Kenyans Wilson Kipsang and Sarah Chepchirchir clocked impressive world-leading performances at the Tokyo Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (26).
Kipsang, the former world record-holder, clocked 2:03:58 to clip nearly two minutes from the previous race record while the unheralded Chepchirchir clocked 2:19:47 to improve the race mark by more than a minute. Both were also the fastest marathons ever run in Japan.
“I was feeling very good," said Kipsang, whose performance was the 12th fastest ever run. "The course is very good, but it was bit windy."
Fast from the gun
Strong winds notwithstanding, the men's race began with a blistering pace to match the pre-race world record assault hype, opening with a 2:46 first kilometre and the clock reading 14:13 through five kilometres. Although the pace slackened when an early downhill portion of the course was run, the first 10 kilometres were still covered in a scintillating 28:50.
The fast pace continued with the half-way point reached in 1:01:22, slower than in last September's Berlin Marathon, but faster than the 1:01:30 Kipsang requested. The leaders reached the 30-kilometre marker in 1:27:27, still, 11 seconds ahead of the pace en route to Dennis Kimetto's world record run at the Berlin Marathon in 2014. At that point the last pace-setter stepped off the course, leaving Kipsang and Tokyo Marathon record-holder Dickson Chumba alone at the front.
At an even 15 minutes, the next five-kilometre stretch was the slowest of the race, but Kipsang still managed to pull away to pursue the world record on his own. "Had someone stayed close to me, it would have been easier to chase record," Kipsang said.
A sub-2:04 performance appeared to be slipping away when he passed 40 kilometres in 1:59:29, but determined, Kipsang didn’t want to let it go. "I pushed really hard at the end, because I could see that a 2:03 marathon was still a possibility."
Kipsang covered the final 2.195km in 6:29 to beat the 2:04 barrier for the fourth time in his career. No other runner has more than two. He also increased his sub-2:05 performance count to eight; no one else has more than five. His sub-2:06 tally is also eight to top that category as well.
More specific to his Tokyo run, Kipsang shattered both the previous race record and Japanese all-comers' records of 2:05:42 by Chumba and 2:05:18 by Ethiopian Tsegaye Kebede, respectively. It was also the fastest time ever produced in Asia, eclipsing Tamirat Tola’s 2:04:11 from this year’s Dubai Marathon.
"This is one of the fastest courses in the world," said Kipsang, whose 1:53 margin of victory was the widest in the race's history. "I would like to return here again."
Gideon Kipketer finished second in 2:05:51, a significant drop from his previous best of 2:08:14. Further back, Chumba was third in 2:06:25 with Evans Chebet fourth in 2:06:42.
Chepchirchir joins sub-2:20 club
Sarah Chepchirchir was also impressive.
After covering the first 30 kilometres in 1:46:26 along with Ethiopians Birhane Dibaba and Amane Gobena, Chepchirchir upped the tempo over the next five kilometres to 15:46 to build a cushion of nearly 40 seconds on Dibaba, her nearest rival.
"After 30 kilometres when the pacemakers dropped out," she said, "I was planning to increase the pace." Her strategy worked.
The little-known Chepchirchir, 32, forged on to join the elite sub-2:20 club, her 2:19:47 elevating her to 16th on the world all-time list. It was a remarkable showing for Chepchirchir, who entered the race with a 2:24:13 lifetime best.
Like Kipsang's performance, hers was also a Tokyo race record and a Japanese all-comers' record, marks held previously by Helah Kiprop at 2:21:27 and Mizuki Noguchi at 2:21:18, respectively.
"I am convinced that this time is good enough to be selected for the Kenyan World Championships team," Chepchirchir said.
Dibaba finished second in 2:21:19 to improve her previous best of 2:22:30 recorded at the 2014 Tokyo Marathon. Gobena finished third, clocking 2:23:09.
Japanese men battle for London team spots
The coveted position of the fastest Japanese in the men's race was won by Hiroto Inoue, who came from behind to pass the early leader Yuta Shitara to finish eighth overall in 2:08:22. It was a big improvement on his previous best of 2:12:56 from last year's Lake Biwa Marathon, leaving him in good position to be selected for the World Championships marathon team.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1 Wilson Kipsang (KEN) 2:03:58
(14:15, 28:50, 43:34, 58:05, 61:22, 1:12:47, 1:27:27, 1:42:27, 1:57:29)
2 Gideon Kipketer (KEN) 2:05:51
3 Dickson Chumba (KEN) 2:06:25
4 Evans Chebet (KEN) 2:06:42
5 Alfers Lagat (KEN) 2:07:39
6 Bernard Kipyego (KEN) 2:08:10
7 Yohanes Ghebregergish (ERI) 2:08:14
8 Hiroto Inoue (JPN) 2:08:22
1 Sarah Chepchirchir (KEN) 2:19:47
(16:39, 33:20, 50:06, 66:46, 70:31, 1:23:35, 1:40:26, 1:56;12, 2:12:35)
2 Birhane Dibaba (ETH) 2:21:19
3 Amane Gobena (ETH) 2:23:09
4 Ayaka Fujimoto (JPN) 2:27:08
5 Marta Lema (ETH) 2:27:37
6 Sara Hall (USA) 2:28:26
7 Madoka Nakano (JPN) 2:33:00