Sometimes the winner of a marathon emerges so emphatically in the final stages that you wonder why you never rated them for the first 40 kilometres. Other times the champion is obvious from the start. There was one of both types as Tomohiro Tanigawa and Makda Harun raced to victory in the Blackmores Sydney Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (18).
Each won emphatically in the end, but Tanigawa’s triumph in 2:12:13 was only evident in the final three kilometres around the Sydney Harbour waterfront, while Harun, who clocked 2:32:22, led from the moment the gun was fired in Milson Point, North Sydney, and raced unchallenged to the finish on the other side of the Harbour Bridge at the Sydney Opera House.
Tanigawa came into the race with a personal best 2:11:39 on debut in Nagano last year. He was always in the group of four which chased down runaway leader Mogos Shumay after 15 kilometres. While he was a presence in the lead pack thereafter, it was a long time before he appeared to be a threat to well-credentialled debutant Shumay, Belachew Alemayehu (personal best 2:09:48) and Julius Muriuki Wahome (2:09:08).
But a threat he proved to be as he remained with Alemayehu as first Shumay and then Muriuki fell away, the former one hour and 40 minutes into the race, the latter some 10 minutes later.
The damage continued to be done at 10-minute intervals, but on the third occasion it was Alemayehu, who had looked so comfortable throughout, surprisingly failed to respond to a surge and Tanigawa was suddenly 15 metres clear as they raced around the waterfront.
The gap of 15 metres quickly became 50, then 100, and kept right on growing as Tanigawa pulled away to win by almost 300, the fact that he was just 34 seconds outside his best more than compensated by it being his first marathon win after second-place finishes on his debut in Nagano and again in Sapporo last year.
Pronouncing himself “very excited and very happy,” Tanigawa added: “My only focus was to win the race, so I was surprised to run so close to my PB.”
The lead appeared to change with each of the many turns as Tanigawa and Alemayehu raced around the waterfront finish, though it was always the Japanese runner who seemed to be in control once the corners had been safely negotiated.
“It was hard to tell whether I was leading or not,” the winner said. “As we approached the last three kilometres the pace seemed to get slower, so I kept to my own pace and moved ahead and felt like I was winning.”
Alemayehu crossed the line in 2:13:09, still looking comfortable but now having lost almost one minute in the last 10 minutes’ running. Muriuki took third place in 2:14:15 while Taiki Yoshimura also got past the fading Shumay to steal fourth place, 2:15:47 to 2:16:25.
Shumay led from the gun and by up to 150 metres early in the race. He went through 15 kilometres in 45:22, still 11 seconds clear of the chasers and then remained in contention until just past kilometre 30. Seventh in the 10,000 metres at the World U20 championships this year, the 19-year-old now knows what the marathon is all about.
In stark contrast, Harun appeared to have more problems with her running outfit over the latter stages of the race than with her opposition, constantly tugging at her shorts and occasionally her singlet. She also appeared to experience occasional spasms of side-cramps.
But none of this slowed her down to any noticeable extent. Having taken a lead of over a minute before the half-way point of the race, Harun continued to pull away from her closest rivals kilometre by kilometre. Wardrobe and cramps notwithstanding, she enjoyed a margin of almost seven minutes at the finish, winning in 2:32:22.
Harun has a personal best of 2:26:46 in finishing third in Paris in 2012. Now 28 years old, she is based in Melbourne.
Merima Mohammed, the fastest entrant in the race with a personal best of 2:23:06, ran an equally isolated race to take second place in 2:39:02 with China’s Beijing 2015 world championships representative Yinli He third in 2:44:17.
Poland’s Karolina Nadolska, one of the pre-race favourites, who returned to running late last year after the birth of her first child, was forced to pull out early on by knee pain.
Up to 33,000 people participated in the marathon and associated events which make up the Sydney Running Festival.
The marathon was broadcast live on Australia’s Ten network with a live stream and live coverage also going into China for the first time.
Len Johnson for the IAAF