Yebrqual Melese clocked the third-fastest time in the history of the Volkswagen Prague Marathon to win the women’s race in 2:23:49, while Felix Kandie didn’t let his sore throat affect him as he won the men’s contest in 2:08:32 at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Sunday (3).
On a day of good conditions for running, it was Kenya’s Janet Rono who stormed away with the pacemaker soon after the start. Passing 10km in 33:45, she was on course for a sub-2:23 finish time.
Sara Moreira, who was a last-minute addition to the race after injury ruled her out of the London Marathon, followed in second with 34:08 and another 16 seconds back there was the big group with all the Ethiopian contenders.
There was no change of this order at half way, reached in 1:11:43, but Rono began to slow and the Ethiopians were starting to close the gaps. When Moreira was caught by the chase pack, she managed to hang on, but once the group reached Rono, the Kenyan was quickly dropped.
They then passed 30km in 1:42:53 and Moreira was the only non-Ethiopian left in the leading group, running besides Melese, Tadelech Bekele, Haylay Letebrhan and Ashete Bekere. Bekele and Bekere could not hold on much longer. And when 25-year-old Melese – who won this year’s Houston Marathon in January with a personal best of 2:23:23 – surged, the small group broke up.
Melese looked strong in the final five kilometres and finished in 2:23:49, exactly one minute ahead of Moreira. Haylay followed in third with 2:25:24 while Rono managed to secure fourth place in 2:26:31.
Never before in Prague had more than two women ran faster than 2:27, but five women bettered that barrier on Sunday.
“It was my plan to save some energy for the second half,” said Melese after her third marathon victory in a row, following wins in Houston and Hangzhou. “This is why I chose a more careful approach and did not start that fast.”
Second-placed Moreira was more than happy with her performance. “I had a leg injury so I could not run London,” said the 2013 European indoor 3000m champion. “I was looking for another opportunity and was happy to get the chance to run Prague.”
Moreira’s previous PB of 2:26:00 was set on her marathon debut in New York last November. Having improved on that by more than a minute, she looks capable of one day breaking Rosa Mota’s 30-year-old Portuguese record of 2:23:29.
Kandie almost didn’t make it to the start line on Sunday, feeling the effects of a sore throat, but he decided to give it a go and his resolution paid off handsomely.
It might have helped Kandie that the pace in the men’s race was much slower than planned. Kenyan pacemaker Benjamin Ngandu was supposed to pass through half way in about 63 minutes and he tried his best, but the group of favourites did not follow him and he ended up running 30 to 40 metres ahead of the first group.
It was Hillary Kipchumba who was then on the heels of Ngandu and the pair reached half way in 1:04:00. While Ngandu dropped out after 27km, Evans Chebet moved up to Kipchumba. When they reached 30km in 1:30:29, they were 22 seconds ahead of a chasing group of four with Kandie and Geoffrey Ronoh as well as Ethiopians Fikre Assefa and Deribe Robi.
Last year’s runner-up Chebet surged ahead with ten kilometres to go and it looked like the decisive moment in the battle for victory. But then it was Kandie time in Prague. Breaking up the chasing group with a surge, the Kenyan covered the five kilometre section between 30km and 35km in 14:54, propelling him within two seconds of the leader Chebet. Soon after, he overtook his compatriot and built a big lead.
“I felt tired at around 39km so I just made sure that I would win,” said Kandie, the man who had broken the course record of Italy’s 2004 Olympic champion Stefano Baldini in Athens last year. “I wanted to see how far I could get.”
With a time of 2:08:32, Kandie smashed his PB by more than two minutes and was 18 seconds ahead of Chebet, who was not disappointed on missing out on victory for a second time in a row.
“I had a leg problem in the build up to the race, so this time I am really happy with the second place,” said Chebet. “Hopefully I can finally achieve victory next year.”
Behind them, Ethiopians Deribe Robi and Fikre Assefa ran 2:09:05 and 2:10:01 respectively to finish third and fourth. Ronoh finished fifth with 2:10:52, improving his PB by almost five minutes. He had hoped for a much faster time though and was on course for that up until 35km but he faded in the closing stages.
Jorg Wenig (organisers) for the IAAF
1 Felix Kandie (KEN) 2:08:32
2 Evans Chebet (KEN) 2:08:50
3 Deribe Robi (ETH) 2:09:05
4 Fikre Assefa (ETH) 2:10:01
5 Geoffrey Ronoh (KEN) 2:10:52
6 Raymond Chemungor (KEN) 2:12:09
7 Jamel Chatbi (ITA) 2:12:17
8 Hillary Kipchumba (KEN) 2:13.01
9 Gilbert Yegon (KEN) 2:13:29
10 Tesfaye Belay (ETH) 2:13:59
1 Yebrqual Melese (ETH) 2:23:49
2 Sara Moreira (POR) 2:24:49
3 Letebrhan Haylay (ETH) 2:25:24
4 Janet Rono (KEN) 2:26:31
5 Ashete Bekere (ETH) 2:26:55
6 Betelhem Moges (ETH) 2:27:20
7 Afera Godfay (ETH) 2:32:44
8 Halima Hussen (ETH) 2:32:51
9 Iulia Andreeva (KGZ) 2:37:37
10 Koren Jelela (ETH) 2:37:42