Japan’s Yuta Shitara slashed almost a full minute off the Australian all-comers’ record when he won a thrilling three-man battle over the closing 2.195 kilometres at the Gold Coast Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label road race, on Sunday (7).
Rodah Chepkorir Tanui of Kenya narrowly held off the second-half charge of Australia’s Milly Clark to take the women’s race as both contests were decided by the same 12-second margin.
The event continued to re-write the Australian all-comers’ list with the 10 fastest men’s times on Australian soil now coming on the Gold Coast. All but two of the sub-2:10 performances on Australian soil have now come on the Gold Coast, the exceptions being Rob de Castella’s 2:09:18, ahead of Juma Ikangaa’s 2:09:30, at the Brisbane 1982 Commonwealth Games.
With Shitara’s 2:07:50, Kenya’s Barnabas Kitum’s 2:08:02 and Zane Robertson of New Zealand’s 2:08:19, the 2019 Gold Coast race provided the three fastest times on Australian soil. The previous all-comers’ mark of 2:08:42 was held by Kenneth Mungara, who failed in his attempt to win a fourth Gold Coast race this year.
Tanui was likewise within reach of the race record – 2:24:49 by Ruth Chebitok – when she went through half-way in 1:12:34. But she was more than three minutes slower in the second half of the race, ultimately holding off Clark by some 50 metres, 2:27:56 to 2:28:08.
In contrast with the usual Gold Coast conditions, race day 2019 offered something of everything with rain showers, a gusty wind into the runners’ faces over the last five kilometres and occasional sunshine throughout the race.
Recent form proves best guide
Yuta Shitara was not the fastest entrant in the 2019 Gold Coast marathon. That honour was shared by Kenyan pair Ezekiel Chebii and Philip Sanga Kimutai at 2:06:07. But Shitara was just four seconds slower at 2:06:11 and, more importantly, his PB came in Tokyo last year in finishing second at a World Marathon Major, while Chebii’s was from 2016 and Sanga’s even longer ago in 2011.
Recent form usually proves more reliable than personal bests. So it proved again on the Gold Coast. Shitara and marathon debutant Robertson were the dominant runners in a pack which, early in the race, numbered up to a dozen and by half-way – reached in 1:03:36 – these two, along with Vincent Yator and Barnabas Kiptum, had established themselves as the leading contenders.
Shitara, Kiptum and Robertson were still together at the 40-kilometre point as they raced through in 2:01:02. By this time, the runners were battling a headwind, as well as a head-to-head battle, as they made their way back from the northernmost point of the course to the finish.
Shitara proved to be the strongest, holding out Kiptum by some 50 metres with Robertson not much further behind than that in third.
“I came here with confidence and that is why I was able to produce this result,” Shitara said after the race.
“It was pretty easy until 30km. I kept it very smooth and comfortable. After the turnaround at 37km, I dropped back from the leaders but then luckily around 39km they came back to me again. I just ran in my own rhythm and cruised on into the finish.”
Kiptum’s 2:08:02 was a personal best, bettering the 2:09:19 he set last year. His good form is recent, and consistent: he ran 2:09:20 in winning in Hong Kong earlier this year.
Robertson gained good rankings points by taking out the Oceania championships, compensating for failing to fulfil his pre-race ambition to break Rob de Castella’s area record. At least he has the family bragging rights: his time was seven seconds faster than twin brother Jake’s 2:08:26 best.
Robertson praised Shitara as “a world-class athlete who played the game and played it smart.
“He expected to win and came through just when we were beginning to die. We had nothing left to go with him.”
Clark’s charge falls just short
In contrast, the strongest charge over the final stages in the women’s race fell just short. Milly Clark was more than two minutes down at half-way (1:12:34 for the leaders) in the women’s race, still two minutes down at 30km and 38 seconds behind Rodah Tanui at 40km.
By then, however, the Australian was motoring home. With the home crowd cheering her on, she continued to close the gap, raising the possibility of a first Australian victory (men’s or women’s) since Lauren Shelley in 2009.
It was not to be, albeit Tanui’s margin had been reduced to 12 seconds at the finish line, 2:27:56 to 2:28:08.
“The last 5km I was struggling a lot because of the wind,” said Tanui. But she held on, making her own claim on the adjective “indefatigable” usually associated with Yuki Kawauchi. It was Tanui’s fourth marathon for the year, after Lagos (Nigeria), a 2:27:38 in Enschede in April and a 2:29:15 four weeks later in Geneva.
Though Clark did not get the win, she ticked off most of her pre-race aims. She got a personal best, the Tokyo Olympic qualifier, and additional ranking points as Oceania champion.
“I had a lot of fun. There wasn’t a moment that I wasn’t loving it. I am just really stoked that I had the crowd and everyone around me cheering.
“Honestly it was perfect. Everything went exactly the way I wanted it to go.”
Eritrea’s Nazret Weldu took third place in 2:28:57 with Munkhzaya Bayartsogt of Mongolia, who came from even further back at half way than Clark, fourth in 2:29:18.
There were Australian victories in the associated half-marathon races, Jack Rayner taking the men’s in 1:02:30 and Sinead Diver beating Ellie Pashley by five seconds in the women’s in 1:09:45.
Len Johnson for the IAAF