In his marathon debut, Kenyan-born Ali Hassan Mahboob (Bahrain) completed a total and 100% sweep of the 2014 Asian Games long distance gold medals by African-born athletes running for Bahrain, Qatar and the U.A.E., outkicking Japan's Kohei Matsumura and Yuki Kawauchi on the last lap of the track to win in 2:12:38.
As a multiple Asian Games gold medalist with a 27:21.40 best for 10000 m Mahboob was a clear danger despite it being his debut, and the danger built steadily as he kept himself at the very rear of the lead pack of ten through the slow first 25 km. With only a 2:15:09 best South Korea's Si-Hwan Noh took it upon himself to lead at mid-2:13 pace from the start, followed closely by Kenyan Bahraini Aadam Ismaeel Khamis, a 2:07:59 runner who had managed only 2:15:37 in the last two years. The popular favorite Kawauchi was obviously keying off Khamis, staying right behind him whenever Khamis moved forward or backward. Kawauchi's friend and rival Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia/Team NTN) in turn largely keyed off Kawauchi, while #1-ranked Matsumura moved relatively independently around the pack.
Despite the conservative pace Kawauchi looked uncomfortable, repeatedly tweaking his neck, rubbing his face and dropping his head after only 13 km. The first big change came just after 18 km, when leader Noh moved sideways and tripped over the feet of an athlete behind him, most likely Bat-Ochir. Noh fell hard, had trouble getting up, and was staggering as he tried to run again. Out of the front pack he struggled to continue, but despite some walking Noh managed to finish, 13th of 14 finishers in 2:31:29. In his absence 2:16:38 runner Anuradha Cooray (Sri Lanka) stepped up to lead, taking things through halfway in 1:06:48, 2:13:36 pace, and staying in the game until the big move came near 28 km before fading back to finish 6th in a PB of 2:15:51.
Between 20 and 28 km the pack started to show signs of impatience, with Batochir, Kawauchi, Khamis and Matsumura all taking short turns up front before relaxing as Mahboob stayed out of the fray at the back. Kawauchi's big play came on an uphill just before 28 km, a gritty surge that only Batochir, Matsumura and #4-ranked Chol Pak (North Korea) followed. Mahboob took his time deciding whether to follow and then in catching up, but upon making contact he went right past the leading quartet to the front for the first time, turning and giving Kawauchi a long, hard look that was immediately returned. Bat-Ochir responded by taking off again, and as the group approached 30 km the race really got moving.
Kawauchi went to the front with Matsumura, who quickly took over. Mahboob again settled in the rear of the lead group as Pak and Bat-Ochir sat on the Japanese leaders before Bat-Ochir again shot ahead to cross the 30 km mark first in 1:34:46 off the fastest 5 km split in the entire race. He opened a gap of around 10 m over the chase pack, whose reaction to close it left Kawauchi lagging several seconds behind. Matsumura brought Pak and Mahboob back to Bat-Ochir within 500 m, Bat-Ochir looking back to check on Kawauchi's position, relaxing back into the group to led Matsumura lead.
With Matsumura at the helm the pace slowed enough for Kawauchi to fight his way back, reaching the leaders at 33 km as Mahboob seemed to go through a spell of side stitches. With the four fastest Asian marathoners in the field and a debuting sub-27:30 Kenyan-born Bahraini back together with less than 10 km to go the tension built. Pak was the first to snap, dropping off after a surge from Matsumura at 35.5 km. Bat-Ochir, Matsumura, Kawauchi and Mahboob ran side-by-side as Pak ground his way back, but just as he drew even Pak tripped on a traffic cone and went down hard. Out of contention after picking himself up he dragged himself on to a 5th-place finish in 2:14:34.
The tension built again, Mahboob looking completely relaxed with plenty in reserve. Bat-Ochir took on the leading duties again with a big surge after 38 km, but all three of the others answered. A kilometer later he surged again, desperation showing as Matsumura and Mahboob went right with him. Kawauchi lost ground again but again came back. Again Bat-Ochir moved. Again a regroup. And again a surge from Bat-Ochir at 40 km, but it was not enough.
