World No.1 secures success with a sprint finish in Beijing

Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba had run her world-leading 2:19:52 in Xiamen in January and she returned to China to take the IAAF World Championships marathon title in Beijing, beating Kenya’s Helah Kiprop and Eunice Kirwa of Bahrain in a sprint finish.

Just four seconds separated gold from bronze – the smallest margin in the history of the event at the World Championships – with Dibaba clocking 2:27:35 to Kiprop’s 2:27:36 and Kirwa’s 2:27:39.

A lead pack of 20 athletes went through 5km in 17:51, around 2:30 pace, with Japan’s Mai Ito to the fore. Her team-mates Risa Shigetomo and Sairi Maeda were also within that group, as were the three Ethiopians – Dibaba, Tigist Tufa and Tirfi Tsegaye – plus Kirwa and the four Kenyans; defending champion Edna Kiplagat, Visiline Jepkesho, Kiprop and Jemima Sumgong.

The pace remained fairly even through to 15km and around an hour into the race the lead pack became a little smaller as athletes were dropped but a couple worked their way up.

Dibaba led through 20km in 71:19 and 19 athletes were in the front pack at half way, which was passed in 75:16, so now outside of 2:30 pace.

Shigetomo pushed on and took the lead pack through 25km in 89:16 and by 30km there were 12 in the group. The 10km split between 20km to 30km was run in 35:31, almost exactly the same as the first 10km, and the group went through 30km in 1:46:50.

The race was on and the lead group quickly went down to six, with Sumgong, Kiplagat, Kiprop, Dibaba, Tufa and Kirwa all still in contention. The break happened quickly, around two hours into the race. With Tsegaye having become detached from the leaders earlier on, Dibaba was the sole Ethiopian left with medal potential when London Marathon champion Tufa was dropped.

Kiplagat had been running slightly to the side of the group, staying out of trouble, but her title defence dreams were dashed when the pack forged ahead at around the 40km mark and she couldn’t stick with them.

Each time Dibaba would edge a gap, the group would reel her back in. The quartet were together when entering the tunnel to the Bird’s Nest stadium and Dibaba dashed for the line. It wasn’t over yet, though, as Kiprop fought hard but just when it looked as though she was going to out-strength her smaller rival, the Ethiopian kicked again and crossed the like one second ahead to win her nation’s first ever gold in this event and only its second medal after Aselefech Mergia’s bronze in 2009.

Finishing just outside the medals, Sumgong ran 2:27:42, over half a minute clear of Kiplagat. Tufa was sixth in 2:29:12 and Ito seventh in 2:29:48. Serena Burla was the first of the American athletes in 10th with 2:31:06 and Lithuania’s Rasa Drazdauskaite was the top European, clocking 2:31:23 for 11th.

» Full results can be found here. See the September 3 edition of Athletics Weekly magazine for more World Championships coverage