James Kwambai and Caroline Kilel both required sprint finishes to take victory at the Daegu Marathon on Sunday (3), the Kenyans recording wins in 2:10:46 and 2:27:39 respectively at the IAAF Silver Label Road Race.
With Ethiopians winning the men's and women's titles in Daegu for the past two years, the Kenyans were keen to resume their dominance at this year's event, and pre-race favourites Kilel and Kwambai made good on their reputations, running at the front throughout and dismissing their rivals with impressive turns of speed on the final run to the line.
On a dry and cloudy day with temperatures ranging from 12C at the start to 15C at the end, a lead group of six athletes formed relatively early in the men’s race, passing 10km in 31:03, but Peru’s Jean-Pierre Castro was the first of those to fall back.
Kenya’s marathon debutant John Langat and Morocco’s Abdellah Tagharrafet attempted to make a break before half way and had an eight-second lead over Kwambai, Stephen Kosgei and Saidi Juma Makula at 15km, reached in 46:05. But the lead pack soon regrouped and went through half way in 1:05:46.
The five-kilometre section between 25km and 30km, covered in 14:53, was the fastest of the race. Makula was unable to cope with the pace and he was followed by Kosgei, leaving just three men out in front: Kwambai, Langat and Tagharrafet.
Kwambai was able to sustain the quick pace better than his two opponents and began to open a gap on Langat and Tagharrafat. A 13-second lead at 35km had doubled to 26 seconds at 40km, but Kwambai then began to struggle in the closing stages.
Langat, meanwhile, unleashed one final effort in a bid to catch his compatriot. The finish line came too soon for him, though, as Kwambai won in 2:10:46 to win by three seconds. Tagharrafet followed them less than a minute later, taking third place in 2:11:34.
Kwambai was a three-time champion at the Seoul Marathon between 2011 and 2013, but this was the 33-year-old’s first victory – on his very first attempt – in Daegu.
While it had taken until 30km in the men’s race for the top three to make a break, the eventual podium finishers in the women’s race emerged much earlier.
Kenya’s Caroline Kilel, Peru’s Ines Melchor and Ethiopia’s Shewarge Alene were alone in front after 20km, which was reached in 1:10:02, and they went through half way in 1:13:52. Shewarge then began to fade slightly, leaving Kilel and Melchor to battle for victory.
They ran side by side right until the closing stages before Kilel was able to edge ahead of the South American record-holder to win by a narrow margin.
At the highest point of her career, back in 2011, Kilel had outsprinted USA's Desiree Davila to take the Boston title by just two seconds, and Sunday's finish was strikingly similar, with the Kenyan edging victory by just one second, 2:27:39 to 2:27:40.
With no Ethiopian male finishing in the top 10 of the men's race, Shewarge Alene saved some face for the East African nation in the women's race by taking third in 2:33:40. The leading home challenger, Lim Kyung Hee of South Korea, was fourth in 2:33:11.
Cathal Dennehy and Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF
1 James Kwambai (KEN) 2:10:46
2 John Langat (KEN) 2:10:49
3 Abdellah Tagharrafet (MAR) 2:11:34
4 Saidi Juma Makula (TAN) 2:12:01
5 Stephen Kosgei Kibet (KEN) 2:13:25
1 Caroline Kilel (KEN) 2:27:39
2 Ines Melchor (PER) 2:27:40
3 Shewarge Alene (ETH) 2:32:40
4 Lim Kyung Hee (KOR) 2:33:11
5 Workitu Ayanu (ETH) 2:34:33