Kenyan marathon runner Robert Kwambai (© Organisers / Photosprint)
Kenya’s Robert Kwambai and Ethiopia's Tsehay Desalegn claimed the men’s and women’s titles respectively at the 2016 Lanzhou International Marathon, an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race, on Saturday (11).
Although the organisers invited a dozen sub-2:10 runners, aiming to break the course record of 2:10:10 set by Ethiopian Abayneh Ayele in 2015, the 30-year-old Kwambai only clocked a moderate 2:13:20 in the cloudy conditions that prevailed on the day. His winning time brought him home more than five minutes shy of his personal best of 2:08:18, set when finishing fourth at last year’s Xiamen Marathon.
Kwambai hid himself patiently in the leading pack for the first 35 kilometres, hitting the 10km mark in 32:25, 15km in 48:08, 20km in 1:03:32 and 25km in 1:20:03. The leaders were trimmed to only six men when they passed 30km in 1:30:18.
After another five kilometres, Kwambai started to speed up and at that stage, he had only Workneh Tesfa for company, the winner of the 2014 Yellow River Estuary International Marathon, who holds a PB of 2:08:51 from the 2015 Marrakech Marathon.
With a series of changes of speed, Kwambai set up a sole lead after 37km, and the race as a contest was essentially over. The former winner of the Linz and Padua Marathons, who has run faster than 2:10 every year since his debut in the classic distance in 2012, kept extending the advantage in the final five kilometres.
Maintaining his rhythm all the way to the line, he waved to the spectators along the course from time to time and pointed his fingers towards the sky before passing the finish in 2:13:20.
The 31-year-old Tesfa finished second, 34 seconds in arrears, which is the first marathon time he has registered in 2016.
Kenya’s William Yegon, who grabbed the title at the Tel Aviv Marathon in 2:10:51 back in February, clocked 2:14:37 to take third place.
Desalegn emerges triumphant in Ethiopian duel
The 24-year-old Desalegn, who has a PB of 2:31:25 – set when finishing fourth at the Prague Marathon two years ago – upset a deep field that contained 10 sub-2:30 runners to win the women’s race in 2:32:16.
The race turned into a duel between Desalegn and countrywoman Azalech Masresha after 30km, but was decided only in the last 200 metres as Desalegn surpassed Masresha at the 42km mark to break the tape in front.
With a fast PB of 2:25:34, set when finishing fourth in Paris back in 2010, Masresha was up the front for most of the race but could not withstand Desalegn’s powerful late charge. The fifth finisher at Chongqing Marathon in March had to settle for the second place with a nine-second deficit.
It is the first marathon victory since 2013 for Desalegn, who was ninth at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in 2014. Her winning time was 54 seconds shy of the course record of 2:31:22, set by Kenya’s Nguriatukei Rael Kiyara last year.
The 27-year-old Abeba Gebremeskel, who ran a career best of 2:30:18 in Warsaw for second in 2013, clocked 2:35:41 to complete a sweep of the podium for Ethiopia.
It was the sixth edition of Lanzhou International Marathon since the race was first staged in the western Chinese city in 2011, and it is the first time for the race to achieve IAAF Bronze Label Road Race status.
A total of 6000 runners took part in the races on the round-way course alongside the Yellow River, while another 34,000 participated in the associated half marathon and 5km fun run events.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF
1 Tsehay Desalegn (ETH) 2:32:16
2 Azalech Masresha (ETH) 2:32:25
3 Abeba Gebremeskel (ETH) 2:35:41
1 Robert Kwambai (KEN) 2:13:20
2 Workneh Tesfa (ETH) 2:13:54
3 William Yegon (KEN) 2:14:37