Ethiopian runners Endeshaw Negesse and Berhane Dibaba took the honours at the 2015 Tokyo Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, winning in 2:06:00 and 2:23:15 respectively on Sunday (22).
It was the first time in the nine-year history of the event that runners from the same nation had won both the men’s and women’s titles.
Negesse broke away from Kenya’s defending champion Dickson Chumba just before 40km to become only the second Ethiopian man, after Hailu Mekonnen in 2011, to win Japan’s most prestigious road race.
It was third-fastest time at the Tokyo Marathon, but fell just short of the twin goals of beating the Japanese all-comers' best of 2:05:18, which belongs to Tsegaye Kebede from the 2009 Fukuoka Marathon and who was also in this year's Tokyo race, and the course record of 2:05:42, which was set by Chumba in 2014.
“It was a good race, although the conditions were little bit tough because it was rainy and cold (with temperatures about 5C),” said Negesse.
“The pacing was a little slow. If it had been faster, then I could have run faster,” he added. “I knew that the field was formidable when I saw the start list, but I did not dwell on it. I have done good training including good speed work. So I knew I could win the race.”
After some slightly erratic early pace, 10km was reached in 29:54. At this point, Kohei Matsumura, who was first Japanese in the last year’s race, started to drift back from the leaders and he eventually finished 25th in 2:16:08.
Kenya’s Joseph Gitau, the 2012 Fukuoka Marathon champion, also fell behind early. At 14km, former Tokyo Marathon winner Michael Kipyego suddenly started walking while Tariku Bekele, making his debut in a marathon, stayed with the leaders until 20km, but dropped out before 30km.
The early splits were 15km in 44:49 and 20km in 59:51 while halfway was reached 1:03:08.
The pace makers dropped out at 30km, passed in 1:29:50, as scheduled. At 31km, Masato Imai fell behind, leaving no Japanese runner in the front pack. Imai did work his way back to regain contact with the leaders, only to fall back again.
Shortly after 35km, with the split reading 1:44:44, Kebede fell away to leave just four runners in contention for the honours, with Chumba leading from Negesse, Bahrain's Shumi Dechasa and Uganda’s world and Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich.
Negesse dominates over final 2km
Between 36km and 37km, Dechasa and Kiprotich became detached, leaving it to a duel between Chumba and Negesse, the latter clinching his win two kilometres from the finish when Chumba started to struggle with a stomach cramp.
The 40km time of 1:59:21 was only two seconds slower than Chumba’s 40km time from the last year, so there was still a chance to break the course record, although by then breaking the all-comers' record was out of the question.
However, the final 2.195km was just too slow, 6:39 compared to what Chumba had done when he clocked 6:23 for the final stretch last year.
Kiprotich passed the fading Chumba in the final metres to finish second in 2:06:33, a huge personal best, eclipsing his best of 2:07:20 from 2011.
Chumba finished third with 2:06:34 after taking 7:06 for the final 2.195km, and thus the history continues; no runner has won the Tokyo Marathon twice in its nine-year history.
Dechasa finished fourth with 2:07:20, and his sub-2:08 streak continues; it now stands at four. Kenya’s Peter Some finished fifth, the same place as last year, in 2:07:22.
The race to be the all-important first Japanese runner home, with 2015 IAAF World Championships places at stake, was won by Imai.
Imai finished seventh in 2:07:39, a personal best by nearly two minutes. “If I had run little harder after 40km, I would have run little faster, but overall it was a good race, exactly what I have imagined for my race,” said Imai.
Dibaba provides double delight for Ethiopia
Dibaba won the women’s title despite her late arrival in Tokyo due to transport problems.
A course record – beating the 2:22:23 Ethiopia’s Tirfi Tsegaye ran a year ago – was also the target. Things started well with 16:52 at 5km and 33:44 at 10km but then the pace slowed.
Five runners – Dibaba, her compatriot and Olympic champion Tiki Gelana as well as the Kenyan trio of Helah Kiprop, Selly Kaptich Chepyego and Flomena Cheyech Daniel – were together at a the half marathon point in 1:11:41 but this was nearly 40 seconds slower than the designated pace.
The five runners continued through 25km and 30km together before Dibaba picked up the pace to win by 48 seconds with 2:23:15, the third-fastest time of her career.
Kiprop stayed close to Dibaba until 35km but hung on to finish second with 2:24:03, improving her personal best by more than three minutes, while Gelana finished third in 2:24:26, her fastest time as well as highest finishing position since her race at the Olympics.
Chepyego made a respectable marathon debut with 2:26:43 in fourth place.
An estimated 36,000 runners took to the streets of the Japanese capital on Sunday.
Ken Nakamura (organisers) for the IAAF
1 Endeshaw Negesse (ETH) 2:06:00
2 Stephen Kiprotich (UGA) 2:06:33
3 Dickson Chumba (KEN) 2:06:34
4 Shumi Dechasa (BRN) 2:07:20
5 Peter Some (KEN) 2:07:22
6 Markos Geneti (ETH) 2:07:25
7 Masato Imai (JPN) 2:07:39
8 Tsegaye Kebede (ETH) 2:07:58
9 Hiroaki Sano (JPN) 2:09:12
10 Benjamin Ngandu (KEN) 2:09:19
1 Berhane Dibaba (ETH) 2:23:15
2 Helah Kiprop (KEN) 2:24:03
3 Tiki Gelana (ETH) 2:24:26
4 Selly Kaptich Chepyego (KEN) 2:26:43
5 Flomena Cheyech Daniel (KEN) 2:26:54
6 Yeshi Esayias (ETH) 2:30:15
7 Madoka Ogi (JPN) 2:30:25
8 Albina Mayorova (RUS) 2:34:21
9 Yukari Abe (JPN) 2:34:43
10 Yumiko Kinoshita (JPN) 2:35:49