Makda Harun raced to a course record victory in the Blackmores Sydney marathon on Sunday (17), while Shota Hattori overtook Werkunesh Seyoum close to the finish line to make it a hat-trick of wins for Japan in the men’s division of this IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
Harun and Seyoum gave different answers to the same question. Both broke away mid-race to establish what looked to be a winning lead, the only doubt being whether they could hang on. Harun did, crossing the line in 2:28:06 to take 95 seconds off the course record set by Biruktayit Eshetu three years ago.
By 20 seconds and just over a kilometre, Seyoum failed to emulate her. He took up the lead just past 30 kilometres. Five kilometres later he was over 100 metres clear. At 40 kilometres he still retained a lead of 60-70, but by now he was running on piano legs. Approaching the final kilometre, within agonising sight of the Sydney Opera House finish, Hattori swept by with the long-time leader powerless to respond.
Hattori reached the line at the Sydney Opera House in 2:15:16, some 20 seconds ahead of the Seyoum. He had covered the last 2.195 kilometres in 6:54, 32 seconds quicker than the hapless runner-up.
Over 33,000 runners participated in the marathon and associated events of the Sydney Running Festival, including record numbers in the 42.195km event. After sweltering, 30-plus heat mid-week, the race was run in mild, clear conditions. At the Milsons Point start on the northern side of the Harbour Bridge, the temperature was a marathon-friendly 8 C.
Successful defence for Harun
It was the second victory in a row for Harun, a former Ethiopian now resident in Melbourne. Running in the colours of the Melbourne University Athletic Club, she took the Australian title along with her victory and race record. She had shown she was in good form with a 49:30 for 15km in Ballarat, the hometown of Steve Moneghetti, at the end of July.
Harun employed the same tactics which had taken her to victory last year, breaking away between the 15 and 20-kilometre mark as the race wound its way around Centennial Park. It appears no-one told her rivals about her. They knew the way she looked, should have known the way she would act, but by the time any of them reacted, she was no longer there.
Thirty metres clear by 20 kilometres, Harun covered the next 10km in 34:22, putting her almost a minute clear of the pursuing pack.
With pre-race favourites Askale Alemayehu, Mercy Kibarus and Bornes Kitur all in this group, it remained unclear whether Harun would remain in the lead. But when none had made any significant impression over the next 15 kilometres it was just a matter of hanging on. Harun slowed a little, but was still 54 seconds clear of Kitur (2:29:01) at the finish, with Kibarus (2:30:12) rallying to take third place from Alemayehu (2:30:53).
Hattori’s patience pays
By contrast, the men’s race remained a contest well past half-way as a group of seven raced together. Australian London 2017 marathoner Brad Milosevic set the pace through the first hour of the race.
Pre-race favourites Seyoum, Sammy Kigen Korir, Allan Kiprono and Mogos Shumay were there, with Shumay the most active, along with the Japanese trio Hattori, Ryuma Takeuchi and Tsukasa Koyama.
Koyama was the first to fall away as first Shumay, who would pay for his aggression later, and then Seyoum took up the pace. Somewhat surprisingly, it was Kiprono and Korir who were next to struggle as Hattori and Takeuchi comfortably tracked the leading pair.
Seyoum surged well clear as the course dropped down again towards the harbour waterfront just beyond the 30 kilometre point. At that stage, it looked a matter of how far he would win by. Even when he began to slow visibly within the final five kilometres he still looked likely to hang on; but, for the third year in a row, a Japanese runner proved to be the best judge of pace over the closing stages of the race.
Seyoum held on for second place in 2:15:38 while Kigen battled back to finish just ahead of Takeuchi for third, 2:15:54 to 2:16:00.
Hattori’s marathon debut came only this year when he was second in Nobeoka in 2:14:19. He now follows up with a win in Sydney, a run better judged on the quality of the field he defeated – Seyoum, Kigen and Kipronon have all gone sub-2:10 this year – than the time he ran.
Hattori turns 26 next month and with personal bests of 13:37 (5000), 28:22 (10,000) and 1:01:25 (half-marathon) he adds his name to an, admittedly long, list of Tokyo 2020 possibles.
Len Johnson for the IAAF