Ethiopia’s Feyisa Lilesa and Kenya’s Helah Kiprop took the honours at the Tokyo Marathon, with pride of place between the two winners going to the latter with a course record of 2:21:27 at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Sunday (28).
The women’s race started at record pace, the leaders covering 5km in 16:38, 10km in 33:27, 15km in 50:17, and 20km in 1:07:05 before passing through the halfway point in 1:10:41, 25km in 1:23:39 – a 16:34 5km split which was the fastest of the race – and 30km in 1:40:26.
At 35km, which was reached in 1:57:08, four runners – Kiprop and Kenyan compatriot Edna Kiplagat, and the Ethiopian pair of Amane Gobena and Aberu Kebede – were together in the lead pace while defending champion Birhane Dibaba had fallen off the pace.
Kiprop then steadily surged away from her rivals, covering the next 5km in 16:39 as the rest all took more than 17 minutes, before crossing the line in 2:21:27 and taking almost a minute off the old course record of 2:22:23, set by Ethiopia’s Tirfe Tsegaye two years ago.
Into the bargain, it was an improvement of more than two minutes on her previous best.
“I did not know if I can win this race until I actually crossed the finish line," said the 30-year-old Kiprop. "Last year, I was second with a personal best of 2:24:03 so this year’s goal was to set another personal best.
"I was surprised to run even faster to set the course record. Compared to last year, the weather was nice. Although it was windy at some areas, overall the wind was not a problem."
Gobena was second with a personal best of 2:21:51 and Kiplagat third in 2:22:36. Kebede finished fourth in 2:23:01 while 2015 champion Dibaba was fifth in 2:23:16.
Lilesa's first win since 2010
In the men’s race, Lilesa pulled away from Kenya’s 2014 Tokyo Marathon champion and course record-holder Dickson Chumba with just over a kilometre to go to win in 2:06:56.
“I feel like I have just bought a ticket to Rio,” said Lilesa, although that decision still remains with the Ethiopian federation.
Although he is just 26 years old, it was Lilesa's 17th marathon of his career. And despite a plethora of high finishes at major marathons, it was his first win since the 2010 Xiamen Marathon. He took a bronze medal at the 2011 IAAF World Championships but failed to finish the marathon at the World Championships two years later in Moscow.
Chumba was then over taken just a few metres before the finish by his compatriot Bernard Kipyego.
Kipyego was credited with 2:07:33, Chumba was one second adrift, while behind the top three there was a host of well-known names.
Olympic champion Stephan Kiprotich from Uganda was second in 2015 but finished fourth this time in 2:07:46 and Kenya’s two-time world champion Abel Kirui was fifth with 2:08:06.
Fellow Kenyans Eliud Kiptanui was sixth with 2:08:55 and Emmanuel Mutai was seventh with 2:10:23. The first Japanese runner home, Yuki Takamiya, was eighth with 2:10:57.
Takamiya’s domestic success came as a surprise to the local pundits and himself.
“I was not even aware that I was the first Japanese in the race. However, since there was a finishing tape at the finish line, I thought I will raise both hands to celebrate as if I won the race,” said Takamiya, after taking almost five minutes off his personal best.
The race was initially fast with the main pack covering 5km in 14:59 and 10km in 29:37 but then slowed slightly with 15km and 20km splits of 44:27 and 59:36,
Nevertheless, the pace was still similar to 2014 when Chumba set the still-standing course record of 2:05:42. The half marathon was covered in 1:02:52 this year while in 2012 it was 1:03:03.
After the leading pack of nine went through 30km in 1:29:49, Chumba made his move.
“I knew Chumba was running fast from 30 to 35km but I knew I have to stay with him,” said Lilesa.
At 35km, reached in 1:44:22, Lilesa and Chumba led by 37 seconds from the rest of the field. The lead grew to 53 seconds by 40km, but then Chumba started to slow down dramatically.
“Somehow after 40km, Chumba was not able to keep up his pace and so I went into the lead,” added Lilesa. “It was a tough course, but I am happy to win. Since my training went well, I knew I could come up with good results.”
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF