NAIROBI, August 22- History was made in the first final of the 15th IAAF World Championships in Beijing but there were no Kenyans to toast as 19 year-old Eritrean, Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, took the men’s marathon in 2:12:27 for his nation’s first ever gold at the biennial global showpiece.
In one of the strangest championship marathons in recent times, Ghebreslassie took charge of matters from another surprise front runner, Lesotho’s Tsepo Ramonene, who led at 35K and after trading blow with Ethiopia’s Yemane Tsegay, pulled away over the last two kilometres for glory.
Tsegay took silver in 2:13:07 with charging Ugandan, Solomon Mutai (2:13:29) rewarded with bronze in a race where the much vaunted Kenyan team sensationally collapsed with Paris Marathon champion, Mark Mutai, who was 21st at 35K coming home in 22nd in 2:21:19 to win the internal competition.
Kenya boasted of world record holder, Dennis Kimetto (2:02:57), the Chicago and Berlin champion and his predecessor, Wilson Kipsang (2:03:23), the two-time London and New York winner as figure heads with Korir who won Paris in 2:05:49 rated as the third spoke in the star-studded cast.
“I was delighted to hear my name and I was quietly confident I would make the team since I had run so well in France. Before we started training with the national team, I told myself, if selected, fine and if I miss out, I would look for a race to run in September.
“Training with a world record holder and the one who came before him has given me the push to enter World Marathon Majors races and drop my career best to 2:04 then 2:03.
“The experience they have shown me has given me much morale to get to their level,” Korir has said before the race.
Vanquished Olympics bronze medallist and World Marathon Majors titleholder, Kipsang who was the last Kenyan to challenge the lead pack before 35K and Kimetto did not even bother to finish as the men marathoners set the worst tone for the expected medal charge by fading in the shade.
“We have the World Record holder, former record holder and they have trained together with Paris Marathon winner. We want to sweep the medals and start on a high,” marathon coach Isaac Kirwa had said on the eve of what turned out to be a complete disaster for the celebrated Kenyan marathoners.
It was the second Worlds in a row Kenya have failed to make the podium after Luke Kibet (2007) and Abel Kirui (2009 and 2011) won three straight marathon titles at the Osaka, Berlin and Daegu editions.
Emmanuel Mutai (2009) and Vincent Kipruto (2011) won the second medals in Germany and South Korea to complete the 1-2s behind Olympics silver medallist Kirui who was not considered for Beijing despite expressing interest to run for his nation.
What a story though for teenager Ghebreselassie who entered the iconic Bird’s Nest with his flag with the crowd cheering as he became the only other Eritrean behind 2007 men 10,000m and 2009 silver winner, Zersenay Tadese to medal at the Worlds.
Most of the early running was done by Bahrain’s Shumi Echasa, who trooped home fifth in 2:14:35, a place above defending champion and Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich (2:14:42) before Italian pair, Ruggero Pertile and Daniele Meucci hit the front after half way.
As they homed in for 30K, it was Ramonene who took charge and got the world’s tongues wagging when he opened up a 13 second advantage with 1:35:02 on the clock in his blue bib as the improbable for the 2:16 PB runner looked on the cards.
However, he could not sustain his charge as the Italians took over until the winner made his move, with Tsegay responding initially and easing past only for his steam to run out.
It was 2:05:41 for Ghebreselassie at 40K, 12 seconds ahead of Tsegay as he continued his majestic strides for history as the youngest-ever winner of the men’s marathon.
There was still time for drama when Ghebreselassie, who finished second to Lucas Rotich at the Hamburg Marathon in April, lost track of his turn, asking the photographers on the motorcycle where to go but Tsegay who was being urged on by Ethiopian team officials on a bicycle could not fashion a response.
That paved way to his heroic entry into the Bird’s Nest to recreate the iconic moment when the late great Sammy Wanjiru strode to the same red tartan in 2008 for the Olympics triumph in a record 2:06:32 and having invoked his spirit, the Kenyan trio could not use it as inspiration in baking conditions.
Ghebreslassie was racing just his third marathon.
1 420 Ghirmay Ghebreslassie ERI 2:12:27
2 474 Yemane Tsegay ETH 2:13:07 SB
3 972 Munyo Solomon Mutai UGA 2:13:29
4 615 Ruggero Pertile ITA 2:14:22 SB
5 283 Shumi Dechasa BRN 2:14:35
6 969 Stephen Kiprotich UGA 2:14:42
7 461 Lelisa Desisa ETH 2:14:53
8 614 Daniele Meucci ITA 2:14:53
9 423 Amanuel Mesel ERI 2:15:06
10 968 Jackson Kiprop UGA 2:15:15
684 Dennis Kipruto Kimetto KEN DNF
688 Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich KEN DNF