In his much anticipated marathon debut, Kenenisa Bekele broke away from his last challenger with seven miles to go at the Paris Marathon on Sunday. He finished in 2:05:03, breaking Stanley Biwott’s course record by nine seconds.
The prospect of breaking Wilson Kipsang’s world record of 2:03:23 vanished after a 1:02:09 halfway split, but it was nevertheless a masterful debut by Ethiopia’s Bekele. He pulled away from the field to win by 1:45, despite a hamstring cramp late in the race. The temperature reached the low 60s, and the Paris course, with its uphill climbs coming out of its tunnels, was a challenge.
Limenih Getachew, another Ethiopian, finished second in 2:06:48. He was the only other runner to break 2:08.
Bekele, who won 10,000/5000 doubles at the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Championships, said in a post-race interview, “I ran the time I expected. It was very tough.”
Bekele’s agent, Jos Hermen, selected Paris over the London Marathon, which includes Olympic gold medalists, the world record holder, and the course record holder, so the “race can be built more around him.”
“Paris is going to allow me to control the race better and to go with the rhythm I choose,” Bekele told the New York Times prior to the race.
The men’s lead pack on Sunday included 15 runners in the first 15K. Bekele remained in the second row, finding the same kind of rhythm he had on the track. He never had to chop his stride despite the pedestrian traffic.
After the halfway point, the pack was down to nine.
Silas Kipruto, the last of three pacesetters out on the course, pulled out at 25K, abruptly leaving Bekele at the front, as IAAF.org reports. Fellow Ethiopian Tamirat Tola went with him and briefly seemed to be handling the slight uphills emerging from the tunnels better than Bekele.
Tola soon drifted out of contention, however, and Bekele had no challengers after 30K – except for a left hamstring cramp that caused him to grimace between miles 22 and 23. That impeded him only briefly, and he didn't appear to labour over the last 10K.
The only concern from there to the finish was the spectators. There weren’t many, but on that portion of the course, crowd control and security appeared non-existent. Youthful cyclists followed Bekele, and a few fans ran alongside him.
Nevertheless, Bekele reached the finish line unimpeded and with a smile, amid a cloud of confetti released by marathon organisers. His 2:05:03 is the second fastest marathon in 2014, behind Tsegaya Mekonnen’s 2:04:32 in Dubai in January.
Kenya’s Flomena Cheyech, who won in Vienna and Toronto in 2013, easily won the women’s race. She finished in 2:22:41, a personal best by nearly two minutes. Yebrqual Melese finished second in 2:26:21.