Mahboob pushed on the uphill heading to the stadium, and with that Bat-Ochir was done. Kawauchi and Matsumura responded with a pair of attacks to break away, but Mahboob stayed right with them. 200 m later Mahboob attacked again, stretching it out to single file going into the tunnel into the stadium. Kawauchi lost a stride, but surged back to keep it a trio as they came onto the track. Matsumura stayed on Mahboob as Kawauchi slipped away again on the back straight. On the back corner it looked like Matsumura had a chance, but in the home straight Mahboob's kick was too much as he crossed the line in 2:12:38, Matsumura right behind him in 2:12:39 for silver. Kawauchi was another three seconds back in 2:12:42, picking up bronze. It is telling of how hard the battle for gold was that Kawauchi, a famously fast finisher, closed in 6:29 from 40 km to the finish line, his fastest split this year, but still lost three seconds to Matsumura and four to Mahboob.
By the time Bat-Ochir finished, 4th in 2:13:21 and collapsing to his knees, Mahboob was lying on his side on the ground, Matsumura wandering semi-dazedly around the finish area and Kawauchi hunched over crying openly. All four negative splitted, leaving everything they had on the road over the last five km. In post-race interviews both Matsumura and Kawauchi indicated that they might have misjudged Mahboob, surprised by how much he had left at the end. Along with Bat-Ochir the only current sub-2:10 men in the field, it had been up to them to make it uncomfortable early for the debuting Mahboob, far superior to any of them on the track, and the slow pace they accepted may well have played into his hands. The four fastest current men in the field, Matsumura, Kawauchi, Bat-Ochir and Pak, finished in that order behind unknown factor Mahboob. Could it have played out differently if they had run closer to ability earlier in the race like Kizaki in the women's race?
With only a bronze Kawauchi said that he intends to follow through on his pre-race statement that if he did not win gold he would not run any of the Beijing World Championships selection races, saying that would instead focus on improving his time before going after a world-level race again. Looking straight into the camera, uncharacteristic for a Japanese athlete, he said, "Thank you all sincerely for cheering for me. I am sorry that I could not win the gold medal. I will do my absolute best to make it back here again some day and ask that you keep supporting me. Thank you."
Mahboob's win meant that African-born athletes from Bahrain, Qatar and the U.A.E. won all 10 gold medals in the men's and women's 1500 m, 3000 mSC, 5000 m, 10000 m and marathons at this year's Asian Games, picking up 18 of the 30 total medals in those events with Asian-born Asian athletes winning just 5 of the 10 silver medals and 7 of the 10 bronze medals.
Bahrain: 6 (3 Kenya, 2 Ethiopia, 1 Morocco)
Qatar: 3 (2 Morocco, 1 Sudan)
U.A.E. 1 (1 Ethiopia)
Bahrain: 5 (3 Ethiopia, 1 Kenya, 1 Morocco)
Bahrain: 3 (2 Kenya, 1 Ethiopia)
That's the reality of the world, but it does diminish the value of calling something a regional championship when it is dominated exclusively by athletes from another region hired for the job. One fan expressed the frustration felt by many:
You know what would be cool? If an actual Asian won the Asian Games not Kenya or Ethiopia #AsianGames2014 @JRNLive @JRNHeadlines
— 진 Jin Stewart (@MrCanada_Jin) October 3, 2014
2014 Asian Games Men's Marathon
Icheon, South Korea, 10/3/14
click here for complete results
1. Ali Hassan Mahboob (Bahrain) - 2:12:38 - debut
2. Kohei Matsumura (Japan) - 2:12:39
3. Yuki Kawauchi (Japan) - 2:12:42
4. Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia) - 2:13:21
5. Chol Pak (North Korea) - 2:14:34
6. Anuradha Indrajity Cooray (Sri Lanka) - 2:15:51- PB
7. Yong-Ho Ri (North Korea) - 2:20:06
8. Guoxiong Su (China) - 2:20:11 - debut
9. Gantulga Dambadarjaa (Mongolia) - 2:20:54 - PB
10. Jong-Sum Sim (South Korea) - 2:23:11
DNF - Aadam Ismaeel Khamis (Bahrain)
(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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