Marathon season: Ethiopia surge back with Men’s & Women’s wins  //  Ethiopia's day as course records fall, but not to Kenyans

15 Apr 2012 Posted by

If 2011 was the year of the Kenyans, then 2012 is shaping up as the year of the rivalry. Last year, Kenya exerted a total domination over the marathon scene, winning every Major city marathon, breaking every course record, claiming World Championship gold, the top 20 places on the world ranking lists, and the world record.

So far, 2012 has belonged to Ethiopia, and April 15th was without doubt their day. Of the four individual titles on offer on the streets of Paris and Rotterdam, Ethiopia claimed three, along with two course records. The lone exception was Kenya’s Stanley Biwott who won the Men’s Paris Marathon in 2:05:11, breaking the course record by 36 seconds.

But for the rest, it was all about the Ethiopians. Biwott’s achievement in Paris was matched on the women’s side by Tirfi Beyene of Ethiopia, in a course record 2:21:39.

Then, in the much anticipated Rotterdam race, where Moses Mosop was talked up as being in with a good chance of breaking the World Record, he ended up third, beaten by Yemane Adhane and Getu Feleke in 2:04:47 and 2:04:49 respectively. Another pre-race favourite, Peter Kirui, who showed his form by winning the New York Half Marathon recently, was never in the race, running with the second group of men almost from the start before dropping out at just before 35km.

So that’s a really disappointing day for the big-name Kenyans, and Adhane’s win snapped their 13-year win streak in Rotterdam. It also somewhat burst the bubble of invincibility that had sprung up around Kenyan marathoners in the last 12 months.

Women’s race – fourth fastest performer ever for Ethiopia

And perhaps even more significantly, Ethiopia’s women raised the stakes even higher with the performance of Tiki Gelana. She raced her way to becoming the fourth fastest woman in history and running the seventh fastest time with her 2:18:57.

It’s amazing to think that in women’s marathon running, we now have Shobhukova, Keitany, Kiplagat, Gelana, Mergia, Kabuu and Dibaba all with sub-2:20 performances since London last year.  And that list doesn’t even include and Firehiwot Dado or Bezunesh Deba, who raced New York, not renowned for super fast times, or Bezunesh Bekele, who ran 2:20:30 in Dubai earlier this year.

But take a look at those names – Shobhukova stands out as the lone non-African, but of the other nine, six are Ethiopian and three are Kenyan (Keitany, Kiplagat & Kabuu), and so the pattern on the men’s side is repeated for the women, and it should make for an incredible season in 2012, particularly in London in August, when these nations will go head to head.

Ethiopia’s dominance reflected in the world lists…so far

The amazing statistic that emerges after the dust has settled on this, the first day of the 2012 Spring Marathon season, is that in 2011, seven men broke 2:05 (if we include that freakish day in Boston where 4 men did it. Take it out, and there were only three men under 2:05). So far in 2012, SIX men have done it, and we’re only in mid-April and yet to see a Major Marathon. And more remarkably, aided by Dubai and now Rotterdam, FIVE out of the six are Ethiopian! 

On the women’s side, Ethiopia occupy five out of the top six places as well, led by Gelana’s Rotterdam win. Of course, the real big guns from Kenya are yet to race, both on the men’s and women’s side, and we should see those rankings change a little next week after London, which is an incredibly strong and deep race on both the men’s and women’s sides. Boston is unlikely to challenge the lists because of predicted high temperatures, but London should, so the picture will be clearer then.

What is clear, after today, is that Ethiopia, and not just Kenya, have some selection problems prior to the Games, but more on this later…

The Rotterdam race: Splits and insight

In Rotterdam, windy conditions blew away the chances of a record, but it was the race that begs for more insight. Moses Mosop was heavily touted before the race – our friends at Letsrun.com profiled Mosop as a marathoner who had “never seen before speed”. Mosop of course had run 2:03:06 on that windy Boston day, and followed this up with a world record over 30km and a record time in Chicago, so he’s clearly one of the current best.

In the end, it was not his day. He was gapped shortly after halfway, and while he fought hard and managed to reel the Ethiopians back, he could ‘only’ run 2:05:01. The split table below, taken from our friend Andrew’s split table, shows how they were under world record pace for a long time, but a very slow 10km section from 30km to 40km (30:14 for 10km) saw the record possibility disappear. If anything, the early pace was just too fast – 10km in 29:05 projected a 2:02:43, and even at 20km, the projected time was 2:03:00.

To bite off 38 seconds from a strong record is a tough ask, and I’m sure that the wind will get most of the blame for the ultimate failure to break the record, but that early pace is too quick and would have cost at least some of the overall time lost.
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It seems bizarre to say that a 2:05:01 is disappointing, but most people debating the London Olympics would have mentioned Mosop as a “must-run” name. That now seems far less certain. And if London next week produces fast times and Kenyan victories, then Mosop doesn’t go to London, such is the level of competition for Kenyan places.

I would argue that Geoffrey Mutai, based on his Boston and New York wins, must be selected almost regardless of what happens in Boston tomorrow – to win two unpaced marathons the way he did suggests racing quality that can’t be overlooked because of a potential bad day. The remaining places are there to be contested between Emmanuel Mutai (if he defends his London title, he goes), Abel Kirui (a strong favourite because of his World Championship performances for Kenya), Patrick Makau (world record, enough said), Wilson Kipsang (probably needs a fast win in London) and perhaps Mosop. Or any other exceptional Kenyan who emerges either in Boston or London next week! But when framed this way, Mosop’s 2:05:01 may have closed the door on his chances.

Ethiopian athletes, on the other hand, have blown the door wide open, and their team selection will be equally interesting. When you have five of the top six to choose from, plus a handful of more experienced ‘veterans’ yet to race, you’re in a difficult luxury position.

Bekele is also back – Dublin 10km win

And finally, other good news for Ethiopia is a return to racing for their great track athlete, Kenenisa Bekele, who won the Dublin Great Run over a hilly course in 27:49 (race report here). That’s a big bounce back from his very disappointing run in Edinburgh a few months back, and the manner of the victory suggests that he will arrive in London in good shape, assuming the upward trend continues and he avoids injury. That’s bad news for Mo Farah and all others in the 10,000m (and possibly the 5,000m, time will tell), but great news for Ethiopian athletics.

All in all, a great day for Ethiopia. Boston is next, and the real big guns from Kenya, first with Geoffrey Mutai, who will attempt to address the balance! Join us tomorrow!

Ross

This post is part of the thread: Marathon Analysis – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

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