Ethiopia’s Endeshaw Negesse destroyed a quality field including Olympic and world champion Stephen Kiprotich to produce a stunning upset in the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday.

Birhane Dibaba completed an Ethiopian double by winning the women’s race to underline the depth of marathon running in the East African country.
Negesse broke away from Kenya’s defending champion Dickson Chumba just before 40km to become only the second Ethiopian man, after Hailu Mekonnen in 2011, to win Japan’s most prestigious road race.

It was third fastest time in Tokyo Marathon, but just fell short of the twin goals of beating the Japanese all-comers best of 2:05:18 and the course record of 2:05:48, set by Chumba in 2014.

“It was a good race, although the condition was little bit tough because it was rainy and cold (with temperatures around 5 degrees Celsius),” reflected Negesse. The pacing was little slow. If it had been faster, then I could have run faster,” he added. “I knew that the field is formidable when I saw the start list. However, I did not dwell on it. I have done good training including good speed work. So I knew I could win the race.”

Negesse boosted his hopes of being selected for this year’s world championships in Beijing with a masterful run, leaving the favourites floundering in his wake after an explosive final seven kilometres to clock a winning time of two hours and six minutes flat.

“It was a tough race,” the 26-year-old told reporters. “There was a bit of rain and the cold made it hard work but luckily I was able to hang in and win the race. My dream is to go on and make the Ethiopia team for Beijing.”

Ugandan Kiprotich, competing in honour of the memory of his baby daughter Elizabeth who passed away from a respiratory illness last month, put in a late burst to pip last year’s winner Dickson Chumba of Kenya to second place. The London Olympic gold medallist and world title holder finished a step ahead of Chumba in a personal best of 2:06:33.

Kenyan Dennis Kimetto’s world record of 2:02:57, set in Berlin last year, was never under threat in chilly, despite the presence of several runners who have gone under 2:05 including Tsegaye Kebede.

The Ethiopian had been jabbering at the pacemakers to speed up over the first half of the race but fell out of the leading pack at the 35-kilometre mark and trailed home in eighth in 2:07:58.

Dibaba, runner-up in 2014, won in 2:23:15 while fellow Ethiopian Tiki Gelana, who captured the women’s title at the 2012 London Olympics Games, finished third after arriving in Japan late on Saturday because her flight from Europe was delayed by snow.

Security had been beefed up for Sunday’s race with police and fire services on high alert for a terrorist attack, such as the bomb blast which killed three people at the 2013 Boston Marathon.

Mingling with the 36,000 competitors was a crack unit of police runners wearing cameras that capture real-time footage of the course, while more than 6,000 security officials lined the streets of Tokyo. Tokyo Marathon marked the start of a new format comprising the world’s top six races — including Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York — and offering a $1 million purse split between the men’s and women’s champions. — AFP

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