Melaku Belachew smashed the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon race record to win the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Sunday (12).
The 27-year-old took more than two minutes from his PB to win in 2:10:31, improving the race record by 56 seconds. Compatriot Gulume Tollesa made it an Ethiopian double, winning the women’s race in 2:33:39.
On a day of perfect conditions for distance running, the men’s race came alive in the final 10 kilometres. It started with a conservative opening 10km of 31:58 before the pace picked up with 15km being reached in 47:03.
At half way, which was passed in 1:06:03, there were still 16 men in contention. James Barmasai ran a few strides ahead of the main lead pack which included Belachew, defending champion Mike Mutai, 2009 world 10,000m bronze medallist Moses Masai, Julius Keter and Adugna Takele.
Commonwealth silver medallist Stephen Chemlany then joined Barmasai at the front and the two Kenyans opened up a gap on the rest of the field, passing through 25 kilometres in 1:17:34, about 15 seconds ahead of their pursuers. The increase in pace also meant that they were on schedule to break the race record of 2:11:27, set on the old race route.
Barmasai gradually drifted back towards the chase pack while Chemlany forged on ahead, reaching 30 kilometres 19 seconds in front in 1:33:13. But the 14-man group behind soon began to reel in Chemlany.
The chase pack cranked up the tempo and Chemlany was eventually caught with several kilometres remaining. The large chase pack dissipated during the final 10 kilometres while Belachew and Keter broke away coming out of the Western Harbour Tunnel.
Belachew managed to open up a small but decisive gap at about 40 kilometres and he proved to have the superior finish as he went on to win in 2:10:31, crossing the line three seconds ahead of Keter as both men finished well inside the previous race record. Takele was third in 2:11:32.
Further down the field, Mutai – who had been hoping to retain his title by breaking the race record – finished sixth in 2:13:16 while Masai dropped out in the closing stages.
“I wasn’t expecting that before I came here, but after 33km I felt it was possible and I went for it,” said Belachew, who finished eighth in Hong Kong last year. “By about the 40km mark I knew Keter was tired and I still had plenty of power. I said, ‘I have to win this race’. It was all mental.”
Tollesa leads Ethiopian charge
The women’s race played out in similar fashion to the men’s with the contest unfolding only in the closing stages. This time, though, Ethiopian athletes were far more dominant as they filled the top 10 positions.
A race record seemed highly unlikely from the outset as the lead pack of 11 women – which included defending champion Letebrhan Haylay, 2015 Frankfurt Marathon winner Gulume Tollesa and 2015 Beijing Marathon winner Betelhem Moges – passed through 10km in 36:57 and 15km in 55:07. The group’s half-way split of 1:18:09 suggested a finishing time in the region of 2:36, way outside the 2:30:12 race record.
The pace picked up in the second half and 2010 Commonwealth 10,000m silver medallist Doris Changeiywo was the first to fall off the pack as the 10 other women reached 30 kilometres in 1:51:00.
The group was continually whittled down during the closing stages. By the time Haylay drifted back, there were just three women left ahead of her: Tollesa, Moges and 2015 Ottawa Marathon champion Aberu Mekuria.
The Ethiopian trio battled to the end with Tollesa getting the victory in 2:33:39. Mekuria finished four seconds adrift in second place with Moges a further five seconds back. Haylay’s time of 2:33:56 was faster than her winning time last year but was only good enough for fourth place this time.
“The weather conditions were great and it was very nice to run in,” said Tollesa. “I won Frankfurt in 2:23 so today was a bit slower, but I’m delighted with the win.”
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF
1 Melaku Belachew (ETH) 2:10:31
2 Julius Keter (KEN) 2:10:34
3 Adugna Takele (ETH) 2:11:32
4 Julius Rotich (KEN) 2:11:44
5 Samuel Maswai (KEN) 2:12:50
6 Mike Mutai (KEN) 2:13:16
7 David Kiyeng (KEN) 2:13:29
8 Joel Kiptoo (KEN) 2:13:57
9 Abraraw Misganaw (ETH) 2:14:19
10 Benson Cheruiyot (KEN) 2:14:50
1 Gulume Tollesa (ETH) 2:33:39
2 Aberu Mekuria (ETH) 2:33:43
3 Betelhem Moges (ETH) 2:33:48
4 Letebrhan Haylay (ETH) 2:33:56
5 Azalech Masresha (ETH) 2:34:35
6 Tsehay Desalegn (ETH) 2:34:44
7 Ehite Bizuayehu (ETH) 2:34:49
8 Ayantu Abera (ETH) 2:34:58
9 Etalemahu Habtewold (ETH) 2:35:39
10 Shewarge Alene (ETH) 2:40:21