Bernard Kipyego and Joyce Chepkirui were the winners at the 40th edition of the TCS Amsterdam Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (18).
In persistent drizzling rain, temperatures below 10C and a high humidity, the conditions were far from perfect. But both athletes recorded the sixth-fastest times in the history of the race; Kipyego winning in 2:06:19 and Chepkirui crossing the line in 2:24:11.
Defending champion Kipyego was intent on retaining his title and breaking the 2:06:22 PB he set when winning in Amsterdam last year. The 29-year-old Kenyan eventually achieved both of those goals, but the cold and rain gave him – and many others – cause for concern.
Kipyego was one of 16 runners in the leading group in the first half of the race, along with three-time winner Wilson Chebet and two-time world champion Abel Kirui.
Three pacemakers – Geoffrey Kirui, Edwin Kiptoo and Nicholas Bor – tried to keep the field on pace to break Wilson Chebet’s course record of 2:05:27 from 2013.
The opening 5km was covered in 14:42, but the pace slowed in the second 5km as they passed 10km in 29:48, already putting them outside course-record schedule.
None of the athletes in the lead pack had the energy or the inclination to push for the course record, instead opting for a more cautious strategy. The pace didn’t drop too much, though, and they passed half way in the village of Ouderkerk at the river Amstel in 1:02:57.
Chala Dechasa and fellow Ethiopian Tsegaye Mekonnen were the first to make a break in the second half, having passed 25km in 1:15:03. But when the last pacemakers stepped out of the race at 30km, the Kenyans – led by Kipyego – took the lead.
After winning last year’s race, Kipyego stated that he had left it too late when he made his key move. This time, he made no such mistake and took the initiative to lead from the remaining athletes at the front.
Ezekiel Chebii, Mike Kigen and Dechasa tried to keep up, but they were unable to catch Kipyego, who went on to win with a PB of 2:06:19.
Chebii finished second in 2:07:18, lowering his PB by almost two minutes. Kigen was third in 2:07:45, completing a Kenyan sweep of the podium places.
Dechasa was fourth in 2:08:25, 20 seconds in front of three-time winner Chebet, who finished fifth. Kirui lost contact with the leading group when he picked up a hip problem at 30km and finished 10th in 2:10:55.
Mekonnen, Markos Geneti and Jonathan Maiyo – the three fastest athletes in the field with sub-2:05 PBs – didn’t finish the race.
Abdi Nageeye was the top Dutch finisher, taking more than a minute off his PB to finish eighth in 2:10:24, comfortably inside the Olympic qualifying standard set by his national federation.
But compatriot Michel Butter was not so lucky. He crossed the line moments later in 2:11:08, eight seconds outside the mark required for making the team for Rio.
Chepkirui smashes PB
In her fifth attempt at the marathon distance, Joyce Chepkirui finally made the breakthrough she had been promising for so long, smashing her PB by nearly four minutes to win in 2:24:11.
The lead group was significantly smaller than the one in the men’s race as Chepkirui and compatriot Flomena Cheyech were the only ones who went along with pace maker Eunice Chumba.
Cheyech, the fastest woman in the field with a 2:22:44 PB from her victory in Paris last year, and Chepkirui went through 10km in 33:20 and half way in 1:10:26, putting them on schedule to break the 2:21:09 course record.
But Cheyech began to fade soon after being passed by Chepkirui at about 28km. It meant that Chepkirui, the African and Commonwealth 10,000m champion, was out on her own for the final 10km of the race.
With no one for company, Chepkirui’s pace dropped slightly in the closing stages, but she won comfortably in 2:24:11, taking almost five minutes from the 2:29:07 PB she set in Boston earlier this year.
It was a significant breakthrough for Chepkirui, who failed to finish on her marathon debut in London three years ago and then finished 15th in the British capital one year later. She won in Honolulu last year in 2:30:23 and then placed 10th in Boston six months ago, but both of those races were held in difficult conditions and it was clear that she was capable of running faster in the right race.
“It was very tough, especially in the second half,” said Chepkirui. “I’m very happy with my victory.”
Cheyech held on for second place in 2:24:38. Australia’s Milly Clark, contesting her first serious marathon, finished third in 2:29:07.
Olympic champion Tiki Gelana started the race but dropped out before half way as she was not in good health.
Cors van den Brink for the IAAF