Ethiopian runners once again dominated the Tata Steel Kolkata 25K with Birhanu Legese and Dibaba Kuma taking top honours at the IAAF Bronze Label road race on Sunday (16).
In contrast to 2017, both the men’s and women’s races quickly turned into enthralling tactical affairs.
Without pacemakers, a large group went through five kilometres in a relatively sedate 15:37 with Uganda’s Robert Chemonges and Tanzania’s Augustino Sulle doing most of the work at the front.
The pace increased slightly over the next five kilometres but a group of nine were still together as 10 kilometres was reached in 30:35 and then slowed again as 15 kilometres was passed 45:57, allowing the leading group to increase to 11.
The next five kilometres saw just three men shaken off with the 20-kilometre split reading 1:01:04. However, if the winning time was now never going to match Kenenisa Bekele’s course record of 1:13:48 from 12 months ago, it did ensure a thrilling finish.
With two kilometres remaining, two-time Delhi Half Marathon winner Legese put in a surge which splintered the leading group. His teenage compatriot Bayelign Yegsaw was the only man to follow closely as the rest struggled to stay with the leading pair.
One by one the remaining runners dropped away before Legese found another gear over the final 400 metres to fend off Yegsaw, who doesn’t turn 19 until next February and could be a leading contender for the U20 title at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Aarhus 2019.
Legese clocked 1:15:48 – exactly two minutes slower than Bekele clocked in 2017 – with Yegsaw one second in arrears in 1:15:49. Amos Kipruto won an all-Kenyan battle for the remaining place on the podium as he just edged out Eric Kiptanui, both men given the same time of 1:15:52.
“Indian races seem to be good for me,” said Legese. “I haven’t always won but I have nearly always run well.”
The women’s race unfolded in similar fashion with a large group going through five kilometres in 18:27 before 10 runners remained at the front together, going through 10 kilometres in 36:09 as no one had been prepared to push the pace particularly hard.
The same 10 were still together as 15 kilometres was reached in 54:29 with pre-race favourite and defending champion Degitu Azimeraw content to sit back in the middle of pack and let others keep the pace ticking over at the front.
Eight runners were still in contention at 20 kilometres, which was passed in 1:11:21, before Kuma and her little-known Ethiopian compatriot Ftaw Zeray started to push hard with two kilometres to go.
Immediately the pack broke up before Azimeraw and Tanzania’s Failuna Matanga briefly re-joined them. However, the quartet became a duo once again as the last kilometre approached and then Kuma – who clocked 2:23:34 on her marathon debut in Ljubljana just seven weeks ago – eased away to win over the final few hundred metres.
Kuma passed the line in 1:27:34 with Zeray four seconds behind in 1:27:38 and Matanga third again, like in 2017, in 1:27.45.
“I just rested for a week after my marathon and then started preparing for this race,” said Kuma.