Ethiopia’s Medina Deme Armino waited patiently until the last 500 metres to launched her powerful charge, successfully defending her title at the Xiamen Marathon, the first World Athletics Gold Label road race of the year on Sunday (5).
The 22-year-old Armino cut 73 seconds from her personal best to win in 2:26:12, making her the fourth multiple women’s winner in the 18-year history of the race following China’s Zhou Chunxiu (2003-2005) and fellow Ethiopians Mare Dibaba (2014-2015) and Fatuma Sado (2013, 2018).
It is also the second straight year for Armino to improve her career best in Xiamen, but her winning mark was still more than six minutes shy of Dibaba’s course record of 2:19:52 set five years ago.
Helped by three male pacers, a leading group of nine stayed together for most of the race. After the leaders passed the 35km mark in 2:02:40, 2018 Dublin Marathon winner Mesera Hussen of Ethiopia began to push ahead and the leading pack soon became scattered.
Hussen pulled clear before 38km with Armino trailing around 100m behind as the sole chaser. But the surge seemed to drain too much energy from Hussen, who slowed gradually after 40 kilometres with the defending champion narrowing the gap metre by metre.
When Hussen reached the 500 metres-to-go mark, her pacer stopped. Armino seized the opportunity to speed up and soon overtook her rival. She never looked back before wrapping up her fifth marathon title in eight races.
It is the 11th consecutive women’s title taken by Ethiopians in the southern Chinese city.
Hussen finished second in 2:26:28, improving her PB by some two minutes. Afera Godfay, also from Ethiopia with a PB of 2:22:41, took third in 2:26:42.
Two-time reigning champion Dejene Debela failed to defend his title in the men’s race as his countryman Birhan Nebebew, third last year, built a sole lead after a fast 10km split from 30km to 40km and took the top honours in 2:08:16.
Nebebew’s victory also marks the fourth year in a row for Xiamen Marathon to witness an Ethiopian double.
The race was paced by a group of 10 to the 10km mark in 30:04. After another five kilometres, the leaders were cut to eight and the eight-man pack ran together to reach 20km in 1:00:39 and 30km in 1:31:35.
Kenya’s Kennedy Cheboror was the first to quit the leading group, then followed by Morocco’s Mohamed Zianni and Abdisa Duber of Ethiopia.
The 25-year-old Nebebew tried to pull away near the 35km mark with only Reuben Kerio of Kenya and Ethiopian veteran Girmay Birhanu Gebru managing to keep up with his pace.
The leading trio kept pushing ahead and the in-form Nebebew waited for three more kilometres to launch another charge. Gebru followed him for a little while but Nebebew soon cut the binds between them.
With a comfortable lead in hand, Nebebew never met any real threat afterwards. He broke the tape in style and knelt down to kiss the course to celebrate his first international marathon title.
Kerio, who improved his PB to 2:07:00 last October, overtook Gebru to settle for the second in 2:08:46. The 32-year-old Gebru, a 2:05:49 performer, finish third in 2:08:52, his first sub-2:10 mark since 2015.
Vincent Wu for World Athletics