James Kwambai winning the 2011 JoongAng Seoul Marathon (© Sean Wallace Jones)
Running in rainy and cold conditions, Kenya’s James Kipsang Kwambai won the JoongAng Seoul Marathon on Sunday (6), clocking 2:08:50.
The 28-year-old was 37 seconds shy of the 2:08:13 course record at this IAAF Silver Label Road Race, set by Jason Mbote in 2006. Last year’s winner, Kenyan David Kemboi Kiyeng, was second in 2:09:21.
More than 21,000 runners from 20 countries toed the start line at 8 a.m. on the cool (14C) rainy morning. Of those, more than 13,500 contested the Marathon, and more than 8000 embarked on the 10Km race 20 minutes later. The rain continued throughout the race and it did not become warmer by the finish time.
Organisers attracted a field of 13 elite men from Kenya, Ethiopia, Morocco, France and Zimbabwe.
From the starting gun young Moroccan Marathon debutant Chani Hafid, 25, whose Half Marathon PB of 1:02:23 was set earlier this year in Ras Al Khaimah, took charge of the lead pack of 16 runners. By the first 5Km marker he was leading by some 50 metres, passing the mark in 15:37.
The pack following him consisted of eight Kenyans, among them defending champion Kiyeng, 28 (PB 2:06:26 in 2009 Paris); Kwambai (PB of 2:04:27, 2009 Rotterdam); Boniface Muemo Mbuvi, 24 (PB 2:09:27, 2010 Chuncheon); Alfred Kering, 31 (PB 2:07:11, 2010 Paris); and Edwin Komen, 31 (PB 2:07:45, 2008 Seoul International Marathon). Ethiopia was represented by Yemane Tsegay, 26 (PB 2:06:10, 2006 Paris); Mulugeta Wami, 29 (PB 2:08:32, 2010 Paris) and Wegayehu Girma, 23 (PB 2:08:25, 2010 JoongAng Seoul). They were joined by Wirimai Juwawo, 30, from Zimbabwe whose 2:13:38 PB was set at the 2010 Danzhhou Marathon.
Hafid passed the 10Km mark in 30:56 keeping the same distance from the pack which thinned to 13 after three Korean runners - Kim Jae Hun, Ji Young Jun, and Park Ju Young – dropped back.
Over the next 5km stretch Hafid continued accelerating and increased his lead to 65 metres, reaching the 15 km mark in 46:08. The pack was reduced to 10 with Kering, Komen, and Stephen Chebogut, who clocked 2:08:02 in Paris earlier this year, falling off the pace.
Hafid kept moving even faster uphill to the 20Km, his 1:00:57 split 26 seconds faster than his nearest pursuer. At this point the pack thinned again losing Juwawo, Korean Lee Hyun Kang, and Kenyan Julius Kiplagat Korir.
Though Hafid slowed down a bit on the next stretch and passed 25Km in 1:15:54, the chase pack fell further behind, now 32 seconds back. Kenyan Stephen Njoroge Kenyanjui was dropped leaving six at the front.
Kwambai takes command at 35K
But by 30Km, the debutant leader slowed down, having in fact performed the function of pacemaker, but without reserving enough strength to keep the challengers away. The pack, which by now had lost Ethiopians Wami and Girma and reduced to four, passed the 30Km point in 1:31:33, leaving Hafid some 20 metres behind.
Kwambai made a bold surge to the front and took charge of the race passing the 35Km mark in 1:46:23. He was now running alone, carving out a 30-meter lead over Kiyeng, with his eyes firmly on the win. Tsegay was running third, almost 150 metres behind the new leader, with Kenyan Mbuvi trailing Tsegay.
Kwambai continued adding to his lead over Kiyeng by 40Km (2:01:44) before reaching the finish without any tangible pressure from behind. Kwambai took home USD50,000 for his 2:08:50 victory. Kiyeng clocked 2:09:21 in second and won $30,000, with Tsegay third and claiming $15,000.
The women’s race, featuring just a domestic field, was won by 30-year0old Kyung Hee Choi, who clocked 2:40:49, well off the course record of 2:29:30 set by Korean Eung-Jung Lee.
Yelena Kurdyumova and Sergey Porada for the IAAF
1. James Kipsang Kwambai, KEN 2:08:50
2. David Kemboi Kiyeng, KEN 2:09:21
3. Yemane Tsegay, ETH 2:10:47
4. Boniface Mbuvi Muema, KEN 2:11:48
5. Mulugeta Wami Degife, ETH 2:12:55
6. Wegayehu Girma Tefera, ETH 2:12:58
7. Stephen Njoroge Kinyanjui, KEN 2:14:55
8. Wirimai Juwawo, ZIM 2:15:57
9. Alfred Kering, KEN 2:16:00
10. Edwin Kipkoech Komen, KEN 2:16:13