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Nicholas Kemboi Wins Prague Marathon

He nearly lost the race at 32K but bounced back.

He nearly lost the race at 32K but bounced back.

(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

PRAGUE — Kenya’s Caroline Rotich continued her triumphant tour of spring with a dominant performance in the women’s race, while Nicholas Kemboi of Qatar recovered from a late hiccup to drop his male competitors en route to victory in the men’s race at the 19th Volkswagen Prague International Marathon here under warm, sunny skies.

A record field of about 9,500 runners participated in the race, which was contested amid increased security measures. Before the start, the runners observed a minute of silence for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

After testing the field for half of the race, Rotich exerted her will on it beginning after 22 kilometers, gradually building a nearly two-minute cushion on the way to winning in 2 hours, 27 minutes. The victory was her third straight this spring, following triumphs in the New York City Half in March and the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Mile in Washington, D.C. last month.

Looking strong throughout, with the exception of one brief moment, Kemboi began pushing what until then had been an erratic pace after the 35th kilometer to pull away for the win in 2:08:51.

“I’m satisfied,” he said. “The race was tough, really.”

Rotich Reveals Her New Self

Once upon a time, if you were looking to find Rotich in the later stages of a road race, you needn’t look further than at the rear of the lead pack, where she would often tuck herself in and follow others. But this spring, she has adopted a more aggressive style of racing and it appears to be suiting her well.

Content to run with the other elite women for half of this race, Rotich began showing signs of getting antsy with the pace at the midway point, when she stepped in front of the lead six for a one-second advantage, going through in 1:13:03.

But over the next four kilometers, Rotich dropped the group, opening a 14-second advantage over Ethiopia’s Ehiru Kiros, the runner-up in January’s Dubai Marathon, and Kenya’s Philes Ongori. Rotich covered kilometers 20 through 25 in 17:01.

“When I was training and for the last month and a half my coach kept telling me, ‘You are in good shape,’” Rotich said. “I came here trying to run a really good time and to see what I can do. At the halfway, I looked at my watch and saw that it was 72 [minutes] and I was like, ‘Ugh! This is a little bit slow.’ I knew sometimes in a marathon, if I push hard in the second half I can make it up.”

As the sun and temperatures rising near 15C/59F began to further wither her competitors, Rotich continued to pile on. Her lead at 30-K swelled to 35 seconds on Kiros and 40 seconds on Ongori, and by 35-K Kiros had faded badly while Ongori faced a deficit of 1:16.

“For sure, I was surprised that nobody covered my move,” Rotich said. “I was trying to push there so I can see what we can do. After we pushed, I heard one of the ladies telling the pacemaker that it was a little too fast. I was like, ‘Are you serious?’ I thought everyone was trying to go for a course record.”

Rotich wound up winning by 1:53. Ongori crossed second in 2:28:53 while Kiros was third in 2:30:02. Tatyana Aryasova of Russia, competing for the first time since serving a two-year doping ban for a positive test at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon, finished fourth in 2:32:24.

“From the first kilometer, my body was not responding,” Ongori said. “When Caroline started to push, I did not follow her. I decided to run my pace and when I felt better at 29-K, then I started to push myself.”

Success In A New Discipline, For A New Country

Kemboi made his first push toward distance running distinction in 2003, when as a 20-year-old he ran a blistering 26:30.03 in the 10,000m on the track at the Memorial Van Damme meeting in Brussels, the fourth-fastest time in history. But just two years later, like many distance runners in Kenya, Kemboi found the struggle to make an elite training group and gain proper support to be too much.

So, following in the footsteps of several of his compatriots, Kemboi turned to the Middle East for relief. In 2005, he made the controversial decision to switch his citizenship and began competing for the Gulf state of Qatar. Unlike the others, he chose not to adopt an Arabic name, saying that since he had already been ranked No. 1 in the world under his given name, he did not want to drop it.

Kemboi’s success on the track was marginal, at best, following the transfer of citizenship. He competed just twice in 2006, did not run a race in 2007, ran the 800m at the Emir Cup in 2008, DNF’d in the 10,000m at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, and raced just once in 2010.

In 2011, Kemboi, who had run some half-marathons during his career, decided to transition full-time into road racing. He made his debut in Valencia, finishing second in 2:08:01, and finished fifth in the Vodafone Istanbul Marathon in 2:20:40.

Despite that lack of marathon pedigree, Kemboi proved to be the strongest of the marathoners here in a field that featured eight men with PRs under 2:10.

After seeing a number of variable kilometer splits during the opening quarter of the race — the pace fluctuated between 2:56/2:57 as high as 3:07 per kilometer during the first 10-K — Kemboi started to assert himself. A slight surge at 15-K helped thin the lead pack from 14 down to nine, and then two kilometers later he, Ethiopia’s Girmay Birhanu and Kenya’s Julia Arile broke away and ran together for most of the race. The trio hit the half-marathon mark in 1:03:21, went through 25-K in 1:15:00 and hit 30-K in 1:30:36.

During the 32nd kilometer, it appeared that Birhanu and Arile had dropped Kemboi, who slid back a good 15 meters. It turned out to be just a momentary issue as he rejoined the front soon thereafter.

“When I was running, I came across a raised cobblestone,” Kemboi explained. “After that I felt a little bit of fatigue in the left leg, something like a slight muscle pull. That is why I fell behind. After about a kilometer, this feeling went away and that is why I closed the gap.”

Kemboi began pushing the pace again up a drawn-out incline approaching the Hlávkův Bridge. The move was covered by Lomerinyang but dropped Birhanu. During the 36th kilometer, Kemboi surged again, this time gapping Arile by 10 seconds. He continued to push, eventually opening up a 28-second advantage by the 40-K mark en route to victory.

Birhanu recovered to finish second in 2:09:30. Patrick Terer of Kenya, whose visa did not get approved until late Thursday when organizers called on favors from the Czech ambassador in Nairobi to get him on a plane here late on Friday, rallied to finish third in a personal-best 2:10:10. Lomerinyang faded badly and finished seventh in 2:13:31.

“At 38-K, I looked back for my colleagues and realized that I was running by myself,” Kemboi said. “It was only at 40-K that I was sure I was winning this race. I have spent quite some years of my career running on the track. But now I feel like a true marathon runner.”


1. Nicholas Kemboi, QAT, 2:08:51
2. Girmay Birhanu, ETH, 2:09:30
3. Patrick Terer, KEN, 2:10:10
4. Albert Matebor, KEN, 2:10:56
5. Sium Kiflom, ERI, 2:11:39
6. Amanuel Mesel, ERI, 2:11:51
7. Julius Arile Lomerinyang, KEN 2:13.31
8. Benjamin Kiptoo, KEN, 2:14:13
9. Julius Karinga, KEN, 2:14:21
10. Teshome Gelana, ETH, 2:18:06

1. Caroline Rotich, KEN, 2:27:00
2. Philes Ongori, KEN, 2:28:53
3. Ehitu Kiros, ETH, 2:30:02
4. Tatyana Aryasova, RUS, 2:32:24
5. Mercy Kibarus, KEN, 2:33:23
6. Lydia Cheromei, KEN, 2:34:26
7. Yulia Ruban, UKR, 2:34:50
8. Petra Pastorova, CZE, 2:36:44
9. Ednah Kimaiyo, KEN, 2:40:16
10. Azusa Nojiri, JPN, 2:40:59