, beat 2004 World Half Marathon champion Paul Kirui who took second place in 2:11:28.
The women's race did not produce any similar surprise. It was Kenya's Helen Kimutai who took the honours in 2:28:48, in what was her fourth marathon of the year.
A very cold day which came after snow fell in Milan on Friday night (2) dashed any hopes for a 63:45 paced first half which had been planned by the organisers.Four Kenyan ‘rabbits’, William Chebon, Elias Kemboi, Wilson Kebenei Kiprotich (59:27 PB in the Lisbon Half Marathon and winner at the Stramilano Half in 60:11) and David Kiyeng Kemboi set the early pace to 4km. Behind two large chasing packs, Ornelas opted for a more conservative pace.
By 8km, Elias Kemboi and Kiprotich had increased their speed building up a gap of 20 metres over seven chasing athletes: Japheth Kosgei (PB 2:07:09), Simon Kiprop, Luke Metto, Albert Matebor, Festus Kioko, Frederick Cherono (winner in Rome 2003, Turin 2004 and Athens 2004), Michael Rotich (winner in Paris 2003 in 2:06:33).
By 10km (30:44) the pacemakers had gone even quicker with the gap on the chasers growing to 25 seconds. However,by 15km(46:05) a more confident pack of pursuers had closed the gap and had recaught the leaders.
The pace at halfway mark (1:04:58) was one minute slower than what had been planned, but Ornelas was still running even steadier.
37-year-old Japheth Kosgei, who ran 2:07:09 in Rotterdam in 1999, was the first big name to be dropped at 23km, and by 28km Michael Rotich and Paul Kirui along with Frederick Cherono, Albert Matebor and Festus Kioko made up the lead group.
Kebenei Kiprotich finished his pacemaking task at 30km, and two other pacemakers Elias Kemboi and David Kiyeng dropped out at 32km.
Meanwhile Ornelas, had begun catching up quickly. The Portuguese was 10 seconds behind the leaders at 31km but had joined the front of the race by 33km. Meanwhile, in the chilly weather conditions Rotich began struggling and lost ground on Ornelas and Kirui.
Steadily Ornelas pulled away from Kirui reaching 35km in 1:48:16, and after inflicting a sudden attack he increased his gap on Kirui and had carved out a 20 seconds margin with 3km to go. With the finish-line in the famous Piazza del Duomo in sight, Ornelas again increased his pace, and found the strength to dip under the 2:10 barrier, crossing the finish line in 2:09:59. He had covered the second half in a remarkable 63:55.
"It was my first marathon,” said the winner. “For this reason I did not know what could happen. My coach Antonio Sousa was also in this race and managed to finish fifth. Running with him helped me a lot. He gave me the advice to start slowly and to come from behind. This tactic paid off. I began with cross country running finishing eighth in the 2001 World Cross Country Championships in the long course and fifth in the 2002 European Cross Country Championships but decided to switch to marathon. I have no regret about this choice. I will run the marathon at the European Championships in Gothenburg (next summer)", said a delighted Ornelas.
For the second placed Paul Kirui, “it was too cold. The weather affected my performance today. After 25km I realized that I could finish on the podium."
There was good news for Italy, as experienced cross country specialist Giuliano Battocletti improved his PB to 2:11:58, just one month after dropping out of the New York Marathon.
Helen Kimutai, who was ninth in the World Championships in Helsinki this summer, took an easy win in the women's race in 2:28:42.
In the first part of the race Kimutai, the third placer in this year’s Los Angeles’ and San Diego’s races (PB 2:25:53 – 2003 Hamburg), was running together with 2002 Tokyo Marathon winner Banuelia Mrashani (PB 2:24:59) reaching 15km in 54:24.
After reaching halfway in 1:15:52, Kimutai pushed the pace with the mother of four children from Eldoret, dropping Mrashani and Angelica Sanchez (Mex) to take her comfortable win.
"I pushed the pace at 35km because my rivals slowed down and were struggling to keep with my pace and I realised that I could win the race. It was very cold for me. This affected my race in the first half. After 30km I got used to the weather conditions and things went better", said Kimutai, a former 1500 metres runner who turned to marathon running in 2000.
Angelica Sanchez also admitted that chilly weather (temperature close to 0° C degrees) hindered her performance. "The first half was a bit slow. I felt that my body could not warm up. Things improved after 21km", said Sanchez, who achieved a degree in medicine in 2001. After focussing on her studies, Sanchez started the second part of her career in 2003. It was her second appearance in Milan where she finished third in 2003.
Rebecca Moore from Christchurch (New Zealand) was particularly delighted with her third place in Milan in 2:36:31. "I got the qualifying standard for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne...I have good chances to go."
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF
Results from the Milan Marathon:
1 Helder Ornelas (Portugal) 2:09:59
2 Paul Kirui (Kenya) 2:11:28
3 Giuliano Battocletti (Italy) 2:11:58
4 Michael Rotich (Kenya) 2:14:31
5 Antonio Sousa (Portugal) 2:14:42
6 Paulo Gomes (Portugal) 2:16:03
7 Ribag Saaid (Morocco) 2:16:26
8 Medaska Bedade (Ethiopia) 2:16:39
9 Frederick Cherono (Kenya) 2:17:42
10 Albert Matebor (Kenya) 2:18:04
1 Hellen Kimutai (Kenya) 2:28:42
2 Angelica Sanchez (Mexico) 2:33:52
3 Rebecca Moore (New Zealand) 2:36:31
4 Banuelia Mrashani (Tanzania) 2:38:50
5 Merima Denboba (Ethiopia) 2:43:43