Ethiopia’s Bonsa Dida and Kenya’s Elizabeth Rumokol won the men’s and women’s titles at the 40th Rock ’n’ Roll Madrid Marathon, crossing the line of the IAAF Gold Label Road Race in 2:10:16 and 2:33:55 respectively on Sunday (23).
In doing so, Dida put end to the Kenyan seven-year dominance of the men's race in Madrid.
With the thermometer showing an ideal reading of 10C as the gun went, the early pace in the men’s race was set by pacemakers Evans Kipkoech Korir of Kenya and Thomas Ayeko of Uganda. They led the main favourites to the fastest ever splits in the early stages as the opening 5km uphill section was covered in 16:14 while 10km was reached in 30:39 with 10 men still in contention.
After a 45:25 15km split, the clock read a promising 1:04:02 at halfway. By then seven athletes with winning chances remained: the Ethiopian quartet of Belete Mekonen, Abebe Negewo, Bonsa Dida and Seboka Negusse plus the Kenyan trio of Hosea Maiyo, Nicholas Kipkemboi and Ronal Korir.
As expected, the second half of the race proved to be much tougher than the first because of the course profile. In addition, the thermometer had already reached 16C and was starting to hamper the athletes’ efforts.
First Negusse and then Korir lost ground with the leading group before 30km (1:31:33), still on schedule to attack the course record of 2:09:15 set in 2014. Shortly afterwards, the top group was whittled down to four men: Kipkemboi, Korir, Mekonen and Dida.
Yet the 35km split of 1:47:26 made it clear that the course record was not going to be broken today. Once Mekonen and Kipkemboi dropped from the heading group, the race became a two-horse battle between Dida and Korir.
The 22-year-old Ethiopian, fresh from a creditable 10th-place finish at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Kampala 2017, got rid of Korir with incredible ease with the clock reading 1:51. Dida regularly checked his watch throughout to ensure he was on course to break the 2:11:55 he set earlier this year in Mumbai.
The 40km split of 2:03:28 suggested that a sub-2:10 clocking was still possible but ultimately he had to settle for a 2:10:16 PB.
Dida’s chasers slowed down dramatically their rhythm in the closing stages, to such an extent that a coming from behind Mekonen managed to overtake the Kenyans in the closing 200m to secure an Ethiopian 1-2 in 2:03:04 slightly ahead of third placer Korir, timed at 2:13:07.
“After the World Cross I didn’t know what kind of performance I would be able to produce,” said an elated Dida. “But I felt strong throughout and I set a PB so I have to be satisfied.”
Negative splits for Rumokol
Unlike the men’s event, the women’s race kicked off quite conservatively with eight women passing through the first 10km in 37:39.
Half way was reached in 1:17:39, effectively erasing any hope of breaking the course record of 2:32:04, for the leading six-woman group including Kenyans Elizabeth Rumokol, Diana Chepkemoi, Joan Kigen and Rodah Tanui plus the Ethiopian pair of Almaz Negede and Bedatu Hirpa.
But it was always the 34-year-old Rumokol who stayed closest to the pacemaker. After appearing to run comfortably throughout, she upped the pace in the final five kilometres to open a gap of a few hundred metres on her rivals.
Crossing the finish line in 2:33:55, Rumokol became the first victor of the Madrid Marathon to run the second half quicker than the first (1:17:39 and 1:16:16).
“I preferred to run relatively slow at the beginning because the race is full of ups and downs areas,” said a joyful Rumokol. “I wanted to face the closing section with energy and the plan paid off.”
Kigen finished second in 2:34:41 while Hirpa took third, almost one minute in arrears
The half marathon victors were Kenya’s Joseph Kiprono Kiptum (1:01:47) and Bahrain’s Tejitu Daba (1:11:29).
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
1 Bonsa Dida (ETH) 2:10:16
2 Belete Mekonen (ETH) 2:13:04
3 Ronal Korir (KEN) 2:13:07
4 Nicholas Kipkemboi (KEN) 2:13:20
5 Geoffrey Kipkoech (KEN) 2:14:27
6 Stephen Kiplagat (KEN) 2:14:58
1 Elizabeth Rumokol (KEN) 2:33:55
2 Joan Kigen (KEN) 2:34:41
3 Bedatu Hirpa (ETH) 2:34:47
4 Rodah Tanui (KEN) 2:36:03
5 Almaz Negede (ETH) 2:36:30