Kenyan runners Ernest Ngeno and Helena Kirop triumphed despite soaring temperatures at the 2015 Yellow River Estuary International Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, in the Chinese city of Dongying on Sunday (26).
With the thermometer reading over 30 degrees Celsius at times during the race, Ngeno upset a strong field including 10 sub-2:09 runners to win the men’s race in 2:11:47.
The 20-year-old, who has a personal best of 2:10:01 when finishing second at the 2014 Turin Marathon, held off a powerful challenge from his countryman Ishimael Chemtan in the final 200 meters to snatch the victory but just missed out on the course record of 2:11:44, set by fellow Kenyan Isaac Macharia in 2010.
“I was in my best shape and expected not only to win but also to run 2:08 here to improve my best time, but it was just too hot today,” said Ngeno, who was disappointed at not being able to beat Macharia's rather modest course record.
Morocco’s 34-year-old veteran Najim El Qady took an early lead soon after the gun, pacing the leading group of 16 to the 5km mark in 15:35 and then 10km in 30:30.
After reaching 20km in 1:01:15, only eight runners were left in the leading group At the halfway mark, the pack had been trimmed further to six, including five Kenyans, namely Ngeno, Chemtan, Robert Kwambai, Luke Kibet and the 2014 Kosice Peace Marathon winner Gilbert Kiptoo Chepkwony, as well as Ethiopia’s Sentayehu Merga.
The leading group stayed together for another 10km before Kibet, Chepkwony and Kwambai were dropped one after another.
The 2015 Hong Kong Marathon winner Merga then suddenly stopped in front of the 41km marker, visibly spent, making the final kilometre of the race a duel between Ngeno and Chemtan.
The 23-year-old Chemtan, the winner of last year’s Ljubljana Marathon with a best of 2:08:25, came hone two seconds behind Ngeno while Kwambai finished a remote third in 2:13:26 to complete a clean sweep of the podium for Kenya.
Merga eventually managed to make it to the line to finish fifth in 2:17:19, with Chepkwony fourth in 2:16:18, while defending champion Workneh Tesfa of Ethiopia failed to finish the race.
Tufa unable to retain title
In the women’s race, Ethiopia’s Mestawet Tufa failed to defend her 2014 title as well.
Kenya’s veteran Helena Kirop, 38, hit the finishing line first in 2:31:36, nearly one- and-a-half minutes shy of the 2:30:09 course record set by Tufa last year.
It was the third time lucky for Kirop who has run in Dongying twice before, finishing as the runner-up in 2012 and fifth in 2013.
“I have been in Dongying three times and finally I win the race this year. But, compared with my best time (2:23:37), I cannot run under 2:30:00 in Dongying,” said Kirop after the race.
Kirop, Tufa and Tsehay Desalegn, the latter ninth at the 2014 World Half Marathon Championships, were in the leading positions at the halfway mark but the Kenyan pulled away after 30km and led all the way to claim the title
Ethiopian duo Tufa and Desalegn battled for the second place until the final few hundred metres with Desalegn, whose best time is 2:31:25 set in Prague last year, coming home with a nine-second advantage in 2:34:42 while Tufa finished third in 2:34:51.
The Yellow River Estuary International Marathon has been held in May in the past few years but the organisers decided to change its date to April this year and set the start for at 07:30 am local time, half an hour earlier than the previous editions, to try to avoid the heat.
However, the expected cooler conditions failed to come.
The temperature was around 20 degrees Celsius when the race began and rose rapidly to near 30 degrees and peaked at 31 degrees during the second half of the race.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF