by Brett Larner
The Incheon Asian Games women's marathon played out almost to script, with the four fastest women in its field finishing almost perfectly in PB order. After a very slow first 5 km of 18:49, 2:38:48 pace, Kenyan-born Eunice Jepkirui Kirwa (Bahrain), the #1-ranked woman in the race, began a series of small surges to cover the next 5 km in 17:27 and open a gap over a chase pack of eight led by her teammate, #4-ranked Ethiopian-born Lishan Dula Gemechu (Bahrain), and #2-ranked Japanese favorite Ryoko Kizaki, the 4th-place finisher in last year's Moscow World Championships marathon.
From there Kirwa simply exploded, covering the distance from 10 to 15 km in 16:28, 2:18:58 pace, with Kizaki and Gemechu close behind. As Kirwa relaxed slightly Kizaki picked it up to get into contact, leaving Gemechu to run the rest of the race alone. Once Kizaki was next to Kirwa they stayed side-by-side virtually until 37 km, their splits constant and hovering around 17 minutes flat per 5 km the entire way, just barely faster than Kizaki's 2:23:34 PB pace and not exactly an easy cruise for Kirwa.
At 32 km Kirwa began to throw in surges on corners, but Kizaki stayed calm and focused and each time closed the gap without wasting her strength. Near 37 km, however, Kirwa put in a decisive move that opened a few meters on Kizaki, who for the first time began to look strained. After a drink station Kizaki began to push to try to get back into contact, but at 40 km she was down 22 seconds on Kirwa.
Summoning up her strong kick Kizaki closed 9 seconds in the final 2.195 km but could not challenge for the gold as Kirwa crossed the finish line in 2:25:37, Kizaki claiming silver in 2:25:50. Considering that their first 5 km was 1:45 slower than they ran the rest of the race the leading pair's times were more impressive than they looked, Kirwa running 2:23:50 pace from 5 km to the finish and Kizaki 2:24:04. Props to Kizaki for bringing her A-game even if it wasn't enough to beat Kirwa and pick up the guaranteed place on the Japanese 2015 World Championships marathon team available to a gold medalist in Incheon.
Back in the field, Japan's other contender, #3-ranked Eri Hayakawa, was among the first serious competitors to drop off the chase pack. As the pack fragmented she began to pick up other athletes, forming third group with Seongeun Kim (South Korea), Chao Yue (China) and Yinli He (China) as, farther ahead, North Korean twins Hye-Gyong and Hye-Song Kim worked together to overtake the flagging Gemechu. Then, nearing 30 km, the marathon happened.
The Kim twins split up, and even as Hye-Gyong began to lose ground on Gemechu Hye-Song fell further back and was overtaken by Yue, then Hayakawa, then He, and finally by the South Korean Kim. Next it was Hye-Gyong's turn to be run down. By 35 km Gemechu had slowed almost to a walk, Yue almost a minute faster between 30 and 35, and despite recovering Gemechu was still slower over the next 5 km to 40. Hayakawa was not out of it, though, throwing it down hard after 40 km to close with the fastest final 2.195 km outside of medalists Kizaki and Kirwa.
Gemechu came onto the track for a final lap with Hayakawa just 50 m back and Yue right behind her. Hayakawa bore down to catch her, and it looked set to be a thrilling final 100 m sprint finish. But the biggest excitement, what this race will be remembered for, was still to come. At the end of the back straight, the exhausted Gemechu abruptly stopped, for whatever reason thinking it was the finish line. Two seconds later Hayakawa flew by in full stride. Gemechu watched her go by in puzzlement without reacting until Yue was next to her. Realizing her mistake she exploded into a sprint.
She immediately dropped Yue and got even with Hayakawa coming into the straight. Gemechu opened a few meters, and although Hayakawa dug even deeper and closed on her again it proved enough for Gemechu to take bronze in 2:33:13, Hayakawa a step and a second behind in 2:33:14. Although there had been no markings to indicate that where she stopped was the finish line Gemechu was furious with race officials after she finished, but in post-race interviews Hayakawa laughed about the whole thing and shook her head. Chalk it up to experience.
2014 Asian Games Women's Marathon
Incheon, South Korea, 10/2/14
click here for complete results
1. Eunice Jepkirui Kirwa (Bahrain) - 2:25:37
2. Ryoko Kizaki (Japan) - 2:25:50
3. Lishan Dula Gemechu (Bahrain) - 2:33:13
4. Eri Hayakawa (Japan) - 2:33:14
5. Chao Yue (China) - 2:33:20
6. Yinli He (China) - 2:33:46
7. Hye-Gyong Kim (North Korea) - 2:36:38
8. Seongeun Kim (South Korea) - 2:38:16
9. Hye-Song Kim (North Korea) - 2:38:55
10. Iuliia Andreeva (Kyrgyzstan) - 2:39:25
(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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