Pre-race favourite Valary Jemeli Aiyabei lived up to expectations at the Beijing Marathon on Sunday (16), becoming the first ever Kenyan winner of the women’s race at the IAAF Gold Label event.
The women’s race was first introduced to the Beijing Marathon in 1989, but Kenyan runners had never previously managed to reach the top step of the women’s podium. Aiyabei, the fastest entrant and the only Kenyan in the elite women’s field, broke clear after 20 kilometres and kept pushing ahead until hitting the line in 2:21:38, ending a four-year winning run by Ethiopian runners.
Her winning mark is the fourth fastest in the history of the race and the quickest mark since 2005, but is two minutes shy of the 2:19:39 course record set by Sun Yingjie in 2003.
“This is my first time running the Beijing Marathon,” said the 27-year-old, who set her PB of 2:20:53 when finishing third at last year’s Berlin Marathon. “The race today was good and the weather was good. Everything was good. I want to say thanks to my pacemaker and my husband, he did the best job. I am very happy.”
The race was staged under cool ad breezing conditions and the in-form Aiyabei tried to break away soon after the gun. After passing the water station at five kilometres, only Bahrain’s Eunice Chebichi Chumba, with a PB of 2:24:27 set last year in Rotterdam, managed to keep up with Aiyabei’s pace.
The duo remained together for another 15 kilometres before Aiyabei finally broke free from Chumba.
Paced by her husband Kenneth Kiplagat Tarus, Aiyabei kept widening the gap between her and Chumba. When Tarus stepped out of the course at 40 kilometres, Aiyabei had already built a lead of more than four minutes.
The 25-year-old Chumba, who was the fourth-place finisher at the 2018 World Half Marathon Championships in Valencia and just collected a 10,000m silver medal at the Asian Games in Jakarta last month, was eventually more than five minutes behind Aiyabei as she took second place in 2:26:56.
Ethiopia’s Fatuma Sado, a 2:24:16 performer and winner of the 2014 edition of the race, finished third in 2:27:41.
Ethiopia’s Dejene Debela also enjoyed a lone lead in the final 10 kilometres of the men’s race and took the convincing win in 2:12:08.
“The time was not very good, but I am happy for winning the competition,” said Debela who owns a career best of 2:07:10 from his fourth-place finish in Eindhoven last year.
It was Debela’s first ever race in Beijing but his second marathon victory in China this season. In January, he emerged victorious from a three-man battle in the last kilometre to win at the Xiamen Marathon in 2:11:22, which was also his first title since debuting over the classic distance since 2016. This time he earned the victory in a more comfortable way.
Like the women’s race, the men’s race also saw two joint leaders soon after five kilometres. Debela and Eritrea’s Mogos Shumay Solomon, who improved his PB by more than four minutes to 2:12:23 this April, fought back and forth for the pole position but neither managed to break clear.
Meanwhile, the gap between the duo and the chasing pack kept growing. When they passed the 20-kilometre mark, the co-leaders were already 35 seconds clear of the chasers.
Debela and Solomon led the race for another 10 kilometres before Debela’s powerful surge at 30 kilometres finally worked. He pulled away from the Eritrean and never looked back.
Solomon was later passed by Ethiopian Tola Dibaba, the quickest man on paper in the field with a PB of 2:06:17, and had to settle for third place in 2:14:40. Dibaba finished second in 2:14:35.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF