Elijah Kemboi and Mercy Kibarus, among the favoured runners in the Blackmores Sydney Marathon, duly delivered a double victory for Kenya in the IAAF Gold Label road race on Sunday (16).
Kemboi broke a run of three successive wins by Japanese athletes in taking the men’s race while Kibarus produced the third-fastest winning women’s time on the Sydney course, which starts with an up-and-over run over Sydney Harbour Bridge and produces several other tough challenges along the route to the finish at the Opera House.
Favouritism is often a heavy burden in a marathon, but Kemboi and Kibarus bore the mantle lightly. Each had seen off their closest rivals by the 35-kilometre point and ran to victory unchallenged over the final stages.
Kibarus takes it on earlier this time
Kibarus had finished third in the women’s race last year, the pack opting to stick together as Makda Harun made a winning move approaching the exit from Centennial Park near the 20-kilometre mark.
This time it was Kibarus and Eunice Jeptoo who pushed clear at almost the same point, breaking away from a group which included the other main contenders Hayimanot Alemayehu and Zanesh Debebe Getachew of Ethiopia and a third Kenyan, Leah Kiprono.
Kibarus and Jeptoo seemed to be sharing the pace over the next 15 kilometres, but Kibarus took over for good nearing the 35-kilometre point.
The 34-year-old, who finished fifth at the 2014 World Half Marathon Championships, pushed on to the finish in 2:31:24, the third-fastest winning time in the race behind Harun’s 2:28:02 from last year and the 2:29:42 by Biruktayit Degefa in 2014.
Jeptoo held on well to retain second place, some 58 seconds behind, in 2:32:22, with Getachew third in 2:33:53.
‘Master’ Kemboi schools Ayeko
With three sub-2:08 marathons to his name among seven sub-2:10 performances, Kemboi looked the class of the men’s field. In the marathon, however, you have to execute your race plan before the race executes you.
The just-turned 34-year-old dominated the race from the start in North Sydney to the finish at the Opera House. It had come down to a race of three very shortly after the start as the lead group was whittled down from 10, to six and then to Kemboi, Uganda’s Thomas Ayeko, and Birhanu Addisie of Ethiopia.
Addisie never looked too interested in sharing the leading duties, but Kemboi motioned the younger Ayeko, the Commonwealth Games 5000m fourth-place finisher and with a 1:00:26 half marathon to his credit, to the front several times in the first 30 kilometres.
“It was good to be together,” Kemboi explained after the race. “We were assisting and pushing each other for the whole race.”
Not quite the whole race, however, which was over as a contest as soon as Kemboi turned the screws another notch with about 10 kilometres to run. Addisie had been disposed of some 10 kilometres before that, falling back just beyond the half-way mark as the trio began the run down through the Central Business District to the harbour-front.
Sunday had dawned with a welcome cool change. After Sydney had sweated through a warm race eve when the temperature peaked at just over 30C, race day brought cooler conditions. The temperature peaked in the mid-teens, though there was a brisk wind which noticeably tugged Kemboi’s racing singlet off his shoulder on the more exposed parts of the course across the bridge and through Centennial Park.
It was in the park that Kemboi really got to work on whittling down the contenders. He pushed the pace, Ayeko occasionally answering the call to maintain the tempo and Addisie content to sit back and wait for a chance later (it never came).
Once Kemboi had broken away, his lead grew with virtually every step. Approaching the 40km mark, he glanced back over his shoulder several times, but there was no one to be seen. The wind off the harbour and the testing course kept the winning time down to a modest 2:13:37.
Ayeko dropped back by just over two minutes by the finish, crossing the line to take second place in 2:15:52. Addisie looked at times as if he might mount a challenge for second, but he could not sustain it, finishing third in 2:16:25.
The Australian national marathon championships were also decided on the Sydney race, John Csongei taking the men’s title and Kerri Hodge the women’s.
Just over 37,000 runners took part in the marathon and the other road events with the associated Sydney Running Festival.
The event was broadcast live in Australia via Network 10 and taken internationally by Eurosport Asia and care of Fuji TV into Japan as well as Chinese TV channels.
Len Johnson for the IAAF