Making his decisive move just before the 40th kilometre, Yemane Tsegay of Ethiopia won the 70th Fukuoka International Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label road Race, on Sunday (4).
Running in difficult conditions, the 31-year-old, who won the silver medal at the 2015 World Championships, clocked 2:08:48 to prevent two-time defending champion Patrick Makau from collecting a third straight victory.
Hindered by steady rains, high humidity and relatively strong winds which severely impacted the performances, Tsegay’s time was the slowest winning time since the 2004 edition. The conditions likely affected the pacemaking, with none of the pacesetters reaching 30 kilometres as anticipated.
After a cautious opening 20 kilometres, the pace actually quickened when the pacesetters departed just beyond the midway point, with the 20-25 kilometre stretch covered in 15:06, eight seconds faster than the previous five kilometres.
As the pace quickened the pack stretched out and eventually six runners – Amanuel Mesel, Tsegay, Jared Asmerom, Melaku Abera, Tariku Bekele and Yuki Kawauchi – had broken away. Makau maintained contact, shadowing the lead pack.
The first big move came when Kawauchi broke away, with just Abera, the 2016 Beppu-Oita Marathon champion, responding, first covering the move and then breaking away on his own. Abera lead for the next several kilometres; behind him, Makau joined Kawauchi in the chase pack while Asmeron was the next to drift back.
At 32 kilometres, Bekele fell back and a kilometre later Makau and Tsegay went in pursuit of Abera. They caught and passed him at 34 kilometres, briefly making it a two-man race until Tsegay dropped Makau with just over two kilometres remaining.
“I am happy with the win, but I am not happy with my time,” Tsegay said. “I was training to run 2:05 to 2:06 range and my training indicated that it is possible. However, because of the rain my legs got a little stiff and thus my time was not good.”
“I tried to gap Makau around 35K but because of the wind it was not a good move. I made my move again around 38km and then finally at 40Km. After 41km I was convinced that I was going to win.”
Makau was second nine seconds behind the winner, Kawauchi, on the rebound from recent injuries, was third in 2:09:11. It was the 29-year-old’s 10th sub-2:10 performance, a first among Japanese marathoners.
Fukuoka was the first of the three Japanese qualifying races for the IAAF World Championships London 2017, with the Tokyo Marathon in February and Lake Biwa in March still to come. With the Japanese federation setting a challenging 2:07 automatic qualifying standard, Kawauchi stands a good chance to make the London-bound squad based on his performance here.
Hayato Sonoda, a 2:17 marathoner coming in, clocked a massive personal best of 2:10:40 to finish fourth.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1 Yemane Tsegay (ETH) 2:08:48
2 Patrick Makau (KEN) 2:08:57
3 Yuki Kawauchi (JPN) 2:09:11
4 Hayato Sonoda (JPN) 2:10:40
5 Amanuel Mesel (ERI) 2:10:48
6 Henryk Szost (POL) 2:10:53
7 Reid Coolsaet (CAN) 2:10:55
8 Dmytro Baranovskyy (UKR) 2:11:39
9 Yared Asmerom (ERI) 2:11:57
10 Kazuhiro Maeda (JPN) 2:12:19
5km - 5:01
10km - 30:09 - 15:08
15km - 45:35 - 15:26
20km - 1:10:59 - 15:24
Half - 1:04:24
25km - 1:16:07 - 15:08
30km - 1:31:03 - 14:56
35km - 1:46:28 - 15:25
40km - 2:02:05 - 15:37
Finish - 2:08:48 - 6:43