(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
BEIJING — On the final day of the 15th IAAF World Championships in Athletics at National Stadium, the longest race on the women’s program, the marathon, was decided by just one second.
Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba—no relation to multiple gold medalist Tirunesh Dibaba or her younger sister Genzebe—won the first-ever marathon gold medal by an Ethiopian woman at these championships. Not even five feet tall, the tiny Dibaba stormed into the stadium with her taller Kenyan rival, Helah Kiprop, outkicking her for gold, 2:27:35 to 2:27:36 in the closest finish ever in the history of these championships. Bronze went to Eunice Kirwa, a Kenyan-born athlete who switched her allegiance to Bahrain in 2010.
“I had a very strong strategy to (out) kick everybody,” Dibaba told the media after the race, adding that she used the four Kenyans in the race to set the pace for her. “My plan was to follow them, head-by-head.”
Dibaba, whose coach Haji Adillo told Race Results Weekly two days ago that she was in the best shape of her life, took a patient approach to today’s contest. Running with her Ethiopian teammates, Tigist Tufa and Tirfi Tsegaye, she was content to cruise along at the gentle early pace, set mostly by the Japanese team of Mai Ito, Risa Shigetomo and Sairi Maeda. The entire Kenyan team, led by defending champion Edna Kiplagat and last year’s TCS New York City Marathon runner-up Jemima Sumgong, was also in the lead pack which which cruised through half-way in a modest 1:15:16. The soaking humidity made running any faster difficult.
“The pace was good,” commented the bronze medalist Kirwa.
Slightly behind the 16-strong lead pack, America’s Serena Burla was working her way up with China’s Ding Changqin and Wang Xueqin. Burla, a cancer survivor, said she was just trying to be competitive and put herself in position to contend.
“I just really wanted to put on the USA uniform, execute, and put myself in it,” Burla said after the race.
By 30K (1:46:50), the Japanese team was struggling to keep up. Like they had done in the 5000m and 10,000m track races at these championships, they set the pace early, but then faded when the faster running started. The five kilometers between 30 and 40K were the fastest so far in the race (17:15), putting the Japanese (and American Burla who would finish tenth) out of contention. That segment was fast enough to dwindle the pack to just six: Dibaba, Sumgong, Kirwa, Kiprop, Kiplagat and Tufa.
Just three minutes later, Tufa was dropped (she would finish sixth). Kiplagat, who is typically comfortable running at the back of the pack, was staying in contact, but soon she too started to fade.
“I was not expecting it,” Kiplagat said of falling off the pace and eventually finishing fifth. “I tried to run my own race. I tried to put in my tactics, but it didn’t work. My legs were too tight, and my body did not react as I expected.”
The 5K segment through the 40K mark was covered in a swift 16:34, easily the fastest of the race. The four women left—Dibaba, Kiprop Kirwa, and Sumgong—were all still in contention as National Stadium came into view.
“When we were at 40 kilometers it was a bit tricky,” observed Kiprop, who was competing in her first World Championships. “Everybody was there. Everybody was strong.”
All four women entered the tunnel to the stadium at about the same time, but Sumgong was lagging. Into the arena, Dibaba and Kiprop emerged from behind the electronic sign at the top of the homestretch together. Like the men last weekend, they only had 110 meters to run in the stadium: a straight drag race for the tape.
“When I saw the Ethiopian athlete pushing, then I tried to push,” Kiprop told reporters. “I didn’t expect, but I tried my best.”
Down the homestretch, Dibaba showed remarkable speed for a marathoner, her short legs turning over furiously as she headed for the tape. She said she was ready for any kind of finish.
“When we were coming, the two of us on the track, I wanted to use all my energy to the final line,” Dibaba told Race Results Weekly with Coach Adillo translating. “I know I have a fast kick at the end. I don’t worry about anything.”
Dibaba’s medal lifted the Ethiopian team to the sixth position on the medal table with two golds and a total of five medals. Genzebe Dibaba has a chance to win another gold tonight when she races in the 5000m. Ethiopia won 10 medals at the last IAAF World Championships and was the sixth-ranked team.
Also, with her victory, Dibaba is now on top of the Abbott World Marathon Majors leaderboard for Series IX with 41 points. Kiprop is second with 32 points. The series concludes at the Tokyo Marathon next February when the top male and female point-earners will be awarded a $500,000 grand prize. Today’s victory was worth $60,000 in prize money, but certainly nearly as much from her corporate sponsor, Nike.
In all, 52 women finished today’s race and another 13 dropped out.