Tirunesh Dibaba made a winning return to competition after a two-year hiatus and created a small piece of history by becoming the first woman to claim three victories at the Great Manchester Run, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (22).
Keen to blow away the cobwebs in her first race back, Dibaba unusually took up the lead just before the two-kilometre mark, a position which she barely yielded for the remainder of her comeback race.
Edna Kiplagat and early leader Diane Nukuri followed in Dibaba’s slipstream through 5km in 15:45 but Nukuri – the multiple national record-holder for Burundi on the track and road – began to lose ground after Dibaba inserted a 3:04 split for the sixth kilometre.
The order remained the same through the eight-kilometre mark in 25:03 and, for a short while, an upset appeared to be on the cards. Two-time world marathon champion Kiplagat moved into the lead for the first time while Dibaba was looking laboured.
But Dibaba stayed in contact before striking the front with about 600 metres remaining. It might not have been a vintage showing but the world 5000m record-holder proved she is likely to be a force this summer on the basis of her 31:16 victory to move to third on the 2016 world list.
“I felt a bit nervous [before the race] but I’m happy with my result,” said Dibaba, who clocked 15:31 for the second half. “I did not expect this time; I just wanted to win. I didn’t know what was going to happen and I had no clue about the time.”
Dibaba will turn her focus back to the track with the foremost goal of sealing the qualifying time over 10,000m for the Olympic Games.
“I don’t know exactly where or when I will be running but I expect to run it within a month,” said Dibaba, who hasn’t decided if she will run any shorter races to sharpen up.
While there was a considerable degree of uncertainty in regards to the selection criteria for the Ethiopian marathon team, Dibaba more or less knows what she has to do to gain a place on her fourth Olympic team this summer.
“The federation is going to select the team according to time. The best three times will be selected,” she said.
Kiplagat, 36, finished just outside her long-standing lifetime best of 31:19 in second with 31:25 while Nukuri – who is targeting a top-15 finish in the Olympic marathon this summer – shaved three seconds off her lifetime best in third in 31:49.
On her comeback from a chest infection and virus, Gemma Steel was the top British finisher in eighth in 32:43.
Bekele defeats Kipsang for his second win in Manchester
The men’s race played out in an almost identical manner to the 2014 edition with Kenenisa Bekele cutting loose from Wilson Kipsang in the last kilometre to claim his second victory on Deansgate.
Running less than a month after contrasting fortunes in the London Marathon, Bekele and Kipsang didn’t appear to have the residual effects of that race in their legs as they eased through the halfway mark in 14:17 alongside Australia’s David McNeill and New Zealand’s Zane Robertson.
After a relatively sedate first half, the pace began to increase with Kipsang taking the initiative. By the 8km mark, which was reached in 22:40, the pre-race favourites had forged nearly eighty metres on Robertson.
Given Bekele’s awesome pedigree at this distance, the outcome was more or less a foregone conclusion with two kilometres remaining and so it played out with Bekele easing away in the last kilometre.
Bekele said before the race that he wasn’t expecting a fast time so soon after finishing third in the London Marathon but the two-time Olympic 10,000m champion, who took a short break after finishing third in London, still broke the tape in 28:08 – after a 13:52 second half – which was faster than his winning time two years ago.
However, his chance of winning a fourth Olympic title later this summer appears to be in the balance with the news that he was only named as a reserve on the Ethiopian marathon team.
Kipsang finished second for the third time in four years in 28:15 while McNeill overhauled Robertson for third, 28:39 to 28:54.
Kipsang also missed out on selection for the Olympic Games, although his chances were thwarted in London after he took a heavy fall at a drinks station at about the 10km mark. He said his leg – which became painful after the 25km checkpoint in London – feels fine now, although he still feels some pain in his shoulder.
And had he not fallen in London, Kipsang is confident he would have kept pace with Eliud Kipchoge and Stanley Biwott, who ran 2:03:05 and 2:03:51 respectively.
“Yes, yes, definitely,” he said without hesitation. “I was prepared.”
Steven Mills for the IAAF