Ukrainian distance runner Viktoriya Khapilina (© Getty Images)
Viktoriya Khapilina and Youssef Sbaai came out on top at the Wizz Air Sofia Marathon on Sunday (11), winning the World Athletics Bronze Label road race in course records of 2:27:57 and 2:13:03 respectively.
Khapilina, who warmed up for this race with a 1:12:24 half marathon PB in Kovel last month, was part of a five-woman pack during the early stages. The Ukrainian passed through 10km in 35:08 alongside Kenyan trio Naom Jebet, Cynthia Kosgei and Marta Akeno as well as Uganda’s Clementine Mukadanga.
Running well inside the pace required to break the course record (2:32:35), Khaplina, Jebet, Kosgei and Akeno maintained their tempo to reach half way in 1:14:13. Mukadanga had drifted back, while Japan’s Haruka Yamaguchi had broken away from USA’s Jane Bareikis to reach the half-way point in 1:16:15.
Khapilina and Jebet increased the pace, leaving Kosgei and Akeno to fall off the lead pack. At 30km, reached in 1:45:01, the lead duo had a 51-second margin over the chasers with Yamaguchi a further two minutes in arrears.
Jebet struggled to keep up with Khapilina in the closing stages as the Ukrainian went on to win in 2:27:57, taking six seconds off the PB she set when winning the Krakow Marathon last year. Jebet finished second in 2:28:41 while Kosgei held on to third place in 2:32:10, all three women finishing well inside the previous course record. Yamaguchi came through for fourth place in 2:32:49.
The men’s race was even closer as Moroccan duo Youssef Sbaai and Radouan Nouini were given the same time at the finish with Sbaai given the verdict.
A group of seven men went through the opening 10km in 31:41, and six of them – Sbaai, Nouini, Mohamed Ali of the Netherlands, and Kenyan trio Duncan Koech, Jonathan Maiyo and Victor Chelokoi – were still in contention at the half-way point, reached in 1:06:46.
The pace then increased and Koech, Maiyo and Chelokoi fell out of the lead pack. Ali did likewise just before the 30km checkpoint, leaving the Moroccan duo to pass that marker in 1:34:04.
Locked in a duel for victory, Sbaai and Nouini forged ahead in the final 10 kilometres and opened up a significant gap on the chasers. Still neck-and-neck in their sprint for the finish line, they crossed the line almost together with Sbaai just getting the edge on his younger compatriot, both clocking 2:13:03.
The winning time is a course record, although the race record – set on a different course – still stands to Khristo Stefanov with his 2:11:26 clocking from 1997.
Ali finished third in 2:16:21 with Koech taking fourth place in 2:17:09, finishing 40 seconds ahead of Uladzislau Pramau of Belarus. Maiyo, competing for the first time in five years, was sixth in 2:22:32.
1 Youssef Sbaai (MAR) 2:13:03
2 Radouan Nouini (MAR) 2:13:03
3 Mohamed Ali (NED) 2:16:21
4 Duncan Koech (KEN) 2:17:09
5 Uladzislau Pramau (BLR) 2:17:49
6 Jonathan Maiyo (KEN) 2:22:32
1 Viktoriya Khapilina (UKR) 2:27:57
2 Naom Jebet (KEN) 2:28:41
3 Cynthia Kosgei (KEN) 2:32:10
4 Haruka Yamaguchi (JPN) 2:32:49
5 Marta Akeno (KEN) 2:33:25
6 Clementine Mukadanga (UGA) 2:38:51