Ethiopian runners took both the men’s and the women’s titles at the 21st edition of the Acea Rome Marathon, with Abebe Negewo Degefa and Meseret Kitata Tolwalk winning at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race in 2:12:23 and 2:30:25 respectively on Sunday (22).
Birhanu Achame made it an Ethiopian one-two in the men's race as he took second in 2:12:32 with Italy's marathon debutant Jamel Chatbi third with 2:14:04.
A 10-strong leading group formed by Assefa Wakeyo, Leonard Kipkoech, Peter Ndorobo, Achamie, Mustapha El Aziz, Chatbi, Negewo Degefa, William Kibor, Netakibeb Tekeste and Dadi Gemeda set a fast initial pace, going through 5km in 15:05 and 10km in 30:01.
By the time the halfway mark was reached in 1:04:08, the front group was down to six: the two Kenyan pacemakers Kibor and Kipkoech, ahead of Negewo Degefa, Achane, Wakeyo and Gemeda.
The next five kilometres saw Kipkoech drop out, his duties over, and Wakeyo and Gemeda drop back.
Achamie and Negewo Degefa remained alone at the front with Kibor at 26km. After Kibor departed and after going through 30km in 1:31:36, the race eased as the two Ethiopian runners started a tactical duel for the win.
The pace dropped dramatically after the 35km mark when the two Ethiopian runners ran two slow splits of 3:37 and 3:42 pace on the slippery cobblestones in the centre of Rome.
Negewo Degefa finally broke away from his compatriot in the last kilometre before crossing the finish-line in the world-wide famous Fori Imperiali while Chatbi, the Italian 3000m steeplechase champion in 2013 and a runner-up at last week’s Italian Cross Country Championships, came through strongly in the latter part of the race to overtake Gemeda to prevent an Ethiopian clean sweep.
The winner trains in the same group with 2:04:32 runner Tsegay Mekonnen and Dino Sefir, and can boast of a lifetime best of 2:08:46 from the 2013 Bejing Marathon.
“We picked up the pace in the first half of the race. In the second half I felt heavy legs because of cramps. There was no more energy left in the legs, the rain and slippery cobblestones took their toll,” said Negewo Degefa.
The women’s race saw an Ethiopian trio of Kitata Torwalk, Alemu Ourge Mokonnin and Alem Fikre Kifle set the pace in the first half of the race and they reached the halfway mark in 1:15:06, and the 25km in 1:28:56.
Unlike the men’s race where the pace dropped in the second half, the three leaders kept a regular pace until 30km when Kitata Torwalk and Kifle pulled away from a flagging Mokonnin and reached the 35km mark in 2:05:37.
Kitata Torwalk then produced a decisive surge at 37km to clinch victory with Kifle second in 2:31:01.
Italy’s Deborah Toniolo caught up with Mokonnin at almost exactly the same point with five kilometres to go and the local runner held on to finish third in 2:36:30, meaning that there were Italian runners on both podiums at the race for the first time since 2005.
“I trained to run a faster time but today it was not possible because of the rain," said Kitata Tolwalk. "I ran with my compatriots for most of the race but we had not planned a tactic. Everyone ran her own race. Unfortunately the weather affected the race.”
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF