Kenya’s Flomena Cheyech Daniel broke away from Bahrain’s Shitaye Eshete in the final metres of the Saitama International Marathon on Sunday (12) to win the IAAF Silver Label road race in 2:28:39.
Strong winds resulted in it being the slowest winning time in the history of the event, but it was nonetheless an exciting race as just three seconds separated the top two finishers.
Japan’s Kaori Yoshida, who was second two years ago, took off from the start, but she had been reeled in by seven other women by the two-kilometre point, forming a lead pack of eight women. They went on to pass five kilometres in 17:49, 10 kilometres in 35:28 and 15 kilometres in 53:02.
When Japan’s Reia Iwade surged after 16 kilometres, the lead pack was split into two. The first group included Iwade, Cheyech, Eshete and Ethiopia’s Bekelech Daba, while the chasing trio comprised Yoshida, Britain’s Charlotte Purdue and Philes Ongori.
The lead pack continued to run together for the next 13 kilometres with Iwade doing the most of the leading into the wind before dropping back at 29 kilometres, leaving Cheyech, Eshete and Daba in front. Eshete surged to the front at 31 kilometres, leaving behind Cheyech and Daba before being caught again by the pair two kilometres later.
Daba lost contact at 37 kilometres, leaving Cheyech and Eshete to duel it out for the final five kilometres. They continued exchanging surges before starting the long sprint to the finish with about 700 metres to go.
Cheyech eventually outsprinted Eshete, winning by three seconds in 2:28:39 to become the first runner to successfully defend their title at the Saitama Marathon.
“The final meters were very tough for me because I thought Eshete was stronger,” said Cheyech, who finished fourth at this year’s World Championships, just three seconds shy of a medal. “My husband ran the last 400 metres alongside me, cheering at the same time, and it really helped.
“I wasn’t in very good shape, so I am very happy to defend my title,” added the Commonwealth champion, who set a PB of 2:21:22 in Paris earlier this year. “As a defending champion, I did not want to lose. I would like to win again next year. That will be a great step to the 2020 Olympics.”
Daba, who wasn’t even an invited runner, finished third in 2:30:06, the second-fastest time of her career. Purdue was fourth, her highest ever marathon finish, in 2:30:34.
As expected, Iwade was the top Japanese finisher, clocking 2:31:10 to finish fifth. The 22-year-old fell short of her goal of running 2:29 to qualify for the Olympic trial race for the 2020 Tokyo Games and so will likely set that as a target for her next marathon.
Ongori finished sixth in 2:32:00 in a race where none of the top eight finishers recorded personal bests, due in no small part to the undulating course and strong winds.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1 Flomena Cheyech Daniel (KEN) 2:28:39
2 Shitaye Eshete Habtegebrel (BRN) 2:28:42
3 Bekelech Daba (ETH) 2:30:06
4 Charlotte Purdue (GBR) 2:30:34
5 Reia Iwade (JPN) 2:31:10
6 Philes Ongori (KEN) 2:32:00
7 Sinead Diver (AUS) 2:33:00
8 Monika Stefanowicz (POL) 2:38:30