One athlete was competing in his ninth marathon of the year; another was contesting the first marathon of his career. Surprisingly, it was the latter who came away with the gold medal in the final athletics event of the Asian Games in Inchon on Friday (3).
Bahrain’s Ali Hasan Mahbood was aiming to win a third Asian Games title, having won gold in the 10,000m in 2006 and in the 5000m in 2010. But he was stepping into the unknown, never having run a marathon before.
Meanwhile, Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi, one of the most prolific elite marathon runners in the world, was looking to win his first major title.
The field also included the likes of Japan’s Kohei Matsumura, Bahrain’s Aadam Ismaeel Khamis and Mongolian record-holder Ser-Od Bat-Ochir, all of them sub-2:10 men at their best.
The pace wasn’t particularly fast and it was clear from the outset that the Games record of 2:08:21 wasn’t going to be challenged. A group of 11 passed through 10km in 31:20, and at half way, reached in 1:06:48, there were still nine men in contention.
But less than 10 kilometres later, just five men remained in the lead pack as Khamis began to fall behind, leaving Bat-Ochir, Kawauchi, Mahbood, Matsumura and Pak Chol of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea out in front.
Pak was the next to drift away, meaning four athletes were left to battle for the three medals.
It was only in the final mile that the leading quartet broke up, Bat-Ochir being the first of them to surrender. Mahbood eventually shook off his two Japanese rivals to win in 2:12:38, just one second ahead of Matsumura. Kawauchi was just a further three seconds behind as just four seconds separated the medallists; the closest ever finish in the marathon at the Asian Games.
At the end of the athletics programme, China topped the medals table with 15 gold medals, 14 silver and 11 bronze. The last time they won more gold medals was 20 years ago, so it looks as though the nation’s athletics prospects are improving ahead of hosting next year’s IAAF World Championships.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF