Kenneth Kipkemoi was the proud winner of the 38th edition of the NN Rotterdam Marathon on Sunday (8), clocking 2:05:44 at this IAAF Gold Label road race.
Making his debut over the 42.2km distance, the 33-year-old Kenyan put strong speed on display in the race’s final stages. Biding his time until the more experienced Abera Kuma and Laban Korir began their attack, he ran them down when the finish line at the famous Coolsingel came into sight. In the women’s race, Visiline Jepkesho took the victory in 2:23:47 after some difficult final kilometres.
The opening kilometres in the men’s race were fast. The leading group of 11 --with three pacemakers-- sped through the opening five kilometres in 14:50 and ten in 29:47. Felix Kirwa was the first of the favourites to drop back while Vincent Rono, who was also making his marathon debut, eventually dropped out after running in the lead pack early on.
The midway point was reached in 1:02:50, slower than the 1:02:30 requested by organisers. Just a few kilometres later Getu Feleke, who finished second here in 2012 and 2013, couldn’t keep up with the pace, with the leaders reaching 25 kilometres in 1:14:19.
With the pacers completing their chores just beyond 30 kilometres (1:29:17) seven runners remained in contention. Marius Kipserum, the 2016 Rotterdam winner, took the lead while Festus Talam, twice the winner at the Eindhoven Marathon, fell back. The first serious attack came from Kelkile Gezahegn, who left the others behind.
Mule Wasihun tried to answer this challenge as did Abere Kuma, who closed the gap on Gezahegn. Laban Korir also remained in the hunt along with Kipkemoi, leaving four men in the chase between kilometres 35 and 40, separated by 15 seconds.
None could match Kipkemoi’s closing strength as he powered on to a 2:05:44 victory. Kuma was second in 2:05:50, Gezahegn third in 2:05:56 and Korir fourth two seconds later. Further back, Kipserum finished fifth in 2:07:22 with Wasihun sixth in 2:08:13.
Some setbacks in the past forced Kipkemoi to wait until he was 33 for his first attempt at the marathon. “But now I knew I was ready for it,” he said. “My training in Kaptagat was going very well. I expected stiff competition and so it was. First I saw more experienced runners in the front, but in the end I knew I could win today.”
“I tried, but I lost it in the last kilometres,” said Kuma. “But I’m happy with the second place. I ran in Lake Biwa earlier this year, but had problems with my stomach. This shows what I really can do.”
In the women’s race, four runners took the early lead: Sifan Melaku, Sentayehu Lewetegn and Biruktayit Eshetu from Ethiopia and Kenyan Jepkesho.
At five kilometres, reached in 16:35, they remained together, but from that point on Jepkesho forged ahead on her own, accompanied by her two pacemakers. She reached the half in 1:10:09, on her way to a strong personal best, so it seemed. At that point, Eshetu was nearly a minute back (1:11:02) with Lewetegn third another four seconds behind.
But Jepkesho couldn’t maintain her speed. She nonetheless took the victory unchallenged, clocking 2:23:47.
“It’s not the time that I expected, but I’m happy with the victory,” she said, who set her lifetime best of 2:21:37 in Paris one year ago.
Eshetu was second in 2:26:56 and Lewetegn third in 2:30:29.
Temperatures at the start were 15C, with no wind and humidity at 77%. By midway, the mercury rose to 17C with 55% humidity.
Cors van den Brink for the IAAF