Meskerem Assefa on her way to winning the Frankfurt Marathon (© Victah Sailer / organisers)
Having finished on the lower steps of the podium at last year’s Mainova Frankfurt Marathon, Ethiopia’s Meskerem Assefa and Kelkile Gezahegn topped the podium at this year’s edition of the IAAF Gold Label road race on Sunday (28).
In a high-quality women’s race in which the first seven athletes finished inside 2:23, 33-year-old Assefa triumphed in 2:20:36 to take 25 seconds off the course record set by compatriot Meselech Melkamu in 2012.
Ethiopian athletes swept the women’s podium as Haftamnesh Tesfay finished second in 2:20:47, also inside the previous course record, and Bedatu Hirpa placed third in 2:21:32.
After a thrilling duel, Gezahegn won the men’s race by just four seconds from Kenya’s Martin Kosgey, clocking 2:06:37. Marathon debutant Alex Kibet was third in 2:07:09, while Mark Kiptoo took 48 seconds off the world M40 masters best with 2:07:50 for sixth place.
Assefa wins battle of the Ethiopians
When a lead group of 12 women reached the half-way point in 1:09:55, it was obvious that something special was possible.
The group was on course for a sub-2:20 finish and although weather conditions were far from ideal, the leading women maintained the swift pace until late in the race. Their 30-kilometre split of 1:39:30 suggested a sub-2:20 time was still possible, but the group later faced a stiff headwind for several kilometres and their pace suffered slightly.
At 35 kilometres there were still five women in the lead group: Ethiopians Assefa, Tesfay, Hirpa and Dera Dida as well as Kenya’s Betsy Saina, the Paris Marathon champion. Saina struggled in the closing stages and eventually finished eighth. Hirpa and Dida also dropped back, leaving Tesfay and Assefa to battle for victory.
It was only in the final kilometre when Assefa, who finished third in Frankfurt last year, moved ahead and build a decisive lead before going on to win by 11 seconds in 2:20:36.
“I did not really feel the wind,” said Assefa, a former 1500m specialist. “I prepared for Frankfurt for five months because I wanted to run 2:22 and win the race. Now I had to run a little bit quicker for first place.”
In second place, Tesfay’s 2:20:47 was just 34 seconds shy of the PB she set in Dubai earlier this year. Hirpa, the 2015 world U18 1500m champion and still just 19 years old, took more than four minutes off her PB to finish third in 2:21:32, the second-fastest time in history by an U20 woman.
Ethiopian women filled the top six places with Belaynesh Oljira (2:21:53), Dida (2:22:39) and Sintayehu Hailemichael (2:22:45) following the podium finishers home. It was the first race outside of Dubai in which seven women have finished inside 2:23.
Katharina Heinig was the leading German finisher, placing 14th in 2:29:55.
Gezahegn goes one better than last year
A group of 12 men went through halfway in a speedy 1:02:27. Thoughts soon turned to a finishing time of 2:05 or even faster, but the headwind from 27 kilometres onwards slowed the pace.
Ethiopia’s Kelkile Gezahegn and Kenya’s Martin Kosgey, the runners-up in 2017 and 2016 respectively, launched an attack which broke up the leading group. Kenya’s Alex Kibet, making his marathon debut, then regained contact with the duo at 36 kilometres.
Three kilometres from the finish, Kosgey went into the lead and Kibet dropped off the pace. Gezahegn tracked Kosgey in what became a tactical finish, culminating in a sprint 500 metres from the line. Gezahegn attacked just before the entrance of the Festhalle, celebrating victory in 2:06:37 to finish four seconds ahead of Kosgey.
“I had said beforehand that I wanted to run 2:04 but then I realised it was getting tough for everyone,” said the 22-year-old Gezahegn. “We weren’t going to run a super-fast time so I gave everything I had to win and it paid off. If I want to run in the Olympic Marathon, I still have a lot of work to do.”
Kibet made an impressive marathon debut for third place in 2:07:09. He was followed across the finish line by three more Kenyans: Amos Mitei (2:07:28), Kenneth Keter (2:07:34) and Mark Kiptoo (2:07:50).
National record-holder Arne Gabius finished ninth in 2:11:45, the fastest time by a German this year.
Organisers for the IAAF
1 Kelkile Gezahegn (ETH) 2:06:37
2 Martin Kosgey (KEN) 2:06:41
3 Alex Kibet (KEN) 2:07:09
4 Amos Mitei (KEN) 2:07:28
5 Kenneth Keter (KEN) 2:07:34
6 Mark Kiptoo (KEN) 2:07:50
7 Asefa Tefera (ETH) 2:08:34
8 Tsedat Ayana (ETH) 2:09:39
9 Arne Gabius (GER) 2:11:45
10 Vincent Yator (KEN) 2:12:03
1 Meskerem Assefa (ETH) 2:20:36
2 Haftamnesh Tesfay (ETH) 2:20:47
3 Bedatu Hirpa (ETH) 2:21:32
4 Belaynesh Oljira (ETH) 2:21:53
5 Dera Dida (ETH) 2:22:39
6 Sintayehu Hailemichael (ETH) 2:22:45
7 Nancy Kiprop (KEN) 2:22:46
8 Betsy Saina (KEN) 2:24:35
9 Stellah Barsosio (KEN) 2:25:00
10 Abebech Afework (ETH) 2:25:17