On a warm and sometimes blustery morning at the Bupa Great Manchester Run, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, recent marathon debutantes Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenenisa Bekele showed they haven't lost too much of their formidable speed with contrasting wins over 10km on Sunday (18).
Dibaba, who ran the third fastest marathon debut ever of 2:20:35 in London last month, was content to run the with the pack in the first half in last year's race but Dibaba had no such luxury this time, as Kenya’s Poline Wanjiku took it out hard from the gun.
“I didn't expect it was going to be that fast,” said Dibaba later, referring to Wanjiku who took it out through 1km in 3:04 and 2km in 6:10.
Wanjiku towed Dibaba under her course record pace through the opening stages, but the Kenyan then fell back in the third kilometre after her impetuous start.
After a third kilometre split of 3:06, with Dibaba going through 3km in 9:16, the pace began to settle down but Dibaba's lead continued to grow, while Wanjiku was reeled in by Great Britain's Gemma Steel and Christelle Daunay from France.
Dibaba reached halfway in 15:34 and while she motored to a second half split of 15:09 last year, this time the two-time Olympic 10,000m champion was content to maintain a more steady pace.
Reaching 8km in 24:58, Dibaba had an advantage of 48 seconds on the rest of the field, and this lead continued to stretch in the final two kilometres before she crossed the in 31:09, 20 seconds slower than her winning time and course record from last year.
While her kilometre splits weren't particularly even, her 5km splits were very consistent. After 15:34 for the first, Dibaba ran just a second slower for the second half.
“It was a very good run. It was a bit windy and I couldn't run a better time but otherwise the run was good,” said Dibaba.
She hasn't decided when her next race is, but she told reporters she is in the process of working out her summer schedule with her manager.
In contrast to Dibaba's effortless and fluent gait, Steel had to grit her teeth to hold off a resurgent Wanjiku for the runner-up spot.
“It came down to a sprint finish and I just thought ‘I'm not going to let this one go!'” said Steel, who was pleased to finish second in 32:10.
“I'm just trying to get my confidence back after my injury,” added Steel, alluding to a calf injury which forced her to miss the London Marathon. “I've missed my racing that much, and I'm just happy to be back.”
Wanjiku was rewarded with the same time as Steel but had to settle for third, while Daunay dropped back to fourth in 32:20.
Bekele trademark sprint seals win
There was a sense of inevitability in the men's race as the slow early pace, including a 3:01 third kilometre, played right into the hands of Kenenisa Bekele. His hallmark sprint finish still seems quite potent, even though he's upped the mileage this winter in preparation for his marathon debut.
Wilson Kipsang, the London Marathon winner last month, took up the pace in the second half of the race, but while the Kenyan dropped South Africa’s Stephen Mokoka in the eighth kilometre, it didn't do nearly enough to blunt the awesome speed of Bekele, who nonchalantly looked across at the World marathon record holder with about 550 metres remaining before easing through the gears.
A gap opened up immediately as Kipsang couldn't find anything to match Bekele, who crossed the line in 28:23 to win by five seconds.
“It was good. It was a little bit windy, but I stayed behind them to control the race, and it was good with my sprint at the end,” explained Bekele.
The World 5000m and 10,000m record holder spoke about wanting to go back to the track, but admitted he doesn't have enough time to get ready for the 10,000m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene, the well-known Prefontaine Classic, which he had initially hoped to race at the start of the year.
“I'm better, but I still need to improve my speed so I'll do some speed work,” assessed Bekele.
“We will make a plan on where to run soon. I will go back to Ethiopia after this but I don't want too much travelling. I need to prepare myself.”
Kipsang looked resigned to his fate once Bekele inched ahead, but was in good spirits after the race.
“I'm not back in full training yet,” said Kipsang. “I took rest for one-and-a-half weeks (after London) and I was travelling a lot, so it's just been the two weeks training for here.”
He admitted he knew he couldn't challenge Bekele in a sprint finish, but he talked with relish on the prospect of facing the great track runner over 26.2 miles.
“When we shall meet in the marathon, it shall be a nice time for me. I have a lot of experience in the marathon. You have a long way to try and apply the tactics so it shall be nice to face him.”
Bekele was slightly more tentative about the prospect of taking on Kipsang at his territory.
“Maybe I will (run against Kipsang) but it depends on the organisation. If someone invites me, I'm willing to run.”
Mokoka drifted back to finish third in 29:11 with Spain’s Ayad Lamdassem, a former runner-up, fourth this year in 29:17.
Steven Mills for the IAAF