Michael Shelley on his way to winning the marathon at the Commonwealth Games (Getty Images) © Copyright
Report Gold Coast, Australia

Hawkins collapse hands Commonwealth marathon victory to Shelley while Johannes makes history for Namibia

A dramatic late-race collapse by Callum Hawkins handed a repeat victory in the men’s marathon to defending champion Michael Shelley on the final day of the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast on Sunday (15).

More than two minutes ahead at 39km, Hawkins started to stagger as he ran around a bend on the road taking the runners from Surfers Paradise to the finish at Southport. He fell to the ground once, but got up and continued running until collapsing again at the 40-kilometre point. Despite several attempts, he was unable to regain his feet.

Until he came within sight on the bridge crossing the Southport Broadwater, Shelley was not fully aware of the drama ahead. The Gold Coast local had been urged on by supporters in the crowd lining the roads telling him, “the Scot is struggling”, but until he drew near had no idea that the long-time leader was out of the race.

Shelley went by to win in 2:16:46, more than five minutes slower than his winning time in Glasgow four years earlier and the slowest winning time since Thabiso Moqhali won for Lesotho in 2:19:15 at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Games. It was also undoubtedly the hottest Commonwealth marathon since that year.

There was also change in the positions behind the winner. Uganda’s 2015 world bronze medallist Munyo Solomon Mutai came from fifth at 30 kilometres to take the silver medal in 2:19:02 and Robbie Simpson partially compensated the Scots for Hawkins’ loss of the gold medal by coming from eighth at 35 kilometres to the bronze medal in 2:19:36.

Northern Ireland’s Kevin Seaward, fourth in 2:19:53, was the only other runner to better 2:20 in the conditions.

The women’s race started 55 minutes before the men, but conditions were just as trying.

Kenya’s Sheila Jerotich, Australian pair Lisa Weightman and Jess Trengove, and Namibia’s Helalia Johannes were together just beyond 35 kilometres when Jerotich surged clear. Within a few hundred metres of seemingly seizing control of the race, however, she slowed just as dramatically, eventually finishing fourth.

At much the same point, Trengove started to lose contact and Johannes pulled clear of Weightman. Johannes continued to build her lead and went on to win in 2:32:40, 43 seconds ahead of Weightman, with Trengove third in 2:34:09.

Helalia Johannes wins the marathon at the Commonwealth Games (Getty Images)Helalia Johannes wins the marathon at the Commonwealth Games (Getty Images) © Copyright


Weather dictates the terms

Weather was the decisive factor in both marathons. Those who were aggressive early wound up paying the price.

One of the local tourism marketing slogans goes, “Queensland: beautiful one day, perfect the next.” For those flocking to the Games, this was true on Sunday morning, but for the marathoners it was precisely the opposite.

Saturday, race eve, was as close to perfect for endurance events as autumn weather in these parts gets. It was overcast, comparatively cool; there was even a little drizzling rain around. Sunday was the opposite: clear skies, warm sun, shade temperature 23C at the start of the women’s marathon, 27C at the end of both. And it was a lot warmer on the roads, where the only respite was the shadow from the high-rise apartment blocks.

Although the ultimate lead pack of four was accompanied by others early in the women’s race, it was always Trengove and Jerotich who were the most aggressive. They ended up third and fourth, respectively, with Johannes and Weightman the last two in with a chance for the gold medal.

The 37-year-old Johannes was 12th in the marathon at the 2012 Olympic Games in her national record time of 2:26:09 and 19th at last year’s World Championships in London. She is just the second gold medallist for Namibia in Commonwealth Games athletics, the other being sprinter Frankie Fredericks, winner of the 200m in Victoria in 1994. She also becomes the first Namibian woman to win a Commonwealth title in any sport.

The price of aggression was even higher in the men’s race. Hawkins, the race favourite on the basis of his fourth-place finish at last year’s World Championships, was always at the front of the pack with Australia’s Liam Adams. He tested the waters with one surge in the first half of the race, then went again from the southern end of the course at Burleigh Heads.

Hawkins quickly built a lead which ultimately grew to more than two minutes at 40 kilometres, where he dropped out of the race. A 15:20 from 25 to 30 kilometres took him 41 seconds clear of Shelley; 15:32 for 30-35 kilometres built the lead to 1:42. Even with his troubles, he still gained another 20 seconds from 35 to 40 kilometres to push the lead to 2:03.

It was brave running in the conditions, but ultimately Hawkins could not continue running until the end, much less maintain the pace.

Hawkins was taken to hospital for recovery. A statement from the Scottish team early on Sunday afternoon said that he was still undergoing precautionary tests but was sitting up in bed talking to his father and team medical staff.

Len Johnson for the IAAF