Ethiopia’s Mekuant Ayenew and Uganda’s Juliet Chekwel captured commanding victories at the 36th Zurich Maratón de Sevilla, a World Athletics Gold Label road race, on Sunday (23) with respective clockings of 2:04:46 and 2:23:13.
Although Ayenew had previously won marathons in Beijing and Venice, his pre-race PB stood at 2:09:00, so his victory in Seville was something of a surprise. The 29-year-old took almost two minutes off the course record.
Chekwel, who was making her marathon debut, also improved the course record by more than a minute. Her time took more than nine minutes off the Ugandan record.
Both men’s and women’s races had strong depth as seven men finished inside 2:07 and 14 broke the 2:08 barrier, while seven women went sub-2:28, confirming the new course is conducive to fast times.
The men’s race opened at brisk pace as a 15-man lead pack went through 5km in 14:45, led by pacemakers Henry Kiprop and Raymond Kipchumba. They passed 10km in 29:24 with all the main favourites in close attendance.
The halfway point was reached in 1:02:30, putting the leaders well on schedule to break the course record of 2:06:36. By then 11 men led the contest in the form of the Kenyan quartet of Barnabas Kiptum, Amos Kiplagat, Michael Kunyunga and Stanley Kiprotich plus the large Ethiopian contingent compounded by Ayenew, Regasa Bejiga, Alemayehu Mekonen, Bazu Worku, Maru Teferi and Workhenh Tesfa, plus Italy’s Eyob Faniel.
Shortly afterwards the pacesetters dropped out and by the 25th kilometre Kiplagat, Kiptum and Ayenew had broken away from the rest with the unknown Kiplagat, whose career best is 2:11:18, making most of the pace.
By the 30km checkpoint the clock read 1:28:39, following a 29:31 split between 20km and 30km. Shortly afterwards Kiplagat began to falter and the race became a two-horse battle between Kiptum and Ayenew. The 33-year-old Kenyan, a 2:06:33 performer, took command of the rhythm at first but looked back several times to ask for the Ethiopian to help. Ayenew then moved to the front but they only travelled together for a couple of kilometres because at exactly the 34km point Ayenew’s relentless speed proved to be too fast for Kiptum and the Ethiopian began to build a sizeable gap.
At 35km (1:43:24) it became clear that, barring disaster, Ayenew would be the eventual winner as he cemented a 100m gap on Kiptum and 41 over Kunyunga, Tesfa and Bejiga who would fight for the third place on the podium.
Like a metronome, Ayenew covered each kilometre section in 2:57 and even increased his speed over the closing stages to finish in a world-leading PB of 2:04:46, having recorded negative splits of 1:02:30 and 1:02:16.
Kiptum also managed a PB of 2:05:05 to take the runner-up spot. Bejiga’s late burst of speed gave him third place in 2:06:24, a PB by three minutes.
The Spanish title went to Javier Guerra, who finished 10th overall in a PB of 2:07:28 to secure his Olympic spot while Hamid Ben Daoud had to settle for second barely six seconds behind to also improve on his previous best.
Similar to the men’s race, the women’s contest started fast, the opening 5km being covered in 16:50 with Uganda’s Juliet Chekwel leading ahead of a large Ethiopian contingent comprising Gada Bontu, Melkam Gizaw, Ftaw, Zeray, Shewaye Woldemekel and Beji Bekelu, along with Kenya’s Caroline Kilel, Josephine Chepkoech and Purity Changwony.
They reached 10km in 33:48 always with debutante Chekwel running closest to the pacesetters and still eight women remained with winning chances by halfway, which was reached in 1:12:01, perfectly on schedule to lower the race record.
The continued to whittle down until only four athletes formed the leading group by 30km, reached in 1:42:05 – Chekwel, Bontu, Melaku and Chepkoech.
Chepkoech was the first of those to drift back at 35km. With the clock reading 2:13, Chekwel made a decisive move and built a seven-second gap on Bontu and an 18-second advantage on Melaku by the 40km point.
In the final two kilometres the 29-year-old Chekwel finished strongly to cross the line in 2:23:13, while Bontu was second in 2:23:39, a PB by 10 minutes. Melaku was timed at 2:23:49, also a huge PB for the 22-year-old.
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics
1 Mekuant Ayenew (ETH) 2:04:46
2 Barnabas Kiptum (KEN) 2:05:05
3 Regasa Bejiga (ETH) 2:06:24
4 Workneh Tesfa (ETH) 2:06:27
5 Michael Kunyuga (KEN) 2:06:43
6 Bazu Worku (ETH) 2:06:47
7 Eyob Faniel (ITA) 2:07:19
8 Maru Teferi (ISR) 2:07:20
9 Alemayehu Mekonen (ETH) 2:07:23
10 Javier Guerra (ESP) 2:07:28
1 Juliet Chekwel (UGA) 2:23:13
2 Gada Bontu (ETH) 2:23:39
3 Sifan Melaku (ETH) 2:23:49
4 Josephine Chepkoech (KEN) 2:24:14
5 Purity Changwony (KEN) 2:24:30
6 Gladys Tejeda (PER) 2:27:07
7 Beji Bekelu (ETH) 2:27:50
8 Melkam Gizaw (ETH) 2:28:05
9 Anja Scherl (GER) 2:28:25
10 Marcela Gómez (ARG) 2:28:58